It’s a Stephen King world, and we’re all merely living in it.
The author’s works have long dominated our theater and television screens, and between remakes (looking at you, It and Pet Sematary), new adaptations (Doctor Sleep, The Outsider), and the author’s steady stream of high quality works, that’s not changing any time soon.
One critically acclaimed series, Mr. Mercedes, initially appeared on the Audience network, started in 1999 and owned by AT&T until its closure in May of 2020. After the channel’s closure, Mr. Mercedes has since been picked up by the streaming service Peacock with its first two seasons now available on the service. This opens the series, based on King’s Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch), to a much wider potential viewership—and just in time for Halloween.
I sat down (in two separate interviews) with the series’ long-time director Jack Bender (also known for his work on Lost, The Sopranos, and Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful), playing series antagonist Brady Hartsfield, to discuss the series, it’s development, and the new move to a wider audience.
JE: How did the series come to be?
Jack Bender: I was a huge fan of Stephen [King], and he was a big fan of Lost. I was the Exec. Producer of Under The Dome, and its main director for the first two years until I went on to other things. Stephen and I kept talking about trying to find something to do together. One day in the mail came these two huge Manila envelopes that were filled with the galleys of a new Stephen King book called Mr. Mercedes.
And you know, I went home, “my God!”, and I looked around the neighborhood and made sure no one saw me. I felt like I needed handcuffs on the envelopes, you know, and went inside, read it, loved it and wanted to do it. One of the things that really struck me about it was that not only was Stephen inheriting and writing in the detective genre, which he didn’t do a lot of, and he was hanging his hat on the classic ‘broken-down train wreck retired detective’ trope, [where] the one case that got away rears its head again. Through Stephen’s lens, it was completely unique and very different.
What I loved was that this was Stephen King writing about the monster inside of people, not the monster outside of people, and the flawed humans we all are in our own ways. I just felt like if I got the right cast it could be great. And obviously, I did. I said to Stephen after I read it, ‘I want to do it, but you know, the actor who was born to play Bill Hodges is this Irish actor named Brendan Gleeson, he’s brilliant. And when I got David Kelley involved, David agreed. Brendan’s agent said ‘Oh, he’s not going to do a series, he’s never done that.’ As fate would have it we got him, and then we got this extraordinary cast around him, Harry Treadaway, all the actors, and I really tried to frame a show that was going to give those characters time to breathe.”
JE: What was the most difficult part of adapting the property?
Jack Bender: I think that the most difficult part was actually dealing with the second book and season two, which really got into what I would say was more ‘Stephen King land’ in terms of getting into Brady’s head and realizing that he is trapped in this hospital bed, and yet his brain is very active, and how to show that without it being cheesy, and without falling into the supernatural or the sci-fi elements of having radios talking and all this stuff… We were walking a tightrope that season, and it wasn’t easy, but I think we ultimately kept it about the characters…
We wanted to take Hodges to a point where… a man who dealt with logic his whole life was confronted with something that he couldn’t accept, nor would most normal people. And yet, you know, all of our antennas are ‘out there,’ and we’re picking up stuff some of us don’t know we’re picking up, and some of the people walking around… where they really need help, which is tragic. Those people may be hearing things none of us are hearing. And who knows what they are? So the point is, we wanted to take Hodges to that place without falling off the cliff. And Season Two was tricky in that way, but I think at the end of the day we pulled it back just in time, and got on to a really terrific season three, so that was probably the hardest part.
JE: Tell me about how Harry was cast.
Jack Bender: Originally Anton Yelchin was attached. Tragically, he was killed in that bizarre way, which was devastating. We weren’t weeks away from shooting, but we were actively on the road prepping. And with Harry and, and I met within this a remarkable, really smart, interesting guy. We certainly were shocked by that tragedy, and it took a while to recalibrate.
[When we decided we were going to press on] our casting director introduced me to Harry, and I was knocked out by both the specificity of his eccentric acting and his ability to play a regular guy. I had many conversations with him on the phone, and he couldn’t have been more brilliant. He was just exceptional. The stuff that he and I would improvise together … a lot of that stuff that we came up with in especially Season Two was stuff that just came out of our heads, and collaborating, and the people around us, and so it was it was just exceptional. And and he’s a wonderful guy and a really terrific actor.
JE: [to Harry] How did you get attached to the show?
Harry Treadaway: I sent a tape in, Jack Bender said ‘yes’, and then I read the books… my first way into the story really was reading Stephen King’s novels, and [I] was so sucked in and so gripped by the world he created, the characters, and the complicated lives they all lead. It was exciting but also challenging material and very psychological… no surprise with Stephen King, but he does it so well.
I’m reading Stephen King, Mr. Mercedes novels having gotten the part and just being so completely excited to tell that story… a story about complicated characters, and trying to understand someone who society finds very hard to understand. That was exciting and felt like a responsibility, but also a happy challenge to do. I found myself buying countless books about psychology and watching documentaries and flushing my brain suddenly with all that kind of stuff, and found it equal parts exciting and challenging and disturbing, [it] lingered for a while afterwards. It was a very exciting project to do.
JE: Are you excited for the move to Peacock?
Jack Bender: Yeah, I’m very proud of the show and I’m thrilled that it’s gonna finally get the audience it deserved on Peacock. As I always say, DirectTV and the Audience Network allowed me to make the show I wanted to make, with brilliant people around me, we made a really, really good show and they were very supportive. Unfortunately, there was no audience.
That was enormously frustrating for all of us, because I thought the actors at least were going to get plenty of kudos for those incredible performances. It was hidden away. I’m certainly not talking about awards now, I’m just saying it’s gonna be very gratifying for all of us to have the show actually be seen and I think Peacock will be a great place for it.
You can catch the first two seasons of Mr. Mercedes now on Peacock, just in time for the Halloween season!
Originally published on Forbes.com