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The Mentalist: Season 3 – Owain Yeoman interview (exclusive)

The Mentalist, Owain Yeoman

Interview by Rob Carnevale

OWAIN Yeoman talks about growing into the role of Wayne Rigsby in The Mentalist: Season 3, (out on Blu-ray and DVD on October 10, 2011, courtesy of Warner Home Video) and why he now feels part of a family.

He also talks about what could lie in store for season 4, his experiences of shooting Generation Kill and why fan approval is the biggest validation of his success he could hope for.

Q. Would you describe Season 3 of The Mentalist as the toughest one yet for Wayne Rigsby?
Owain Yeoman: I think it’s been an interesting one, yeah. I think it’s been our best storytelling season. It’s lovely to be able to… as part of an ensemble you wait for your kind of moment to shine and the first couple of seasons on a show like The Mentalist you have to describe who and what The Mentalist is about. So, moving into season three it’s been really wonderful now that we’ve owned those characters and the fans have responded to them to be able to find your own feet and find your own back-story. There’s an episode that I think aired recently in the UK called Like A Red-headed Stepchild which really finely fleshed out the storyline between me and my father. That for me creatively was a real turning point because I think up until then Rigsby had been a bit of an emotionally dyslexic kind of bumbling [character].

He was initially conceived deliberately like that because I liked the idea of instead of being that flash hot cop who always gets the girl and solves the crime, I thought it would be much more real-life and interesting to actually play a guy who could get the girl but who has no way of finding the words to do it. So, the episode for me was a tough one but it was amazing to work with William Forsythe, who plays my father, because he’s such a powerhouse of an actor.

Q. What do you think it brought out in Rigsby?
Owain Yeoman: Well I think suddenly he just grew a pair and he kind of had to man up a bit. It gave him a lot of emotional strength also to be able to turn around to Van Pelt and say: “Look, I’ve got this clarity in my life, I can’t watch you marry another man, this is who I am, I’m not going to be a lap-dog for you anymore, I need to find my own space and my own kind of emotional head-space.” And I think that’s kind of set up a very interesting emotional direction for season four.

Q. And that could also change quite swiftly given the ending of season three?
Owain Yeoman: Absolutely! When I read that I think I rang Bruno, our creator, and said: “Is there going to be a season 4? Where are we going from here?” I mean, where does Patrick Jane go from here? Where do we go from here? I think for me, and I’ve had conversations with the creators about it, I think Rigsby now has a big part to play, especially in respect to where Van Pelt is. She’s got so much to process. She’s got a fiancée who has now been killed, who has been revealed as the mole within the CBI, and there needs to be a lot of respectful space happening there. They got us together very early but in the kind of classic Moonlighting way, the minute you bring a couple together it kind of kills it a bit. So, we have to find creative and interesting ways to keep that tension and rebuild that tension because I actually think the dynamic works much more when it’s being teased out. It is a drama after all and no one really wants to watch ‘happy families’.

Q. The relationship between the two of you is something that has captured the fans’ imagination. There’s lots of YouTube montages out there set to Taylor Swift music. Are you aware of those?
Owain Yeoman: Oh really? I haven’t spent my evenings putting in ‘Taylor Swift Rigs-Pelt’ [laughs]. I will now, of course, do nothing but that! It’s lovely, though, when that kind of thing happens. I mean, look, when you’re an actor you’re only as good as your audience and the story is only to be told if someone there is listening, so I’ve done plenty of shows that haven’t found an audience. No one sets out to make a bad show. A lot of work goes into them… sometimes even more work goes into a show that doesn’t fly. So, it’s great to find something that sticks and it’s lovely to be in a franchise like this because it’s lovely to be on a big world stage of a show that I’m proud to be a part of and really enjoy making. And then to have that final piece of the puzzle – the audience… it’s the one piece you can’t control, so when they come to you and they go: “We like what you do and we enjoy you characters…” That’s very, very gratifying.

Q. How far in advance do you know what’s going to happen to Rigsby?
Owain Yeoman: There’s a long burn and a slower burn. There’s a long burn and a more short-term process happening. We get the script sort of two or three episodes ahead of time, so that in the short-term immediately begins to point out where things are. I had a lunch recently with Chris and Bruno, our two main producers, where they’ll put out broad strokes for the next season and say: “OK, this is where we imagine it…” They’re brilliant at creating a collaborative environment and that’s not always the case. Sometimes people will go: “This is what you’re doing and you’ll like it!” Chris and Bruno aren’t like that… they invite collaboration. Simon [Baker] is a great collaborator and I think that it’s the success of the show: we have great chemistry with each other and we’re all happy and relaxed enough to be able to offer ideas and also for those ideas to sometimes suck. But if you can be brave enough and dare enough to fail that can create a very, very exciting creative environment and hopefully makes something that’s really good.

The Mentalist, Owain Yeoman

Q. Does it feel like a family to you now?
Owain Yeoman: It has. In many respects, the show takes care of itself. We’ve got to a point now where Simon directed an episode recently. Part of the beauty of what he was doing was that he was able to leave it alone. You know, we all know our characters very well and unlike a movie where the director is king, sometimes you’ll get a day playing director or you bring a director in who isn’t as familiar with the show and you have to be responsible for your character’s through-line. We are all very close, which is nice. I went out for dinner recently with Tim [Kang] and this person came up to me and said: “What are you doing? You guys are in a show together, so why are you having dinner together?” And I said: “Well, because we really enjoy each other’s company.”

