‘Mr. Mercedes’ – Harry Treadaway Interview on Playing a Psychopath

Mr. Mercedes star Harry Treadaway
Harry Treadaway stars in AT&T Audience Network’s ‘Mr. Mercedes’

Harry Treadaway‘s moved on from playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein on Showtime’s critically acclaimed Penny Dreadful to a starring role as the titular character in AT&T Audience Network’s new dramatic series, Mr. Mercedes. The series is based on the book by Stephen King and finds Treadaway playing a psychopathic killer engaged in a game of cat and mouse with a retired police detective played by Brendan Gleeson. In support of the series’ upcoming premiere on August 9, 2017, Treadaway and his fellow cast members participated in a panel at the San Diego Comic Con followed by roundtable interviews delving further into the adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel.

What was your entry point into the character? What did you grab onto?

Harry Treadaway: “The book. Absolutely, the book. The book’s such a detailed, brilliantly written portrait of this disturbed young man. You start to understand or have glimpses into why he’s behaving the way he does. The idea of someone who is this charismatic ice cream truck seller who the kids love, also to be a good but not prolific worker in an electric store, to also be sort of a caretaker to his mother, and then have this completely other separate life – it’s almost four different parts that you’re playing. That’s something that’s often seen with psychopaths, an ability to play different personas and to be charming if they need to be. So, it was really fun.

Even though he’s the most horrific, homophobic, racist, anti-everything and everyone person you could ever think of who’s done mass murders, you start to empathize with the guy. When you’re reading the book in a weird way you don’t ever forgive him, you don’t ever accept him on any level, but this guy who was an abuse victim and who was taught almost how to get away with murder – if you’ve read the book you’ll understand what I mean – as a young kid by his mother, the chips weren’t in his favor. And if he was born with a propensity to have psychopathic tendencies anyway, that’s the way in for those people often. It’s a mixture of different ingredients which can lead to someone who wants to kill other people.

For me, part of the joy of this job, I think, is to see life from different angles and get inside the head of different people in different worlds and whatever throughout different periods or times or social places. This is the most horrific mindset to be in, someone who literally takes joy and pleasure in thinking about how you can create massive amounts of violence. That’s a horrible headset, but if it’s a sport – which it is not – that would be a good run to try and get there. That’s a bizarre analogy, but it was like you want that challenge to try and see the world from as many different places as possible. It was quite dark and disturbing, the research and looking into it all, who these people are and stuff, but at the same time it was fascinating. It was a dark pleasure to play someone who was so horrific. (Laughing) Someone very far away from myself, obviously.”

It’s got to be hard to get out of that headspace.

Harry Treadaway: “It was weird. I found myself tuning into TV that was the least empathy-driven because I felt like I couldn’t watch anything that tugged at my heartstrings or anything that was emotionally sensitive. So, I found shows with no empathy which were Fox News, UFC, and Shark Tank. You can watch those shows and you’re never asked to really care about another human being because it’s all just sort of one tone of zero empathy.”

What sort of research did you do for Mr. Mercedes?

Harry Treadaway: “Just reading. I got a stack of books that were about psychopaths, or children who kill, or psychopathy or sociopaths. I read case studies and watched documentaries. You’re just bowled over when you watch interviews with people who have committed horrific, violent acts. They still have two arms and two eyes, and they can still make a joke. Yeah, there are quite a lot that there is clearly some psychological disconnect going on, but there are a lot that are engaging and can sit and have a normal conversation. That’s for me the most frightening is that type of [person]. If the signs aren’t there that someone’s capable of doing something like that, that for me is the most chilling to read in a novel or to watch something.

For the research it was that, basically, and to try to empathize with someone who has no empathy. It was a weird thing because most characters you play do, because that’s what most humans do – they have empathy. They can say something hurtful to someone, but they’d be aware that they hurt them. Or they can punch someone, but they’d be aware that they hurt that person. If you don’t have that, all bets are off in terms of what you can do to people because you don’t care. You don’t have any feelings for them at all. It’s a dark, dark character but really fun to play.”

Do you seek out this type of evil roles?

Harry Treadaway: “No, they seek me out. For me, personally, there’s less design in one’s career. […] Different opportunities arise and I’ve never been a massive horror fan. But I don’t think…the different pieces which you’re referring to, there are a lot of darks and horror things, but they are all quite different genres and tones. I feel like the story is the main thing. I never try and see it or read it or do it with a genre cap on. I just try and tell the story in the part as best as possible.”

Can you talk about working with Kelly Lynch? (Kelly Lynch plays his mother.)

Harry Treadaway: “Amazing. I had the best fun. She is an absolute dream. Amazing actress and we have just so much fun. She’s awesome. We had a really sort of tight relationship in the story and thank god it was with someone who was so much fun to work with. It was really interesting. It was kind of how do you make this relationship believable and true and don’t judge it too much? Yes, he does what he has done, and, yes, she does what she does but there’s people out there living in worlds like that around the world. So, it’s all there. She abused him as a kid but thought she was helping him. She’s confused and damaged and troubled as well herself. Often there’s a chain of events; you could go back and look into her childhood and see what happened there. I’m sure there were things that were awful as well. It’s just this kind of really sad, heartbreaking relationship, really, between them and you feel for her and you feel for them both, in some weird way.”

More on Mr. Mercedes: Kelly Lynch Interview / Jack Bender Interview

Watch the full Harry Treadaway Mr. Mercedes interview: