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The Untold Truth Of The Mentalist

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Sure, there are a good number of shows about psychics out there, but there are none quite like "The Mentalist." Created by British screenwriter and director Bruno Heller, "The Mentalist" follows Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), a former psychic and con man who begins working with the California Bureau of Investigations, or the CBI. Though Jane is not a "true" psychic, his keen skills in observation and hypnosis allow him to help the team solve crimes. The CBI team is led by Agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), who has a rather combative working relationship with Jane.

While "The Mentalist" is certainly a procedural, an elaborate mystery and revenge plot runs through the entire series. Jane begins working with the CBI in the first place is after his wife and daughter are killed by a serial killer known as Red John, and his life mission is to hunt down and kill this elusive murderer. While Jane comes off as a charming, happy-go-lucky guy, his dark past and desire for revenge undergird everything he does, adding depth and complexity to an otherwise run-of-the-mill crime show.

Think you know everything there is to know about "The Mentalist"? Well, think again. We did a deep dive into the creation of the series and came up with some fascinating tidbits to satisfy your curiosity. Read on to discover the untold truth of "The Mentalist," but be aware — there are some major spoilers ahead.

The show was inspired by Sherlock Holmes and psychics 

"The Mentalist" was developed by screenwriter Bruno Heller, who previously created the epic HBO series "Rome," which was sadly canceled after two high-budget seasons. "The Mentalist" was Heller's second creation as showrunner, and it couldn't be any more different from his first project.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Heller discussed how he came up with the initial idea for the show. The first spark, according to Heller, was his "desire to do a Sherlock Holmes type of character." Heller had also noticed that "every street in America has a psychic or palm reader — so there's a whole world of people in the position of selling a line of bull***t and at the same time helping people." For Heller, combining these two ideas came naturally to him. A detective who is able to use the skills of a psychic –- manipulation, reading people, and the like –- was a formula too good to pass up.

Bruno Heller wanted a 'Cary Grant type' for the role

On the surface, Simon Baker seems like the perfect choice for the role of Patrick Jane, but he wasn't exactly who Bruno Heller originally had in mind. Heller had imagined that someone like Cary Grant would be perfect for the role. As he explained to The Hollywood Reporter, his idea was that the part "needed somebody with grace — physical and spiritual grace." The grace of the character was important to Heller "because those guys — mentalists and psychics — they have to be people you'd want to get close to because that's what they are trying to do with you."

As it turns out, though Baker isn't quite Cary Grant -– he's a blonde Australian, after all –- he was perfect for the role. Baker was an ideal choice, according to Heller, because "he brings whole other stuff to the role that I hadn't imagined." As for the charm and grace? Baker has those qualities "in spades." It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the role of Patrick Jane, as his unique and charming persona is one of the most compelling aspects of the show. In fact, the Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara called Baker "virtually irresistible" in her review of the show's first season.

The show doesn't exactly claim that psychics don't exist, but it doesn't say they're real, either

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Bruno Heller revealed what he really thinks about psychics in the real world, and while he didn't endorse the concept, he didn't entirely rule it out, either. Heller claims he doesn't believe in psychics, but that his wife does. As Heller himself allows, "you can't prove a negative" where psychics are concerned.

So where does that leave "The Mentalist"? Well, according to Heller, "the show isn't saying there's no such thing as psychics, just that [Patrick Jane] wasn't a real one and he's never seen a real one." Though Jane himself doesn't believe in psychics, he feels that perhaps those who do might still get enjoyment out of the show. As Heller puts it, "in that sense we're having our cake and eating it too."

Simon Baker got his start doing Australian soap operas

Although Patrick Jane may seem like an all-American con man on the show, Simon Baker doesn't have that in common with his character. In fact, Baker is actually Australian, and got his start on Australian soap operas like "E Street," "Home and Away," and "Heartbreak High." His first big break in Hollywood was in the neo-noir film "L.A. Confidential," which also stars Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Kim Basinger.

