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‘Mr. Mercedes’: How to Adapt Stephen King for Television, From the Stars and Producers Who Did It Right

Brendan Gleeson, Mary-Louise Parker, and director Jack Bender break down how "Mr. Mercedes" made a successful leap from page to screen.

Mr Mercedes Season 1 Brendan Gleeson Mary-Louise Parker

Audience Network/DirecTV

Part of the way he struck that tone was by eliminating extraneous elements, including some of the most common additions to any TV show or movie.

“I didn’t want to use music,” Bender said. “I just wanted to use textures. The only music in the show, pretty much, is [diegetic].”

Though it wasn’t in the book, Kelly, Lehane, and Bender came up with the idea of giving Hodges an affinity for records.

“Hodges cares about very little in his life when we find him, except for his vinyl collection in the story,” Bender said. “So the music is motivated by what he listens to and it’s motivated by what Brady listens to.”

These details are crucial to capturing what made King’s books beloved.

“He’s such a complex individual, so flawed and fundamentally upright, but really wilting at this point when we meet him,” Gleeson said. “He’s a complicated man. He’s just really, really interesting, and you know at the core of him there’s something proper and that’s about as much as you get to know, because the rest of him is a mess.”

Mr Mercedes Season 1 Brendan Gleeson

3. Find the Deeper Meaning to the Violence

Like most novels, there’s a benefit to sinking into King’s work that can be tricky to replicate with the limited timeframe of a feature film. Television allows for that extended examination, and “Mr. Mercedes” takes full advantage, from Gleeson’s depiction of Hodges’ many layers to a thematic focus on America’s class system.

Moreover, the violence inherent in most of King’s work (and certainly the original novel) is used for a specific purpose. Though the opening scene of the series is particularly graphic, it’s based on true events.

“I was wondering about [this scene in] the book and it turned out Stephen came to set one day and said, ‘Well, actually the book was based on an incident that happened.'”

The series frames its violence through the backdrop of a tumbling unemployment rate and a frustrated middle-class workforce; a choice made to emphasize the consequences of individual actions and societal changes.

“When the material came through, I was a little concerned that this would be giving people ideas,” Gleeson said. “Then Nice happened, and I’m kind of saying, ‘Well, we ain’t giving anybody ideas that they haven’t had already.’ […] This is the reality of the way things are going now: It is in the world. To embrace that stuff for titillation purposes is very questionable. To do it with a view toward looking at the consequences of it is not just a proper thing to do, but it’s a necessary thing to do.”

“He has this kind of deceptive simplicity,” Parker said. “At first glance, it seems to be a very simple story, but it’s really quite complex.”

Parker said she saw the Broadway adaptation of “Misery” and was impressed by how a straightforward story could carry such depth.

“Even with ‘Misery,’ when you think of this woman, she’s obsessed with these books. There’s this man, he has a car crash and it just unfolds in a way where the complexity creeps up on you rather than being hit with a plot that’s so overwrought. […] The way that [King] constructed that where you really can’t stop watching. He just has some magic touch in that way.”

“Mr. Mercedes” spends a good deal of time not only with Hodges, but the masked man behind the wheel of the lethal vehicle; the one actually inflicting violence on others.

“For me, I think gratuitous violence is not only immoral, but it’s also dull,” Gleeson said. “It’s boring. Whereas, if you’re looking at the consequences and the motivations, or you’re trying to understand what’s going on the other side of the car wheel, I think it’s the gentleman thing to do. It’s almost necessary that people start to ask these questions; to say, ‘Well, what the hell is going down?’ Because it’s happening and it’s much more a part of our lives now and not just from terror groups. There are a lot of people who are unhinged and who are angry and who are trying to lash out in various ways, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do.”

King would likely agree. With his name behind “Mr. Mercedes,” the first season has deepened week-to-week as it prepares to wrap with an hour-long finale on October 11. A renewal has not yet been issued, but reviews are solid and Audience Network has been promoting the series heavily. Bender, though, already has the only acclaim he really needs.

Stephen King just adores it,” he said. “To get his praise and be proud of what I’m doing and what our team is doing is really exciting. I really say that if there’s anybody out there who reads this or hears this, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. Watch this show because I think it’s really, really good.”

And so, it seems, does Stephen King.

“Mr. Mercedes” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Audience Network.

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