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The Mentalist - Interview with Bruno Heller, Simon Baker & Robin Tunney on Season 7

As “The Mentalist” prepares to debut its final season on CBS beginning this Sunday, the team behind its success is revealing what viewers can expect to see over the next few months. Creator Bruno Heller says being gifted with one last “encore” season allows them to give fans the strongest sendoff possible. Viewers will be treated to a lighter, happier season seven with an underlying focus on Jane and Lisbon’s relationship.

We got a chance to talk with Heller, along with stars Simon Baker (Patrick Jane) and Robin Tunney (Teresa Lisbon). They dished on everything from season seven spoilers to the type of relationship we will see from Jane and Lisbon to favorite memories working together. And we can tell you this: These three clearly enjoy each other’s company. Throughout the interview they laughed a lot and joked back and forth. Baker continuously teased Heller while he tried to answer questions. Several times Heller apologized for taking his time to answer, saying Baker was razzing him in the background or whispering in his ear or even giving Heller nuts. And at one point Baker finished Tunney’s thoughts. Chemistry like this is undeniable. It’s one of the reasons the show has been such a success. And it’s a big reason fans can’t wait to see what lies ahead. So let’s get started. Here’s the scoop on season seven.


Heller: Essentially this season is about what happens when life turns out the way you’d hoped. What happens when you do have a happy ending – what happens after that? Jane and Lisbon have been engaged in this epic journey for six years, trying to capture Red John, and now they’ve done that. How do you live again after that? How do you re-create a different kind of life? And leading on from the end of season six, how do you create a different relationship out of a relationship that was born in the kind of trauma that theirs was? This season is very much about the reconfiguring of that relationship that has been based on a mission, on a shared desire. That mission is now over and they have to find out: As much as they love each other, how can they live together? And what will they do with their lives?

Tunney: There’s also an aspect to Simon’s character that is really authentic the way they’ve explored it. Up until he caught Red John, that’s why he was there [working in law enforcement]. He wasn’t fighting crime because it was something he was born to do or wanted to do. He didn’t want to work in law enforcement. It was settling this personal score. And now he’s there and I think he’s wondering why he is there. And I think that’s a really interesting thing to explore because it’s honest to the character.

Heller: It’s also about a modern woman with a career that she loves that she has a great talent for. And now she’s being confronted with a potentially different life path. How do you give up that career if that’s the way you want to go? Or how do you combine love and work in this particularly intense form of work? It’s difficult.

Tunney: Because it defines you. It’s so much of your life. I think that Lisbon definitely feels like it defines her as a human being – what she does and not who she is.


Heller: These two are never going to be “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” because that’s not who they are. Both Jane and Lisbon are private, self-contained, protective people. So it’s a love story – but it’s not a very conventional love story. It’s a love story that is consonant with the relationship they’ve had, which is the interesting thing about it. When we started, it was very much… brother/sister is the wrong way to describe it, but it’s that kind of familial affection that over time has turned into something more. That, to a degree, makes the romance harder for both characters to negotiate because they’re not fiery, passionate, crazy people. They’re people who need to work their way towards seeing how this will play out in the future. It’s a very sort of Jane Austen type of romance – the good ones in Jane Austen. The ones you devoutly wish to be consummated [are] between two people who have known each other for years, and you can see that they’re made for each other – not in a fiery, kind of crazy way. But just in a human, gentle, correct way.

Tunney: Yeah, season seven is not “50 Shades of Grey” done by “The Mentalist.” It’s sort of interesting because they are two people who don’t know how to be in a relationship. They’ve both been alone for such a long time. And [we’re] sort of exploring two people who are adults, who’ve only been responsible for themselves and haven’t really shared their life with anybody in a very long time – what it feels like to sort of explore that intimacy, [including] that it’s uncomfortable.


Baker: I think it’s relatively organic and natural and quite easy. We’re not exploring the sort of obvious side of having a relationship in a workplace, but more the pitfalls and speed bumps that you’ll come up against when you know someone so well and then you decide to have a relationship with them. I think there’s sort of a tenderness to it. And I think because I’ve spent so much of the last seven years looking into Robin Tunney’s lovely green eyes, we’re comfortable with each other in a way that is somewhat intimate.

Tunney: It’s funny the way everything turns out. I remember season one, we had a press conference and Bruno, Simon and I all swore up and down there is no way these two would ever be together romantically. And I think we were telling the truth!

Baker: I’m still saying that!

Heller: When these two characters first came together, Baker and Tunney were strangers, so the relationship was very much between two strangers who were in a transactional relationship, however intense. But as years go by, genuine love develops [between the actors], genuine friendship, genuine understanding. And then just as in real life, what seemed not possible or plausible becomes extremely possible because there is a real basis for it. If these two actors had grown to despise each other over the years, then it would never have occurred to anyone to develop that on-screen relationship in the way that it’s gone. Frankly for me, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of about the show is that after all these years the cast and crew and directors and writers and everyone involved is going to walk away with respect and love for each other. That’s what makes the difference. That’s why we can tell these kind of stories with truth.

Tunney: And I believe at that press conference that Bruno said if we had gotten together, we would have all the sexual chemistry of the Clintons. So the bar was really low for what people might expect. I mean, [now] it’s gonna seem hot.

Baker: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Heller: You killed it with that one.


Tunney: I’ve got to tell you, it’s a bit of a relief. It’s easier to feel light and natural in scenes when stakes are so high all the time. And you can smile. So that’s been really fun. I think the idea of falling in love and feeling accepted makes [Lisbon’s] approach to work different than it was. And I also think as an actor you kind of get more comfortable in the role. In the beginning it seems so inappropriate to be doing things like [smiling] over dead bodies or while somebody is in so much pain. I was so worried that I wasn’t going to seem like an officer of the law if I smiled. I wanted to be taken seriously: ‘I’m supposed to be authoritative.’ And then I think you sort of feel a lot freer. And the character has permission to do that now. It’s been fun.