Prior to his stint on "The Mentalist," Baker played the lead role in another CBS series called "The Guardian," a legal drama that ran from 2001 to 2004. Before landing his role in "The Mentalist," audiences might have known him from his part in 2006's "The Devil Wears Prada," where he plays a magazine writer named Christian Thompson. In 2021 Baker told Today that he hadn't ever seen the film, despite the fact that it was widely popular and had been out for fifteen years. No word on whether he's ever watched himself on "The Mentalist" or if he revisits those Australian soaps every now and again.

Michelle Vega was always meant to die 

Following the death of Red John in Season 6, it was clear that "The Mentalist" needed another shocking twist in Season 7 to keep things interesting for fans. That twist came in the form of the death of rookie agent Michelle Vega (Josie Loren), a character introduced at the beginning of the seventh season only to be killed off in Episode 10.

As executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi told ET, it was always the plan to have Vega die in the middle of the season. Since the writers knew Season 7 was going to be the show's last, they wanted something that would parallel the trauma of Jane losing his wife in daughter so that Jane would be forced to make some tough decisions about the future. Vega's death is the catalyst that pushes Jane to leave the world of law enforcement, and it causes the complicated dynamic between Jane and Lisbon to finally come to a head.

Though actor Josie Loren was told about her character's death from the beginning, apparently others on set –- who were kept in the dark about Vega's fate -– didn't take the news very well. Loren told The Hollywood Reporter that some cast members were saddened and even angry about Vega being killed off, and executive producer Tom Szentgyorgyi said some cast members even came up to him and asked him to keep her alive. Though Vega's death was certainly tragic, it at least had the intended effect on the characters and was perhaps tangentially the reason for Jane and Lisbon's marriage in the series finale.

The show was filmed in LA, not Sacramento 

Prior to Red John being caught, the team on "The Mentalist" all work for The California Bureau of Investigation, a real-life organization headquartered in Sacramento. Unsurprisingly, as is the case for many American shows, "The Mentalist" was not actually filmed in Sacramento, but was shot in Los Angeles instead.

Some fans of the series were interested in figuring out where exactly the locations on the show were located, and one such sleuth came up with the answer. According to a filming locations blog, the CBI headquarters on the show (which is meant to be in Sacramento) is actually a historic building in downtown LA known as the Pico House, which used to be a luxury hotel and is now a National Historic Landmark. The building has a rather iconic facade, which is likely why the back of the building was used to film the exterior shots for the show. 

The Pico House is no longer a hotel and is now used for private events and as a filming location. You can even visit it on your own if you're so inclined.

Bruno Heller knew Red John had to die from the beginning

While creator Bruno Heller might not have known everything about how he wanted "The Mentalist" to end, he knew one thing: Red John had to die. Heller told The Hollywood Reporter that he "never considered any other ending" for that part of the story. Heller thought it would have been a cop-out not to have the Red John story end in death. "I always hated those heist movies where they didn't get away with the heist or revenge movies where they didn't reap their revenge," he said.

Interestingly enough, although Heller knew Red John had to die, he didn't actually know Red John's identity until several seasons in. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Heller noted that "It kind of just emerged over the last couple years. There was always three or four possibilities." This meant that while Jane and the team were trying to figure out the identity of Red John, so were Heller and his team. Luckily they all figured it out before it was too late.

Simon Baker chose Jane's car himself 

Watching "The Mentalist," it's clear that Patrick Jane is a unique character. From his impressive selection of vests to his unusual way of dealing with people, Jane is one-of-a-kind. Actor Simon Baker loved this about the character and took it upon himself to make sure everything about Jane matched his inimitable personality.

While doing press for the show in Paris, Baker revealed that he chose Jane's iconic car himself, "saying that he wanted his character, Patrick Jane, to drive something that was a little out of the ordinary." The vehicle in question is a 1972 Citroën DS 20, and it's definitely not the kind of car you see every day. If you wanted the car for yourself, you're out of luck –- Baker gifted the famous car to the French TV channel TF1 to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2015. As it turns out, they love "The Mentalist" in France, too.

