July 16, 2009 / 9:39 PM / 10 years ago

"Mentalist" Simon Baker says he's Emmy underdog

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Australian actor Simon Baker was as surprised as anyone when he got his first Emmy nomination on Thursday — although his “Mentalist” character would have seen it coming.

Baker, 39, was among the new faces when the nominations for best actor in a drama were announced after just one season of his new crime series “The Mentalist.”

The CBS show, in which Baker plays the arrogant but playful and possibly paranormal crime consultant Patrick Jane, was one of the biggest new hits on U.S. television this past season that ended in May, averaging 17.7 million viewers.

It has already been sold to some 30 nations in Europe, parts of Asia and South America.

“The Mentalist” could have been just another of the popular so-called “procedural” crime series that dominate primetime television but make less impact during award seasons.

Yet Baker, whose previous work includes the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” wasn’t interested in sticking to tried and true formulas.

“I didn’t just want to do a television show and be told what to do, where to go, and how to play it. It is creative death to me,” Baker told Reuters.

Baker said he worked closely with Bruno Heller, the creator of “The Mentalist”, on the subversive side of his character, who once faked being a psychic but does have acute observational powers.

“The character wasn’t 100 percent on the page and I thought that was good and I could interpret it in my own way. I thought it could be a refreshing take on the procedural show and meld comedy with drama and procedure with character,” Baker said, during a break from shooting the second season.

Baker said he wasn’t awake when the Emmy nominations were announced early on Thursday in Los Angeles. And he rated his chances of winning as slim given competition from Hugh Laurie of “House”, Gabriel Byrne of “In Treatment”, last year’s winner Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad”, Michael C. Hall from “Dexter” and Jon Hamm’s enigmatic 1960s ad executive in “Mad Men”.

“I am happy to be the new guy. But I always feel a bit like an underdog,” Baker said. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the people involved in (“The Mentalist”) be so supportive of me, and willing to play around with the character a bit.”

The Emmys will be handed out on September 20 in Los Angeles.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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