Heller: One of the things we’re trying to do this season is both give you kind of classic “Mentalist” episodes – old-school puzzles, old-school Jane being as clever as he always was – but also expanding the landscape somewhat. We’re in Beirut for the [third] episode. We go all over America for the rest of the season. [Then there’s new character Michelle Vega, a rookie FBI agent.] She adds a different touch of romance to the show. There’s a bit of a love triangle going on there [with her and Cho]. (Heller never mentioned the third member of the love triangle, but after watching the first few episodes of season seven, we assume it’s Wylie.)

Tunney: Cho’s relationship with Vega is really interesting because he’s sort of a mentor to her. There’s a lot going on because I think generally when you have a male and a female and they’re close and they’re working together, it sort of [pushes] their romance, and with them, it’s a really fine line because he has taken responsibility for her and they have kind of a big arc through the season. And Josie Loren is fantastic in the role. She’s really great. Also Wylie, he gets a lot more to do this season. There’s a lot of character development with Abbott. His character gets really fleshed out. He’s sort of involved in a pretty big scandal. It’s a really big arc and we get to know who he is and his life and what his family’s life is like. So I think we get to know a lot of who these people are and it’s interesting because there isn’t this sort of ominous presence of Red John. So there’s a lightness to the episodes. They’re fun.

Heller: And I think because it’s an encore performance, we don’t introduce a whole bunch of new characters and a whole lot of elaborate plot because it’s very much about living in the moment of our two leads and living their life, as opposed to setting up story for more story.


Baker: I want a nude sex tape.

Tunney: That’s really just for the wrap party, for the crew to watch.

Baker: I don’t actually want a nude sex tape.

Tunney: I kind of feel like I’ve gotten [my wish], that we’ve actually gotten a definitive last season and they can tie everything up. It’s really unusual and I know we’re putting it to bed in a proper way. Because it has been a really long run. And the fans are really attached to these characters. I feel lucky about that. I’m just really happy that we get to have a real ending. You get to satiate the characters and yourself that there is a solid ending to the story.


Heller: Never say never about that sort of thing. It’s show business. It’s a testament to what these guys have done and the characters they’ve created that they still have a life. These are still living, breathing characters that people are interested in and want to keep looking at. [There is still] a certain appetite to keep these characters alive. But a breath needs to be taken. Whatever happens, we need to step back and take a look at what we’ve done and breathe a little. There’s no conversations here about coming back. But never say never.

Tunney: We have a whole season where we know we’re not going to have to follow it up. So even thinking, ‘Oh, it might come back’ or leaving a door open seems like it’d be inauthentic. It’s the sort of thing where we are trying to really finish it off in a different way. The episodes have wider scopes. They’re more serialized than they’ve been, with the exception of the Red John stuff at the very end. It’s a great season. I’m really proud of it. Getting to go out while still feeling like it’s strong is amazing. It’s not a big ensemble show like “Grey’s Anatomy” or even “House” where they just got new characters every year. It’s basically been Simon and I in most of the scenes. And that’s a really hard thing to keep up. We’ve never had more than five regulars and that’s not a lot of people. I’m excited to finish it. Grateful.

Baker: Sometimes the demand of the schedule or the demands of network television – they’re not necessarily story-friendly. Those things aren’t governed by, ‘Is the story finished?’ or ‘Can we juice it a little bit more?’ It’s generally, ‘We’ve got a hole that we’d like to fill with something.’ The last thing they consider is the story. The truth is, as an actor you put so much skin in the game that at the end, I’m happy to just be able to sort of scrape my skeleton up and be able to walk out of here in one piece. There’s so much effort and energy [put into] such a succinct period of time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the luckiest [bastard] in the world to be able to be in this position. But it takes its toll.

Tunney: We made 150 episodes of television and it’s exhausting, keeping the story going and trying to keep the quality up. Physically you’re so tired by the end of the season. It’s a lot, it’s draining. But we’ve done it. I think the show this year is really strong. It’s wonderful to be able to get out without it feeling tired.


Tunney: So many. I think a lot of our joy at work [has revolved] around food. When you work this long, there are certain days where Simon looks over and says, ‘How about sushi?’ and I just feel excited. We eat food together. I bring him juices. It’s the little things.

Baker: Why don’t you tell about the time when you kissed me? We kissed….

Tunney: … And your wife was at the monitor? She called me ahead of time and asked if I mind if she watched. We’re all friends. I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ And she watched. And she was moved.

Heller: It’s very, very hard to keep up a rational, generous relationship with your costars on a show that runs this long. The pressures you’re under, the amount of time you have to spend together. And it’s been a great joy to watch these two support each other and back each other up and never turn on each other and always be there for each other.


Baker: We’ll see.

Heller: Yeah, he would be very remiss to tell you what actually happens at the end.


Heller: It’s tough after all these years to round out a show and make a final statement. But we’re very grateful to have that chance. You are not often given that chance in network TV to really tell the whole story and finish it where you would like to finish it. So we are incredibly grateful to get this opportunity. I want to thank everyone out there for watching the show all these years. We hope everyone likes the final season because we made it with love and respect for those fans that have been supporting us all these years. So thank you very much.

"The Mentalist" begins its seventh and final season on CBS Sunday, November 30. What are you most excited about? What would you like to see this season? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is an online, print and broadcast journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She loves being a part of the SpoilerTV team.