Mr. Mercedes Director Jack Bender On The Show’s Peacock Move and Future

Mr. Mercedes didn’t die when Audience Network did. Director Jack Bender talks about restoring one of Stephen King’s classic car stories.

Mr. Mercedes
Photo: Peacock

Mr. Friendly’s Frosteez has a new driver scooping ice cream for the kids and smiley-faced tennis balls for the older crowd. A certain 2003 Mercedes-Benz S 600 sports a new color. And Mr. Mercedes has a new home. The Stephen King detective series will be getting a second life at Peacock. While Mr. Mercedes season 3 ended with a vague tease the serial killer at the heart of the series may be starting anew as the Supreme Electronix co-worker who took him out, Peacock is keeping the series exactly as it originally ran before Audience Network was shut down.

Based on King’s New York Times best-selling Bill Hodges Trilogy, the title character owes a debt to classic detectives. Brendan Gleeson brings a grizzled annoyance to his obsession over a case which will never go cold. Harry Treadaway’s serial killer Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr. Mercedes, the title character of the series, made an unexpected departure, but left Lou Linklatter (Breeda Wool) the keys to his wheels and some of his fondest memories.

Mr. Mercedes sticks fairly close to the Bill Hodges Trilogy source material, which explores the evils of the human mind, rather than supernatural suspense. A good portion of the books takes place in Brady’s head but the TV series’ opening scene, the crime which tortures the now retired detective, was based on a real event. In 2011, a woman drove into a crowd of people at a McDonald’s hiring event in Cleveland, Ohio.

Director Jack Bender is used to the twisted worlds of television. He started as an actor appearing on such shows as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Mod Squad before moving behind the camera. Best known for his work on the groundbreaking fantasy series Lost, he also brought the groundbreaking comedy Ally McBeal to screens, and directed episodes of Game of Thrones. Bender spoke with Den of Geek about his work with Stephen King, the world of detectives and killers, and where the Mercedes is parked now.

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Den of Geek: Does the move to Peacock come with changes?

Jack Bender: Mr. Mercedes was done originally for three years on direct TV for the Audience Network. Peacock has picked it up in their infinite wisdom to show the first two seasons. And then, sometime in the near future, hopefully, once the show has a terrific audience, they’re going to play season three. We did three seasons. And nobody has asked me at Peacock to make any cuts or changes, so I trust they’re showing the show in all its wonderful weirdness and twisted humanity.

Will there be any further production on it if it does well?

Well, we talked about that and that is, potentially, in the offing but at this point there’s no commitment. David Kelley and I have had conversations regarding what season four would look like and some of our younger cast who would come back and what the story could be, because there is some story left there.

Stephen wrote three books, but we definitely have something in mind for a season four if the stars were to come together and we would do it.

Is that why the Mercedes got the yellow paint job?

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David Kelley invented that. It was Holly’s way of getting over the trauma. It empowered her. First of all, she wanted the Mercedes and she didn’t want it to be ruined by the nightmare that it was used for by Brady Hartsfield. Although that was always Hodges’ argument, “How can you have that fucking thing around? It killed all these people.” Her argument was, “No, the Mercedes didn’t kill people. It was a weapon. Brady killed people. My memory of the Mercedes is my aunt had pride in it and used to take me for drives. So, it’s my way of healing.”

It’s interesting because Stephen King supposedly, and we’ve gotten very close and I never asked him this, but I think after the van hit him when he was out jogging that day and, as you know, it was very serious, practically every bone in his body was broken. Eventually, he bought that car and beat the shit out of it with a sledgehammer. So, I think it’s a very similar act of, “Fuck you, I’m alive. And goddammit, you’re not going to ruin this for me.”

Every horror fan in the world held their breath when he was hit.

Oh, yeah. It was just horrible. Did you ever read his extraordinary book? There’s a great book he wrote called On Writing, which is autobiographical. It’s the greatest book on how to be a writer and how to write and very specifically what he does, what his oeuvre is, what his process is. You hear the story of some amazing books and how they came to him and how he stuck with them, et cetera, et cetera. 

I’m very fortunate to have crossed paths with Stephen, and I’ve got another couple of projects in development with him. It’s just a real gift to not only have him as a friend, but somebody who trusts me with his material.

I love the references that you throw in, like having Treadaway’s character be a Ramones fan. How does the legacy of King play into the creative process?

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Well, when David and I were developing the show, it was my thought that: I love the use of music, but I don’t really like it when shows just plug the song in over the montage. Look, everything is manipulative in art. It’s just obviously manipulative. It’s like, “You want me to feel emotion now,” or, “You want to make some comment.” So, I said, “What if Hodges is such a train wreck when we start the show there are only two things: He’s got a lousy relationship with his daughter, with his ex-wife. He’s a man on his own. Now, thanks to David, who invented Ida, he’s got a friend who he gets closer with, Ida Silver brilliantly played by Holland Taylor. But I said, “What if the only two things he takes care of are his vinyl collection and his tortoise that he bought for his daughter when she was little?”

