The following are excerpts from the roundtable interviews with Mr. Mercedes’ Justine Lupe (Holly Gibney), Breeda Wool (Lou Linklatter), Jack Huston (Dr. Felix Babineau), and Maximiliano Hernández (ADA Antonio Montez). The answers have been grouped under similar topic headings, although each took place separately at San Diego Comic-Con 2018:
On Brady Hartsfield’s effect on the characters (new and returning):
Jack Huston: You will definitely see certain manipulations happen; maybe this is going a little more into new realms.
In a sense, [Babineau] is playing a God a bit. I think he’s surprised about what happens and I think so will the audience be.
Breeda Wool: I’m glad that Jack Bender and David Kelley and Dennis Lehane are exploring this in season two. It’s a fascinating topic, to see how everyone copes with violence and the aftermath of having all of your power taken away. [I]t’s a betrayal that’s extremely deep.[Lou] worked there with [Brady] for a long time while he was killing people. I always imagined that we had watched the footage of the Mercedes killer together at the store, and I knew he was really weird, but he was my kind of weird, I guess, which in hindsight, knowing now that he’s the Mercedes killer, what is my kind [of weird]?
I think anytime somebody uses or betrays somebody like that, you have to say, “Is there something about me that attracts that type of violence,” which is a survivor’s and victim’s dilemma, right? “Is it my fault? Am I somehow bringing this to myself?” Some of that is explored in season two as well. I felt like I explored something worthwhile.
On character dynamics between the various characters and Hodges:
Breeda Wool: What I like about this show so much is that there are these satellite stories and you never know when they’re going to come together and they don’t. I think that David E. Kelley [executive producer and writer] and Jack Bender are brilliant storytellers, and they bring people together in ways that you weren’t expecting.
Justine Lupe: [Hodges] creates a space for [Holly] to be herself and step into being a more complete version of herself. [He] makes her feel safe in there from the very beginning
Everyone should have someone who lets them be completely themselves and pushes them to grow, and you see that evolve even more in the second season. You see how their relationship shifts because she does come into her own; she gains a confidence that she didn’t have before.
I feel like when people are given permission to be themselves, they inherently have more confidence because they see that they’re okay, and I feel like that’s where her growth comes from. Also Jerome [Robinson, the character played by Jharrel Jerome] was wonderful; he immediately embraces her and also believes in her brain. [He] trusts her to be able to problem-solve.
It’s not so clean-cut, but I think she wants to—she loves Hodges and she wants him to be happy and okay and mentally sound, so this whole thing with Brady is weird.
I think that there are moments of her trying to negotiate his well-being and their business’ well-being, and also trusting him and wanting to assist him in whatever he needs to do. You see that play out in the second season in all of its different ways. It’s exciting.
Maxmiliano Hernández: In the beginning, [Hodges and Montez] are trying to feel each other out. We do a little dance; we are playing a little chess game with each other.
We’re assessing each other and we’re both alpha males; I want things done my way; he wants things done his way. It’s contentious and I think maybe about—I’m not giving anything away here—but maybe about halfway through, we realize that it’s probably a lot better to work together. Even though that’s trying as well because again, we’re both alphas and we both want things to go the way we want them.
And then there’s a big thing that happens that—I love knowing shit that you can’t know! But there is this big thing that happens; for me at least, it is an “Okay, now we have to work together” moment. Oh, God, I wish I could tell you guys! It’s terrible.
I think not only does [Hodges] get vindicated, clearly he is proven right and there are remnants of that at the end where we recognize because we now have this person in custody.
There is that moment for Hodges where they give him some love, without a doubt.
On fan and Stephen King’s reactions to the characters:
Justine Lupe: You know, I’m not on any social media. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. So I don’t know.[But King] really likes her, so that makes me really happy. He has said nice things; I have had friends send me tweets that he has done about Holly in particular that make me happy.
In terms of the fan reaction, I’m actually happy to be here [at SDCC] because I kind of isolate myself from—not because I’m not appreciative or loving towards the fans, but just because of the internet and bullying. [I]’ve been through some bullying, so I’d rather not be privy to that part of it, but I am excited to be here because I do love that there are people watching our show.
I hope that people have been able to relate to [Holly] and hopefully maybe be inspired or feel there’s a voice. There are people with autism and who are on the spectrum, and I feel like Holly is representative of how awesome those people can be and are. I hope that there are people that found a voice in her.
Jack Huston: I know that [King] can be a very harsh critic on a lot of his material—he is very vocal about things. I think that we are very lucky because I know he liked Season One, so let’s just wait until he sees me in Season Two before we pass judgment.
To be such a staunch supporter, someone who has been such a cheerleader, who is so on your side—[King] and Jack [Bender] have a great relationship, [and] I don’t think that he minces words. I think that he would tell [Jack] very quickly if he didn’t like it. That [King] is being so supportive catapults you to do better work.
You want to do the best you possibly can for someone like Stephen King, especially right now when he is having this amazing moment of all the different projects [of his] that are happening.
On the comatose Hartsfield’s potential “interactions” with the others:
Jack Huston: [Brady’s] in a vulnerable position. You’re going to witness or experience Brady in a completely different light in this season. Harry [Treadaway] is such a wonderful actor and he was tasked with some pretty tough stuff this season. [B]eing in a coma and having to lay there with your eyes open might seem like an easy job, [but] it is one of the hardest things that you could ever imagine, especially when there is someone like me shining a light on [you].
