Audience Network’s forthcoming series Mr. Mercedes, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, kicks off with a truly horrific act of violence: Someone purposefully plows his expensive car through a crowded group of people waiting in the middle of the night for a job fair the following morning, killing 16 people including a young baby.
However, director and exec producer Jack Bender says he never intended to glamorize violence with that graphic opening.
“That’s exactly what I didn’t want,” he told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “To show it in a realistic way but not put any kind of frame about it.”
In the original book trilogy, the central act of violence happens at a boy band concert – an act reminiscent of the recent terrorism in Manchester, England, at an Ariana Grande concert. However, Bender said the decision to change that to the car crash was made early on, long before Manchester.
“We can’t keep up with the mess in the world. … It affects me and all of us in a certain way,” he said. “I felt there was a responsibility to show that in our show.”
Instead, the focus is “all about the repercussions and the ripples in the pond,” he said. “How many lives are destroyed by one heinous act.”
Star Brendan Gleeson said he felt “slight relief” when he learned that the incident used to open the show was based on a real-life incident and not just a product of King’s imagination.
“It has been taken from life into art. I was uneasy with the notion of putting this out there. Anybody can get into a car. It already has existed,” Gleeson said. “For our point of view, there’s no indulgence in the violence for titillation. … The consequences are very real.”
Part of that focus is specifically on Brady (Harry Treadaway), the one who was behind the wheel of the Mercedes and who continues to torment Det. Bill Hodges (Gleeson) years later, after he has retired from the force without solving the crime.
“That massacre is very much about who’s driving the car, and our show deals with that in a very illuminating, profound way,” Bender said.
Treadaway, who replaced the late Anton Yelchin in the role of Brady after the Star Trek actor’s untimely passing, discussed the difficulty of getting into the character’s headspace. When asked what helped him get into character, he said UFC, Shark Tank and Fox News.
“It’s terrifying and sad and disturbing that we have people out there that obviously need help and don’t find it,” he said. “I think Stephen King taps into the zeitgeist of what scares us so amazingly well.”
The fact that the incident is based on something that really happened “made it seem truthful and real,” Treadaway said. “It was just fascinating trying to empathize with someone who had no empathy.”
Gleeson said that sentiment extended to all the characters. “It’s about the beast within,” he added. “They’re all haunted, but haunted in a very human way.”
Mr. Mercedes premieres Aug. 9.