From the mind of Stephen King, Season 2 of the AT&T Audience Network (available on DirecTV) drama series Mr. Mercedes picks up a year after the attempt Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) made to commit a second mass murder in the community of Bridgton, Ohio, landing him in a vegetative state in the hospital. Retired Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) has done his best to move on from his obsession with the psychopath, by trying to keep himself busy with work, but when unexplainable occurrences begin to happen among the hospital staff, Hodges begins to wonder if there’s some way that Brady could be responsible.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Brendan Gleeson talked about what he most enjoys when it comes to playing the very flawed Hodges, why he wanted last season to affect his character this season, the importance of grounding the spookiness, the fascinatingly complex and creepy dynamic between Hodges and Brady, the fun of actually getting to work with Harry Treadaway this season, and that the relationship with Ida (Holland Taylor) keeps Hodges from only spending time with his tortoise. He also talked about working with his family on the short film Psychic, for which he made his directorial debut, and what he’s going to go do next.
Collider: When this TV series first came your way, what was it about the story and this character, in particular, that most appealed to you, and has that changed, at all, as you’ve done two seasons now?
BRENDAN GLEESON: Well, I think the character is very rich. It’s an older character that has been properly explored, which you don’t always get. It’s a bit like the way women were, for years, just as part of another story. I think older people have been part of other stories for quite a long time, but it’s very seldom that their emotional life is explored. For somebody like me, that’s gold dust. [Hodges] is very flawed. In the book, he was suicidal, in the opening part. We tried to tone that down a small bit, but it’s apparently true that a lot of retired detectives and police officers take their own lives. People who have given themselves over to a particular life, have seen an awful lot of really bad stuff, and have maybe lost their families through over-commitment to it, amongst other things. They feel very alone when their job goes. He was very challenged, and at the heart of him was a stubbornness about holding up certain principles, of what he felt was acceptable, as proper human behavior. There was a very beaten up, flawed nobility about his soul, somewhere hidden amongst all the booze and the desperation. This kind of stuff is what you want to get your teeth into, so it’s been pretty great.
Because the storytelling has shifted a bit this season, does it feel different, as far as the things you liked about Hodges, or do you feel like you’re just getting to explore that in a different way?
GLEESON: I wanted him to be fairly different this season, in the sense that I couldn’t see the point of going through last season, if he didn’t learn anything from it. So, I wanted him to be more evolved and a little easier in his skin, in the sense that he’s been vindicated. He brought down the bad guy. Everything he’d been saying about the bad guy had been brought into the light of day. I felt like, on that level, he must have had a better sense of himself. He isn’t a persistent self-loather. That’s not just his default position. Fundamentally, he can be at ease with himself, when he’s allowed to get his job done. I also think the fact that his heart has been opened a little bit, in terms of his connection with Janey (Mary-Louise Parker), even though that ended horribly, in the first season, taught him about the possibilities that were still there for him and his life. She fed into some latent optimism that had been lost. So, I was hoping that it would go that way. I was never totally sold on just anything being possible. If you get into the spooky stuff, I wanted it to be chained to a believable reality. It had to be credible, even if it was moving into weird areas. In terms of what we know about the brain, there’s so much that we know we don’t know, at this point. There are a lot of things that are only partially explored with the paranormal, so I wasn’t averse to going into that area, as long as it remained rooted. For example, Hodges can question that. In a way, Hodges almost becomes a voice of incredulity for the audience. He has to believe what’s going on. We didn’t want to just go into spooky-land and lose that great inventiveness that we had in the first season.
This show gets so dark, at times, that it is very much a horror story, but you don’t want it to feel campy.
GLEESON: No, you don’t. You don’t want to turn into bats. We said, from the very beginning, that what we’re trying to maintain is that the worst demons are within, and we’ve never lost sight of that.
What was it like to have to wait until the second season of this show to actually be able to interact with your co-star, Harry Treadaway?
GLEESON: It was crazy! Myself and Harry were at opposite ends of the story, battling for one world against the other. That was very interesting, in Season 1, but it was great to share things. He’s amazing. He really has made that character completely his own. It’s wonderful.
It’s such an interesting dynamic because they are so intertwined, and yet we spent the first season not actually getting to see them together.
GLEESON: It was really fascinating. They would see each other, but not interconnect. He’d come zipping by in his little ice cream van, and Hodges wouldn’t throw him a second glance. It was like ships passing in the night. It was a great set up. We’ll see now where we go, in Season 2.
As the audience, we’re not sure if Brady can get other people to do his bidding, or whether people are really hearing him, or why they’re acting the way that they are. How much more dangerous do things get, without anybody really knowing who’s going to be acting out now?
GLEESON: I know! It’s tough to tell.
At least before, Hodges had an idea of what he was looking for, but now, it seems like it could be coming from anywhere.
GLEESON: I know. The danger, if it can come from absolutely anywhere, would get slightly out of control because, if everybody is the enemy or everybody could be, then nobody is, really. There has to be a certain limitation to that, otherwise it can just float out of anywhere. It’s not allowed to get out of control. It dissipates a little bit and stays in the right zone.