From the mind of Stephen King, Season 2 of the AT&T Audience Network (available on DirecTV) drama series Mr. Mercedes picks up a year after the attempt Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) made to commit a second mass murder in the community of Bridgton, Ohio, landing him in a vegetative state in the hospital. Retired Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) has done his best to move on from his obsession with the psychopath, by trying to keep himself busy with work, but when unexplainable occurrences begin to happen among the hospital staff, Hodges begins to wonder if there’s some way that Brady could be responsible.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, showrunner/director/executive producer Jack Bender talked about what it’s meant to him to have such a strong positive response from Stephen King on how they’re telling his story, whether he’s always on the same page as David E. Kelley and the writers, the one suggestion they took from Stephen King in Season 2, how much crazier and more terrifying things will continue to get, having actors as talented as Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway to deliver this material, and whether they already have a plan in place for Season 3. He also talked about developing a TV series based on Stephen King’s The Outsider and why that project appealed to him.
Collider: Since you had wanted to and were looking to work with Stephen King on something when this came your way and grabbed your attention, what did it mean to you to hear him respond so positively to what you were doing with the series?
JACK BENDER: It’s the ultimate gratification to have a genius like Stephen King. He wasn’t committed to being an executive producer, and then he saw the first few episodes and said, “I love this and want to be an exec producer on it.” That was like the first big compliment. And then, I was keeping in touch with him, as I was sending him cuts of the show. I knew he was a huge fan, but then, at a certain point, he wrote me and said, “When I see the stuff you guys are doing with the show, I wish I did some of those things in the book.” Needless to say, that was a huge compliment. He’s not a guy who lays the praise on. There are not a lot of bouquets or flowery descriptions about how wonderful something is. But I sent him one of the last few episodes, and he wrote me recently and said, “Do you have any fucking idea how great this is?” I took that as the Nobel Prize from Stephen King. It was very, very, very gratifying.
That’s awesome! You don’t write this series, but you’re the showrunner, an executive producer, and a director on it, so you still have a strong hand in the final product, which I would imagine means that you want to be on the same page as David E. Kelley and the writers. Have you always been on the same page, throughout this process, or have you found yourself having to fight for anything that you felt wasn’t quite how you thought it should be?
BENDER: Sure. Because I am the showrunner on the show, the creative buck stops with me, which in this case, is a wonderful experience because I so love the show and I was the one who initiated it. There have been times where there have been disagreements, in Season 1 and Season 2, but never to the point where I’ve said, “Sorry, guys, I’m doing it this way.” I don’t want to sound Pollyanna about it, but Stephen King really is very gracious and doesn’t send back a lot of thoughts on the cuts. He really lets me run with the show and is very complimentary about what we’re doing. All of Season 2, he only had one suggestion, if you can believe it, which I did because it was smart. With David Kelley, it’s very similar. David writes the scripts and, in the case of Season 2, it was a little more complicated, mainly because we weren’t following the architecture of the book like we did with Season 1. The second book, Finders Keepers, is a brilliant book, but our heroes don’t come into it until half-way through, so we couldn’t do that. We were on our own and in the dark forest, trying to figure out our way through it, so at times, there were disagreements, mainly plot-wise, over what choices we were making. It was tricky, but I think we walked that tightrope brilliantly. It was my focus and commitment, this year, that even though we go more into Stephen Kingdom and what you described as being a little more creeping you out, I still believed and wanted it to be, first and foremost, grounded in the world of these characters, and have that be a believable world. What if I was going through what they’re going through? Starting with the car massacre in Season 1, I wanted it always to be based on the reality of what it would be like for those characters to be going through something as horrific as that. That really was the tightrope we were walking in Season 2.
You mentioned getting one suggestion for Season 2 that you took. What was the suggestion that you got?
BENDER: It was a sequence where Stephen felt that a newscaster in a scene should have been a little less jovial, and he was absolutely right and we were able to achieve it. That’s just an indication of how he rarely would make suggestions because he was so pleased.
If we thought that things were crazy and terrifying, last season, which they were, how much more prepared should audiences be for how much crazier and more terrifying it will be, this season?
BENDER: When I was a kid, growing up with those Edgar Allan Poe movies, and the stand up in the theater for the coming attractions would say, “If you have a faint heart, or if you’ve ever suffered a heart attack, do not watch this movie.” They would use that as a promo to get people to want to come see the movie. I remember with Psycho, there was a disclaimer that Hitchcock did that said, “If you are the faint of heart, do not see Psycho,” and of course, people lined up around the block to see it. People love being scared. It’s that aspect of all of us humans, who want to get near the flame. It’s scarier than last season, and I think it begs certain questions that are more frightening because they deal with the potential of the human mind and certain things that most of us, in our daily lives, don’t have to deal with and don’t need to question. Hodges and the rest of our supporting characters definitely need to ask those questions.