I almost feel like Jack Bender needs no introduction. He is a man of many talents, but is most notably known for directing some of my favorite things like Child’s Play 3, Lost, Under the Dome, and even some episodes of Game of Thrones and Beverly Hills 90210. More recently, he’s kept busy by directing Mr. Mercedes, the television adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling Bill Hodges trilogy. Because of the exciting news that Mr. Mercedes will be streaming on the new Peacock platform, I caught up with Jack, and we discussed Stephen King, how the show came about, what scares him the most, and of course, horror movies.
PopHorror: Congratulations on three seasons of Mr. Mercedes. And now, it’s going to Peacock! I know that that’s a big deal. With it streaming on Peacock later this month, what does that mean for the series? I read about a rumor of a possible fourth season.
Jack Bender: That is in the wind, but it kind of depends on how it does on Peacock. The bottom line is David Kelley and I and some of the actors definitely talked about what a fourth season would look like. But when David and I started the show, we really said that there are three books, and we’ll probably do three seasons.
With DirecTV going out of business—and also I have to say, the good news about DirecTV is creatively they let me make the show I wanted to make—we’re all very proud of that show. The acting was phenomenal, the writing is great. My direction didn’t screw it up, and it all came together to make a really unique show. I was able to integrate music through character, which is what I always like to do. And they were very supportive. The frustration with DirecTV, which is not the case with Peacock thankfully, is that nobody knew it was on. It was kind of impossible to find.
PopHorror: It was!
Jack Bender: In fact, one time I was in Jordan on a US State Department thing to meet a bunch of young filmmakers, and they had all seen the first season of Mr. Mercedes, which had just ended. And I was like, “What are you guys talking about? I have people in Los Angeles who can’t find it, and who don’t know it’s on.” And all these young filmmakers in Jordan know how to slip through the cracks of the internet and find whatever they want to watch. So, that was the frustration. It’s very exciting to finally be on Peacock, and hopefully to get the show the audience it always deserved.
PopHorror: I completely agree. I think Peacock is going to open it up to new viewers. I like that Peacock is giving a home to shows that might not have been seen. I never had DirecTV, and I was never able to find Mr. Mercedes. I wasn’t able to watch it until they sent it over to prepare for this interview.
Jack Bender: Right! How much have you seen?
PopHorror: The first two seasons.
Jack Bender: Wow! You watched a lot.
PopHorror. I have a lot of time. I work from home.
Jack Bender: Did you like it?
PopHorror: I did! I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how true to the original it is, but I like the actors and the storyline. It starts off promising, and it just keeps going.
Jack Bender: I agree. Just to give you a little tiny back story: I had gotten to know Stephen [King] because he was an enormous fan of Lost, and I, of course, was a lifelong fan, too. And then I executive produced and directed the first season of Under the Dome.
PopHorror: Which I loved!
Jack Bender: After two years, I moved on, and Stephen and I talked about what we could find to do together. One day in the mail came the galleys for Mr. Mercedes. He didn’t tell me it was coming, and it was incredibly exciting, intimidating, and all of the above, to get an unpublished Stephen King book.
So I read it, and I loved it. For me, it was not only Stephen writing in the detective genre, which was new and exciting for me, but it was also Stephen King writing about the monsters inside the characters, not outside the characters. And I found that extraordinarily compelling, and thought that if I get lucky, after I decided to do it and I pulled David Kelley into it, I just said that if we get the right actors, I really want to frame this as a character driven scary show. And really give these characters and actors time to breathe. And we got very lucky with the actors. They were all extraordinary.
PopHorror: Yes, absolutely. Stephen King has tapped into the fears of countless readers and movie goers. What is it that truly horrifies you?
Jack Bender: What we’re living through right now is pretty horrific. The fact that Stephen King has written about a killer virus. It was prophetic. The unseen monster. It’s what you don’t see. It’s who you come into contact with even though we all stay safe and isolate and follow whatever rules we can in terms of distancing and mask-wearing and all of the above.
And certainly, I haven’t been on a film set. This is the longest I haven’t been directing or on a film set since I started my career, which is crazy. And at times makes me crazy. Thank God I’m a painter and I write also, because otherwise, it would be horrible, because I’ve always got to be making something or I’m not happy.
The idea of what we are living through, and I’ll say without getting too political, with this president who is clearly making the wrong choice about everything and the future of our planet and the future of our country and the future of our kids and everything… It’s so diabolically scary. And the fact that he is stroking the fires and what just happened to that wonderful governor in Michigan… I mean, the next month is very scary which may even proceed after that.
I know I tend to be somewhat neurotic as a person and get drawn to the drama. Do you know what I mean? Not necessarily in terms of work. This was a long winded way of saying, “I’m terrified of what’s going on right now. It’s a very real monster.” Although, hopefully curable. God willing. And we can turn it around.
PopHorror: Hopefully there’s an end to it soon. You’ve had an illustrious career. Reading through your IMDb, I couldn’t even make note of the stuff that I love that you’ve had a part in. We talked about Lost and Under the Dome, but you also directed some Beverly Hills, 90210 and Child’s Play 3. Those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. You’ve already worked with so many great people and done some really great things in your career, but if there was one person that you could collaborate with that you never got the chance to, whether living or dead, who would that be?
Jack Bender: Ooh, that’s like that question the NY Times would ask about who you would like at your dinner. Wow. I’ve been very blessed in terms of actors. I always dreamed of working with Donald Sutherland, and I got to and we became friends. I always dreamed of working with Jason Robards, and I got to. I met Ingmar Bergman; I met Buñuel; although, I never got to work with them. Masters. I had a wonderful experience on Game of Thrones working with Max von Sydow. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be mentored by, and crossed paths with, some very extraordinary people. I would love to work with Vanessa Redgrave, whom I find remarkable and still, thankfully, with us and working. I wouldn’t mind having The Beatles do a soundtrack.
There are some cinematographers… I’ve worked with some great cinematographers, and there are some out there that would be extraordinary to work with. Countless actors. I don’t know. I really feel… I very much live in the moment, which sounds kind of New Age-y. Not that I don’t anticipate disaster and potential good things. When I finish something, I really feel it was a blessing mostly. I finish it, and I move on. I never watched Lost again. I know people who have. Damon Lindelof told me recently that his wife Heidi and son, Van, while he was doing Watchmen, that they watched every episode of Lost and had this extraordinary experience doing it, and he would walk in and out of the room, and they’d go, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe that you guys did this!” and “How’d you do it?” And all this stuff. And Damon would call me occasionally and share that.
But I think like me… I don’t know. I just feel very alive and committed to what’s alive and around me now, and what I’m writing or painting or directing, and looking forward to doing it in the near future. And there are some wonderful things that I’ve been developing that I hope to make. I wouldn’t mind sitting in Coppola’s Silverfish, his Airstream trailer that apparently had a great cappuccino maker, and watch him directing One From The Heart, through a microphone on a sound stage.
PopHorror: Just one last question, Jack: what is your favorite scary movie?
Jack Bender: What is my favorite scary movie? That’s a good question. I have so many. The movies that scare me the most are the psychological scary movies. The ones that are about the monster. Stephen would probably kick me for saying I loved The Shining. I loved The Exorcist. I loved Alien. The jumps in Alien, the first one? They’re scary as shit.
Thank you so much, Jack, for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out Mr. Mercedes, streaming now on Peacock.