Early reviews warn that the first few minutes of David E. Kelley’s Mr. Mercedes are “horrifying” and “disturbing.” This is unsurprising, given that the 10-part series is adapted from Stephen King’s bestselling 2014 detective thriller. The trailer was revealed at last month’s San Diego Comic-Con, and I had a chance to chat with some of the major players.
Kelly Lynch, who plays Deborah Hartsfield
What drew you to Mr. Mercedes? What about this show or this source material did you latch on to?
First of all, I am a huge Stephen King geek. I have read everything. I have my favorites. I agree with him that, I think The Shining is a good movie, but I think his book was far more complex. Stanley Kubrick [tried to turn it into his own]visual thing, and Jack Nicholson’s character is crazy from the get go. The subtlety was lost. And speaking of that, what drew me to Mr. Mercedes is, you know, these are broken people. Everyone but Jharrel Jerome are all broken. He’s a kid going off to Harvard. The rest of us are like symbolic of the world that we’re living in right now. There’s a lot of homegrown terrorism. We keep blaming other people for our issues, our psychosis. The rock that got lifted up–we thought we were post-racial we were all these things. I kept going like, you know what? I just think that we’ve been in an 8-year kind of cool place but, that rock got lifted up and that’s kind of what we do in Mr. Mercedes. We lift up the rock and we show kind of like how does somebody–a kid–become a mass murderer. A monster. In my case, is the mother to blame? Is she part of this? Does she know? What’s their pathology together? What is it?
I read in the book–the mother and the son character, they had a strange, incestuous, insidious–
It’s the same in the show. You know he might be on the spectrum. But, he hasn’t had a date, as far as mom knows. And he’s also a victim of extremely bad migraines, so she’s found this weird way of helping him that is like whoa. In the first couple of episodes when you get who we are together, it’s shocking. And there’s nothing more weird than incest. It’s very unsettling and so very wrong, and I’m a mother and I’m really glad I don’t have a boy–I have a daughter who’s 30–because it would have been very weird for me. It was weird for me anyway, but Harry Treadaway, we just felt very comfortable, and we’re like really good friends. We really are, and we adore each other, so it just sort of gelled right from the beginning, so we felt safe to go to these weird places.
You mentioned how on the show you think that he’s on the spectrum, but you don’t touch on it. When I was reading up on the book, there were some ableist tropes within the story. Does the show address that? Do they try to subvert that and try to show a less ableist view on disabilities?
Yeah I think so. I think it’s exactly that. He does use a wheelchair. He finds it as a safe disguise for him because no one’s looking for that. I was in a wheelchair after a car accident. Both of my femurs were broken and they were going to amputate my legs and it took me a year to walk and it’s a whole long story and someday I’m going to write a book. I spent a whole long time in a chair and looking for parking and having people shout at me–like, I can hear you about being treated differently.
Would the show reflect disability on a more positive or less menacing vibe?
Well, it’s two different things. He’s not a disabled person. He’s using something, and so it doesn’t really touch on any of that per se, but it’s very menacing because again, I think we tend to think of people who are disabled as kind and good, even [inspirational]. So I’m wondering–like having this bad guy in a wheelchair, this is so amazing I mean why not. Why not go there and show all sides instead of making it…inspiration porn. Like people would come to me and talk in a baby voice and say “You’re so brave.” Like this isn’t any choice of mine. I’m just living my life and if you can get out of that freaking parking place, like where’s your handicapped tag, excuse me. “Well, I’m just running in to get something.” Well, I’m not running in to get something, so if you wouldn’t mind moving your car over there, I can park there.
If there’s anything you’d like your fans to know about the show, what would it be?
I would say, we think of everybody as us and them, regardless of what it is. It’s us, and then it’s them. We separate ourselves and we put ourselves in whatever group we put ourselves in, and then there’s them. But we’re the us. We’re just–all of us. It doesn’t matter. We have difference, but those are–I mean 99.9 percent of what we are is the same. I mean, the other choices are choices of crayons in a coloring book. So I’d say this is frightening and a good look at all of us.
Jharrel Jerome, who plays Jerome Robinson
Are you into Stephen King? Are you a fan of his books? Have you read the source material?
Mhm. Yeah I mean Stephen King was actually my first introduction to horror in general. I did see the first IT when I was maybe six or seven–terrifying! My aunt threw me on the couch and said “watch it,” and I was terrified, but from then on–it’s funny because I’d see a project and I wouldn’t know it’s Stephen King sometimes. It would be such an epic film or TV show and then at the end it would say “Stephen King.” And of course, you can’t expect anything less. I got to read the first book. I know there’s a trilogy, but I haven’t read two and three because I’m trying to go with how the show is going right now and I don’t like to get it spoiled. I’m still like a fan of this. I haven’t seen all the episodes, so when I see all the episodes, it’s going to be pretty new to me, so I’m trying to take my time with it. The book is incredible though.