But that’s a testament to how close we are. It takes a special kind of bond with someone to work 15 or 16 hour days and then on the weekends go: “Shall we go out and grab a drink or some dinner?” Tim is one of my closest friends and Amanda [Righetti] is the same… Robin [Tunney] and Simon… we’re all just so in a place now where we’re grateful to be part of something that’s succeeding. And that can’t help but create a good atmosphere.

Q. How is it for you when you get to this time of year, when everything is being renewed or cancelled? You’ve probably seen both sides of that coin… It seems to have been turned into a bit of a game in the media now…
Owain Yeoman: Yes I’ve seen both sides. But you never allow yourself to relax too much. I think if I ever lose that fear it will probably be the time to give up because every single job I ever get I have to convince myself that there must have been some mistake and someone will knock on my trailer door and say: “I’m so sorry, we didn’t want the Welsh guy, we wanted someone else.” [Laughs] But I think that fear drives you and it fuels ambition. It is lovely that for the first time ever I’ve allowed myself to think… well, obviously we are going to come back next year. I think there are stories for miles to be told on this show. So, just to have the support of the audience, to be sold already into syndication, and to have that on the horizon is really exciting. It’s nice just to know that maybe I’ll be able to pay the rent for a bit longer.

Q. Will you ever direct an episode?
Owain Yeoman: I’d love to! I’ve actually put it out there to the guys already. I think it’s something that probably wouldn’t happen before Season 5 but I’m OK with that because I think it’s something that would be a great and reassuring environment to cut my teeth on that… But it’s also very scary too and I don’t want to be the guy who single-handedly brings down the show! “It was great until he directed it!”

The Mentalist, Owain Yeoman

Q. The 24 episode nature of a lot of American shows requires a long commitment on the part of the actor. So, what do you do when you’ve finished a season?
Owain Yeoman: A mixture of things really. It’s about the decompressing of nine and a half months of solid filming. Obviously, I’m living away from home as well. I mean, I’ve been in LA for eight years but I still consider the UK home. So, it’s a combination of trying to get back to see family. I shot a movie during the season, which almost killed me. I’d finish on the show in the evening, then I’d go off to the later set and begin at 8pm, film until 4am and then start The Mentalist again at 6am. Fortunately, I was playing a character who was an insomniac and nothing reads like an insomniac than insomnia! But I’m a workaholic. I love to enjoy the momentum of working and I think I feel that if I stop working it might be forever, so this time it’s been nice to promote the show and try and get some more work and all too soon be back into Season 4.

Q. Looking back on your career, I also loved Generation Kill. So, what was it like getting to work with people like David Simon?
Owain Yeoman: Thank you! Oh my goodness, for me The Wire is as good as TV gets. My two favourite shows are The Wire and The Mentalist [laughs]. David Simon and Ed Burns, like Bruno our creator, are fiercely intelligent people and they make no deference to an audience. Generation Kill, I think it’s safe to say, is the one project that I filmed that even after I’d wrapped it I didn’t fully understand the whole thing. It moves at such a pace. To have a project where you work with 50 guys, and not a single female presence on the set, meant that it was quite testosterone fuelled. You know, there was a lot of meat being eaten, a lot of anger and a lot of working out. But there was great camaraderie. I remember the guy who I was playing, who was our military adviser, and someone turned round to him and said: “I’ve been away from home for nine months now.” And he said: “It’s almost like I’m at war. I feel like I’m in the military.” And he turned around and said to that guy: “Oh yeah, yeah, it’s just like war only with less death and more make-up.” I really loved that. It made me laugh. But it was an extraordinary experience.

Q. How often do you get mistaken for being American?
Owain Yeoman: Quite a lot. It can be quite a surprise to people, which to me is the biggest compliment I can get. It’s also a great thing to get out if you don’t want to be recognised [laughs]. If someone says: “Are you that guy…” I can reply: “I get that all the time. No, I’m British! I just look a bit like him.” [Laughs]

Q. What’s the strangest fan request you’ve had?
Owain Yeoman: I had a little fan, who is really sweet and I’m not going to speak badly of her because she set up a website for me… I mean, the work that’s gone into it is phenomenal. She was a girl from Holland and she sent me some pictures of herself with montages of my photographs around her bed, which was sweet, and then she sent me some tokens to purchase cheese. And then she sent me a cheese cutter! So, I’m a vegan… I appreciated the gesture but it’s like going to someone: “I know you’re allergic to this but have it anyway and here’s the utensils to cut it with!” [Laughs]

Q. What’s your favourite episode of The Mentalist so far? *Owain Yeoman: Probably selfishly filming Red-Headed Stepchild. It was great just to have an episode that felt like your own. There was a lot of pressure that came with it but the response that came to that episode was overwhelmingly positive. It was nice to feel like you can stretch your legs. Often with procedurals you don’t want to feel as though you’re being reduced to a file carrier… my friend calls it ‘f-acting’ and it’s the difference between acting and ‘f-acting’. Sometimes you have to serve the… chewing the bamboo is the term they use, when you just have to serve the storyline and lay the pipe of the storyline. So, to be able to do something tangibly emotional is an actor’s dream.

The Mentalist: Season 3 is out on Blu-ray and DVD on October 10, 2011, courtesy of Warner Home Video.