Now, that was autobiographical. Nothing else in the show is. I actually bought, for our daughter, when she was about six-years-old, an African spur-thighed tortoise who was only six-weeks-old that we named Federico Fellini until we found out it was a girl and we changed it to Federica. Then, we found out no, in fact, it’s a boy. So, it has become Fred. So, I said to David, “What if Hodges has that tortoise?” David loved that idea. He became a part of the show, as did Brendan’s record collection.

I wanted to do little drops in there like we used to do on Lost, little Easter eggs. Obviously, Harry Treadaway seeing Pet Sematary, because I had this image of Brady driving in his car. And when he goes out on those computer calls, he has to be Mr. Straight and be a little buttoned-down good worker, but when he gets in his car, he fucking lets it loose.

It was great working with Harry on that because when we were first doing it, and it was early on in the shooting, Harry was kind of singing the song well. He’s got a nice voice. I’m going, “This is weird.” I said, “Harry, you’ve got to fucking stick your finger out the window and screw everybody and sing loudly. Just be Brady.” And then he let loose and he was brilliant. So, that’s where “Pet Sematary” came from.

Weaving songs, both Brady’s character choices in the songs that came from Brady’s world along with Hodges’ world was definitely part of the language of the show season one, and then it continued through season two. People really dug that. Very eclectic choices of songs. It was part of the language and it said something about their characters. I always wanted them motivated in what they would listen to.

What was your involvement on HBO’s The Outsider?

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No, I didn’t do The Outsider. What happened was Stephen gave me the book and I was developing it with Richard Price and the company. It was one of those Hollywood stories where somehow things got derailed. So, from afar, I was an executive producer, but creatively, chose to have nothing to do with it.

Do you approach a Stephen King detective story differently than a regular detective story?

Well, that’s interesting. I think everything I do I approach differently. See, I first got to know Stephen on Lost because he was such a fan. And then I joined and exec produced and directed many of the episodes for the first two years of Under the Dome. We were talking about finding something to do together, and one day in the mail came these two massive Manila envelopes, which were the galleys from Mr. Mercedes. I went, “Oh, my God.” And he didn’t tell me it was coming.

So, I read it and I loved it and said, “Yeah, I want to do it.” That was the beginning of this. But what I thought was so interesting was not only was Stephen King writing in the detective genre, and definitely he was using the detective metaphor all the way back to Chinatown and period detective stuff, is that it’s kind of a hat rack that Stephen hung the story on, which is the retired detective and the one case that got away. That’s kind of a standard detective trope, but in Stephen King’s hands, it becomes something very different. What I always saw the show as being was Stephen King writing about the monster inside the characters, as opposed to the monster outside the characters, which I loved. I said, “If I get lucky with the right cast,” and boy did I, “and I convince David Kelley to write it.”

I had worked with David all the way back to Ally McBeal and a bunch of things. I said, “David, nobody writes twisted better than you.” Big Little Lies hadn’t come out yet. I don’t even know if they’d shot it. I said to David, “When you write dark and twisted, nobody does it better.” I said, “You’re going to dive into these characters and it’ll still have heart and humanity, but they are really people who have been twisted by the world and their genes and everything else.” David wrote it.

In fact, when we first started and I said, “Stephen, I want to do this, but there’s this one actor who’s born to play Hodges. I don’t know if you know him. He’s this Irish actor named Brendan Gleeson.” He said, “Do I know him? I love him.” We mentioned all his movies and that became our dream. His agents and managers said, “Brendan’s not going to do a series, blah blah blah.” There were some people in Hollywood who said, “No, he’s not well known enough. What about this person, that person?” Well, as fate would have it, we got Brendan and let him be Irish. He’s just brilliant.

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Also true of Harry Treadaway. I was convinced by our casting director to look at his film and he just was brilliant. Our whole cast was. We ended up, I mean, just with some extraordinary luck with Jharrel Jerome, who went on to win an Emmy. Justine Lupe, Holland Taylor, Kelly Lynch, Breeda Wool. I mean, it’s just a great great cast. I always felt that the success of this show lay in the performances. I very much wanted to frame it, stylistically, directorial, to take time for those performances, which we did.

What does Hodges owe to the classic detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe?

Well, I think Brendan would say there has been, all the way back to Chinatown and Jack Gittes and Nicholson. I think Brendan, like all great detectives in film history and in novels, they’re all wounded people. He found the wounds in Hodges, the flaws in Hodges, played them all the way from him. Not being able to take a leak first thing in the morning, episode one, and looking like shit from the night before falling asleep in his Lay-Z-Boy.

I think that the Stephen King character of Bill Hodges will stand the test of time as one of the great detectives because he’s got real depth, real flaws, and real humanity, like all these people, and a lot of scars. And Brendan shows those very bravely and with heart and humor.Mr. Mercedes will stream exclusively on Peacock beginning Oct. 15.