Someone wrote a book 'cracking the code' of the show

For casual fans of "The Mentalist," the identity of Red John must have been a huge surprise. However, for one fan, there were clues pointing to who the mysterious killer was all along. That fan, David Daniel, also happens to be a professor of psychology, decided to compile the clues he had found throughout the series into a book entitled "The Mentalist Code and the Search for Red John."

According to Daniel, he figured out the identity of Red John early on, but decided to keep these clues to himself initially out of respect for other fans and the show's writers. In the book, Daniel details over 100 clues that he claims Heller left throughout the series that pointed to Red John's identity. "Obviously, Heller assumed someone, someday would crack the code –- and I have," said Daniel. The reviews for the book on Amazon, are, shall we say, not great, but we've got to give the guy credit for trying. The fact that Heller has said he actually didn't know Red John's identity from the beginning also calls Daniel's claims into question, but we don't need to get into that right now.

Bruno Heller didn't think Jane and Lisbon were going to end up together initially 

In hindsight, it now seems obvious that Jane and Lisbon would end up together, as this type of relationship is par for the course on procedurals like this. But, as creator Bruno Heller explained to Deadline, he didn't plan on them winding up together in the end. Producer Tom Szentgyorgyi contends that when Heller wrote the pilot for the show, he thought it "would end with Jane catching Red John," and that would be it. However, when Jane kills Red John less than halfway through the sixth season, Szentgyorgyi and Heller knew there was more to explore.

The Season Six finale sees Jane confessing his love to Lisbon, and Heller and Szentgyorgyi knew that was something they needed to explore further if they were given another season. According to Szentgyorgyi, "​​before the renewal Bruno and I pitched Season 7 to CBS. Part of the pitch was that we were going to end with a wedding." While it may not have been in the cards from the beginning, the storybook ending was, according to the writers, what the characters deserved after so many traumatic years.

The actor who played Red John didn't know what he signed up for 

In 2008, actor Xander Berkeley appeared in Season 1, Episode 2 of "The Mentalist," playing a local sheriff named McAllister. After filming the episode, Berkeley didn't hear from the producers again until five later, when they called him back to film a few episodes for Season 6.

Speaking with a fan blog, Berkeley shared what it was like to get that call so many years later. Initially, they didn't tell him if he was reprising the same character or if they wanted him for an entirely new character, something he had done on previous shows. Berkely said that when he played the sheriff in Season 1, he was certain his character was not Red John. Between Seasons 1 and 5, Berkely lived a whole other life -– he had kids and moved his family to Canada for work -– so it was a surprise for him to get another call from "The Mentalist."

He didn't even know he was going to be playing Red John when he got this second call, as producers initially told him he would be playing a "finalist suspect" in a lineup of Red John suspects. He still thought he was playing a kind of "red herring" character and was shocked and intimidated that he would be playing Red John himself. According to Heller, the fact that McAllister seemed like an unlikely suspect was kind of the point.

The actor who played Kimball Cho had an unconventional journey to acting 

One of the most beloved characters on "The Mentalist" is Kimball Cho, who appeared in all 151 episodes of the show. Cho is an honest, straightforward agent whose by-the-books manner hides the fact that he spent time in juvenile detention as a teenager. Cho is played by actor Tim Kang, who had a rather unconventional journey to showbiz.

Speaking with Collider, Kang discussed how he discovered acting literally by chance. According to Kang, he was walking down the street in San Fransisco on the way to work one morning and passed the American Conservatory Theater, which was advertising night acting classes for adults. He decided to sign up on a whim and quickly discovered that he loved it and wanted to do it for the rest of his life. He eventually left his career in finance – where he was buying and selling stocks at the Pacific Stock Exchange –- and, after years of auditioning, landed his gig on "The Mentalist."

Following his role in "The Mentalist," Kang went on to play Detective Gordon Katsumoto on "Magnum P.I." –- but he will always be Kimball Cho to us.