Breeda Wool: I don’t know what happens in the series, but, in my imagination in the story, I have had 1,000 confrontations with Brady Hartsfield. I can’t wake up and take a shower, I can’t spend a single moment away from a technological device without going over and over and over and over and over in my mind what it would be like to stab him; what if I had taken the knife and gone like that instead. “What if he had killed me? Why didn’t he kill me? Because he loves me? Is he my friend?” I think about that a lot in the story.
Hodges’ obsession is largely based on the potential of catching him, and I become kind of obsessed in the same way. It rules my life after that.
Also you try to go about your life and then that creeps in, and there is definitely a bit of a preoccupation with confronting him. I have a preoccupation with confronting him in the story. Whether I do or whether I don’t is yet to be revealed.
On the emotional status of their characters:
Breeda Wool (mentioning that the Parkland High School shooting happened when they were filming the new season): I think that that is the function of horror and thrillers, is that you can talk about it and experience these topics without it being real. The Parkland High School kids don’t get to walk away from that experience and I do, so I wanted to learn from them and discover from them.
It’s make-believe, but it is real issues and real topics, and I want to do them honor and justice. Whether I accomplish that, I don’t know.
Hopefully, I won’t know what that’s like. Hopefully, a lot less people will know what that is like.
What the new characters are like and will be up to:
Jack Huston: I’m the doctor that, I want to say, repairs [Hartsfield]. I’m a brain surgeon/neurosurgeon that sort of keeps him from dying.
Felix is someone who’s very ambitious, who believes that there might be a bit of a gray area when it comes to ethics within medical science—he thinks that if you can possibly save millions, maybe there’s things that one can do that are not quite above board. [H]e is using Brady as a bit of his guinea pig.
Maxmiliano Hernández: I am the assistant district attorney in charge of the homicide unit in Bridgeton, Ohio, which is the town where Mr. Mercedes takes place.[Montez is] a little bit of a social climber. [H]e wants to become D.A. [M]aybe he has higher political aspirations and he wants to use the trial of Brady Hartsfield as a springboard for that, so he doesn’t want Brady in a coma. He wants him awake and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed so he can get him in court and use him to propel himself into stardom.
I need him [awake] because I can’t try a vegetable! I will do whatever I need to do in order to help facilitate Jack Huston’s character, Felix Babineau, [to wake up Hartsfield]: “You do what you need to do and I will turn a blind eye, whether it’s legal or not.” Because of my own ambition, I am okay with maybe bending the law that I’m supposed to be enforcing.
My character is a son of Bridgeton, Ohio; I want to give closure and peace to the people that have been affected by the killings, but I also want to use this guy to get out [of Bridgeton].
On Babineau vs. Montez:
Maxmiliano Hernández: I’m okay with letting him off the leash [but] I don’t want to know about it.
I’m willing to manipulate things a little bit in order to have that happen, but it turns into, “Is Felix manipulating me, or am I manipulating him?” It turns out we are both manipulating each other. We both have an agenda. I think the three main guys with agendas are myself, Babineau, and Hodges. Hodges’ agenda is, “I want that guy gone. I want that guy dead.” Mine is that I want that guy tried and then if he dies, it’s fine; I don’t care. Felix is, “I want the guy awake because I’ll prove to the world that I’m this great doctor and I’ll find stardom myself.”
On the books vs. the television adaptation:
Jack Huston: What one might think they know from reading the books—our writers took a certain amount of artistic liberty, as one does and has to in the making of a show like this, with the complete consent and love of Stephen King who, you know at his own admission, loves the show and is a big cheerleader for it.
It’s got some of the greatest writers there are right now. With the guidance of Jack [Bender], who is our showrunner, I think that they manage to find some pretty new, interesting avenues that I don’t think an audience and those who know the books will be expecting.
I read Mr. Mercedes. I didn’t read the other books. Jack [said] “You could, but what we’re doing isn’t as it appears in the books.” I’ve done different parts […] based on a novel, and sometimes the director can adamantly say, “You must read this,” but then what happens a lot is you become beholden upon the book and say, “Well, why isn’t this in there and why isn’t that in there?” You want to look at it as independent media and that it’s for television.
Maybe it is something that I would read later on and I think that would be cool. [R]ight now, I don’t want to be—I don’t want to say “tainted”—but I didn’t want my character to be influenced by my perception of him within the novel […] because I don’t think that it is anything like it. On top of that, I think that he is 65 [years old].
Maxmiliano Hernández: Now the world knows who Mr. Mercedes is. You have these other characters that come in and have an impact on the story. And I’m lucky, too, because my character is not in the books, so no one has any expectations of me. You know, “That guy does not look like the guy the way I read him in the book.” There is none of that because people are fanatics about this kind of stuff. For me, it is incredibly freeing and fun.
I am a big fan of [King’s] and I think that when you become part of a Stephen King property, you enter his world. It is really cool.
You get something like the Hodges books and it’s his take on the detective novel—how would you not want to be a part of that? And then David E. Kelley’s involved, so it’s like a dream come true for me. Every day I say to myself, “I can’t believe I get to do this.”