What drew you to doing the show besides your love of Stephen King. Was there a certain thing about Jerome that you wanted to play?
Yeah, I mean, I think it just stems from my love of acting and my love of being different characters. It’s very different from my last project that I worked on, so when I looked at Jerome’s character, it’s something that I never played before. He has this sort of intelligent aura to him, and I haven’t played a lot of intelligent characters–you know how it goes. So it’s actually incredible for a young, black actor to play someone who’s going off to Harvard. So reading him, he’s so dynamic, he’s so smart. He’s so loyal to the people he’s with, and so that was intriguing. And then, aside from that, the story is going to become–it is now one of my favorite Stephen King stories. It’s so unnerving.
Kelly mentioned that your character is the most grounded, normal character. Which is amazing, a show where the black male character is the most sane.
The most sane and non-violent of all the characters.
Do you find it refreshing?
Absolutely. My big thing is stepping outside of the box. Stepping outside of what people perceive, and so it’s cool to- So I did Moonlight, and I played such a gritty character, I don’t want to say stereotypical, almost stereotypical. So to show that you can step out of that and be young, black guy and go to Harvard and be smart and be into computers and have light to you. Not everything’s so serious with Jerome. He has such a sense of humor to him. So yeah, Kelly’s right. That’s a great point. Out of everyone in the show, I’m like the one who’s–you know that if I’m in the scene, it’s okay. Jerome’s here, he’s going to figure something out and we’re going to be fine. So that’s awesome.
I like that they took that chance and made you that character that everyone’s supposed to sympathize with. You are us in the show.
It feels good, it feels really good.
If there’s anything you’d like your fans to know about the show, what would it be?
It’s not what you expect. It’s not the typical pop out. It’s not the, “aah we’re gonna scare you!” It’s not for you to sit there and jump and get scared all the time. It’s even more than a thriller. It’s a drama. It’s a drama and a thriller and a comedy all in one. It’s just a character show. It’s very character-driven. And if you’re expecting the blood and the gore, you’ll get it here and there of course, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about these everyday people around you. The ice cream man on the block. Your retired cop from down the street. Your lawn mower friend who comes and mows your lawn every day. It’s about the nuances in these characters and it’s not about the whole theme of being a killer or not. That’s what’s so exciting to me about it.
Breeda Wool, who plays Lou Linklatter
What about the show has you most excited?
I think what people are going to see are a group of actors and TV makers and directors and cinematographers who have come to a point in their careers where they have found each other and have something extraordinary to say, and that will translate to the screen. People will see that we worked hard and that we made something that we’re proud of and that is beautiful, in my opinion. I mean, everybody on this project has a very high level of art and they were in an environment where they got to express that art. From the actors to the creators to the crew. Which is also a great testament to the [AT&T] Audience Network in just allowing people to make more things that we want to make.
Have you been a fan of Stephen King’s work? Did you read the book before you approached the show?
As soon as I got [the role], I went out and got the book. And then I got the first script and it basically blew my mind. I was like, wait, which part is the script and which part is the book. It’s very true to the book, but it’s also, you know, one is a written medium and one is a visual and so details have changed. So now you see something as opposed to reading it, so there’s a lot of details like that. And they also brought–in the series, they sort of bring up characters. A lot of the book is talking about the internal life of Hodges and Hartsfield, so the show just sort of brings that forward and allows that internal life to be external in terms of plot–they trusted and hired actors who could express that. In the book, you read like 15 pages of what Hodges is feeling or thinking or how he’s experiencing, and now you can see it in like one minute. Brendan Gleeson will do it in one minute.
What was it like working with this cast of actors?
For a lot of my story I’m with Brady and with Robi, who’s our boss at Extreme ELectronics, so that’s sort of the world that I live in with Brady. So I got to work with Robert Stanton and Harry Treadaway and they’re just like–I mean Harry’s just like–that man likes to play. I guess as an actor the most important thing is that you’re just trying to play a child’s game where everyone comes and you’re like hey you want to play for real and they’re like “yeah!” and everyone’s just like down. I worked with Brendan and he’s such a thoughtful and exciting and playful actor as well. Everyone that was hired, even if they were just a small role, was incredible. I think that’s a big testament to Jack and David E. Kelley and just people being like “yeah, I’ll come and do a day on your show.” And then Jharrel made friends with a bunch of people in Charleston and then put on a show and we all went and saw it. There’s a lot of talent going on up in this show. [This show] was a beautiful experience for me.
If there’s anything you want anyone to take away from the show about your character, what would it be?
Don’t treat people like shit, because you never know what might be brewing underneath.