Executive producer Jack Bender says he was unaware Stephen King was going to make Mr. Mercedes into a book series when he optioned King’s novel. Mr. Mercedes is set to premiere on AT&T Audience Network on August 9, 2017 starring Harry Treadaway in the titular role. The cast also includes Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Lynch, Mary-Louise Parker, Breeda Wool, Jharrel Jerome, and Holland Taylor, most of whom joined Jack Bender at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con to promote the series’ first season. In addition to a Q&A with Comic Con attendees, Bender and the cast took part in roundtable interviews to delve into the television series based on King’s popular books.
So much of what’s happening in Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes takes place in Brady’s head. How difficult was it to make the novel into a series?
Jack Bender: “Good point, and so much of the point of view of the novel are those internal monologues that are so sick and tell you so much about Brady. And David Kelley and I, when I brought him onto it, talked originally about we could have him narrate, but it just felt like a cheat and would be too easy. So, our task for the writing first of all, and with Harry’s performance which is brilliant, was to dramatize and activate that character and those internal monologues without hearing the words. So, that was a challenge but I think we pulled it off. And Harry’s performance – you really get a sense of all that darkness and yet trying to be just a regular guy selling ice cream.”
Is the first season the first book?
Jack Bender: “Pretty much. We followed the plot and the architecture of the book with some changes. We didn’t make it a concert with a boy band at the end – the climatic sequence – it’s something else but it’s really big in the town.
Stephen wrote three books which I didn’t know when I optioned this one. When he sent me this, I went, ‘Yes, I love it.’ I thought about it as a movie and thought, ‘It’s just too much story for one movie.’ And then he told me he was writing a second and then a third, so we are ideally if it’s a success going to do all three. And, there’s talk of a future beyond that.”
Would you keep the series’ title as Mr. Mercedes?
Jack Bender: “Well, he is in the second and third books. He’s somewhat alive, if you define alive. But Brady continues in all three books as do most of the characters who have survived. We had to kill off a lot of them, and yet in Brady’s universe which is supposedly in this braindead comatose condition, he could think anything. You know what I mean? We’re hoping that in a very dramatic, uncheesy way, we could still have some of our characters. The characters are great. What attracted me to the material was Stephen King’s writing about the horror inside these characters, not the horror surrounding these characters. I loved that, and we got the cast to do it. And, there’s humor. It’s sick as f*ck humor.”
What was it about your actors that made them the perfect picks for this project?
Jack Bender: “We have a great casting director named Denise Chamian who I never want to work without and she brought some of these people to my attention. The minute I saw Breeda (Wool’s) audition I went, ‘Oh my god!’ And my daughter who’s one of the writers on this show – a brilliant writer – she happened to be around when I was looking at this audition and she went, ‘Oh my god.’ Breeda’s great. I didn’t know much of Breeda’s work. We went after Brendan (Gleeson). Harry Treadaway was brought to my attention. I knew him from Penny Dreadful but his other work was brought once again to my attention by Denise. Loved him. Kelly Lynch was a time and space connection where I met her husband and then suddenly, ‘Oh my god, Kelly Lynch would be great.’ She went in and read and blew us away. So that was like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’
Jharrel (Jerome) was once again Denise. I’d seen Moonlight and loved it. So, it was a combination of things but we were very fortunate to get the actors we got. Robert Stanton, I kind of knew from some stuff. He’s fabulous as poor Robi, the manager of the store. It’s my good fortune to be surrounded by these actors. They’re just great.”
It sounds like we’re going to be spending a lot more time at the store and with the store employees than they do in the book. Is that correct?
Jack Bender: “Yeah, probably. Although it’s not going to be Super Store. We’re not doing a series about this Radio Shack-y/Best Buy place.”
Is one of the reasons to do that to help get rid of the inner monologue? You have to fill that in with some friends.
Jack Bender: “You know, probably. I mean, I read the book twice a long time ago. That’s probably true that we had to dramatize and activate those inner monologues of Brady’s life and populate it with the appropriate world. So, probably so. There’s an episode where Deb ventures back out, tries to go sober and ventures out into the world that’s truly devastating and pathetic, and I don’t think that was in the book.”
How much feedback did you get from Stephen King?
Jack Bender: “Well, when we started … Stephen decides, he has so many projects out there as you guys know, and he doesn’t sign up to be an executive producer on many. He didn’t on this; he has the right to. But I did include him in some of the casting choices which he thought were great. And by the way, Mary-Louise Parker I keep forgetting to mention and Justine Lupe who comes up – they’re exceptional. I sent (Stephen) some of the actors and he loved this one. He’s very unintrusive and really trusts me. He saw the pilot and went, ‘Oh my god, I love this. I’ve got to be an exec producer,’ which I was thrilled about. Every subsequent episode was another love letter. He’s very proud of the show. That’s incredibly gratifying.”
What’s your working relationship like with David Kelley?
Jack Bender: “I had the great fortune as a director, and as a producer on one thing, to work on Ally McBeal and The Practice and some of those shows. David is a savant. David during those days would sit with his yellow legal pad, come in at 9:30 in the morning and sit with his legal pad in his office and write once a week a brilliant Ally McBeal and a Practice … maybe it was a week and a half because they took eight days to film. He’s brilliant. He’s a genius. I really suspected that aside from loving working with him that this material in his hands he’d hit it out of the park because he can be really weird and dark and twisted.”
Watch the full Jack Bender Mr. Mercedes interview: