The Full Spectrum
Justine Lupe relishes bringing a beloved Stephen King character to life.
Actors live to play truly complex characters.
So, when Justine Lupe auditioned for the character of Holly Gibney, a central character in Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy, which starts with Mr. Mercedes, for which the series is named, she realized that she was being given a unique opportunity.
Holly Gibney is a young woman with a number of character traits that would make her both difficult and exhilarating to play. Holly has neuroses on top of neuroses, including being OCD, having agoraphobia, and being on the Autism spectrum, albeit, extremely high-functioning.
Beyond all that baggage, however, Holly, through the three books and now in AT&T AUDIENCE Network's Mr. Mercedes series, now in its third season, finds her way out of a suffocating home life and into her own life, making her own choices and even becoming a partner in a private investigation firm with lead character Bill Hodges, played by Brendan Gleeson, and Jerome Robinson, played by Emmy-winning actor Jharrel Jerome.
Lupe knew that the character was popular among King's readers, and that caused a bit of trepidation. She says, "I was a little bit nervous to fill the shoes that he created. For the audition itself, I luckily had really good writing from David Kelly. He wrote her so specifically."
"After I got the part and I read the book, I realized how he really capture the essence of how she speaks with the punctuation and all the little nuances that he put into the writing really reflects who she is as a person, so that was this amazing gift in terms of the audition itself. I just followed that.
"Once I got to know the character better before I started the series, I looked into ways that people deal with being on the spectrum, coping mechanisms, tics that people might have.
"My mom has worked with people who have autism or are on the spectrum, have some of these sensory disorders, so she gave me some tips, and I read a lot about it.
"Then I just played around with the costume designer, and tried to find what she would be wearing for that first season. We really evolved that whole trajectory throughout the three seasons. It was just this huge accumulation of all these different things that I brought into it, along with it just being already in the writing, and somehow fitting in my mouth in a way that felt fluid, which was cool."
Lupe sees far more in the character beyond her differences, however. She notes, "I feel like that aspect of her personality is both a small part of who she is, and also incredibly important to who she is, and influences all these other, really special attributes that she has. I really wanted it to be a part of her story.
"It's not completely defined in the books exactly what she is dealing with, so I didn't want it to be hitting you over the head with it. I just felt like there was something going on, so to add in some flickers of that and explore that without letting it rule who she was as a character, and letting it impact. Highlighting the other really special parts of her was the route to take with it. I'm glad that it reads that way."
When Holly first appears in the story, she is living with her over-protective mother. Lupe notes that escaping from that was important to Holly's growth.
"It was exciting for me to see, because I felt like the story, every single episode, and within the seasons isolated on their own, there are these huge endeavors she takes in terms of being brave and stepping into the next phase of her evolution.
"It was fun to tackle going from being in this very isolated spot with her mother and being covered over and coddled and made small in some ways to blossoming out of that, and forming these relationships that allow her to grow into a different kind of woman, and then see her take on the business, and find her flow with that whole thing, and find her strength with that whole thing, and really sell it.
"Then this season, her going on every week, and facing even more scary predicaments with the court, and with Lou, and with facing the asylum, and also finding her ways of dating. I just was really happy to see that David was pushing her to keep on going, keep on growing. It was really fun to be able to figure out how to navigate that."
Lupe appreciates how the creators of the series allow the stories to unfold naturally, including allowing long scenes that dig deep into the characters and situations. A recent episode had Holly on the witness stand in court as a witness in support of character Lou Linklatter, played by Breeda Wool, and the creators allowed the camera to stay with the moment, rather than to cut away.
Lupe explains, "I read that and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm so grateful that I get to do this.' I felt really excited by that material, because it just brings up everything that she's been dealing with for the last three seasons in such a graceful way. It finds this roller coaster of a scene, it really finds its way into this web that's been created for Holly over the last three years.
"It was really a treat for them to give me that much space to get into that, and then for them not to cut it. That's 15 pages of dialog that they're just being cut away from. I sent [producer/director] Jack Bender an email just saying, 'Thank you for giving that scene the time to breath.'
"I think some people might have been like, 'We're really going to sit through 15 pages of a court scene? I don't know.' I was happy. I was really grateful that they didn't leave it, and that they leaned into that whole trajectory of a scene."
The concept of leaning into scenes and situations is one that is important to everyone in the making of Mr. Mercedes. Lupe says, "I think that's a testament to Brendan and Jack both. Brendan's like that.
"He's like, 'Listen, this would be the real people. Real people have these moments that are really lived in, and they don't exist in the kind of ADD mentality that we have sometimes now where we feel like in order to keep the audience entrenched, we have to flick to the next thing, keep them going right away, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.'
"He trusts that people will be engaged with even the kind of minute moments in between the action.
"I remember in the first season, they took a long time to watch him get ready, and take time to pee, and have trouble peeing, like doddle through his apartment, and drink something. It was really engaging. I think sometimes people don't trust the moments that are a little less than action-packed. Jack really isn't afraid of leaning into that if there's something to be mined from it, which I really respect about him."
In an entertainment atmosphere where action often rules the airwaves, Lupe says that Mr. Mercedes chooses to focus on character instead, "I think a lot of people do that. They've just gleaned the plot is the thing that drives it, rather than the story, which is really ultimate of the stories of these people and all their colors. That seems to be the thing that people connect to the most.
"It's always been baffling to me, because when you do really home in on finding a person's journey, it's so immensely powerful. It's nice to see this team just be brave enough to take that on, and not shy away from it, and not feel like they needed to make it a plot-based show.
"Even though it is, it's really exciting, and I felt myself really, while I was reading the scripts, I kept constantly being like, "What's next? What's next? What's next?" Especially this season in particular. I also felt like all these characters were just so immensely fun, and colorful, and interesting, and deep. Then watching how all the actors [perform], because I've gotten to watch it this season. I've been able to watch it in real-time.
"I feel similarly that they do just such a good job really fleshing out all the lives that are a part of the story. That's the part that just fascinates me."
Lupe also enjoys working with her castmates. She says, "Oh, my gosh. It's the best ever. It's so awesome. Aside from Jharrel, Brendan has been my main man through this whole thing. He is just so spectacular as a person, as an actor, as someone to learn from. I got three years of the best training from this man that is one of the best actors of our time. I think he's right up there with the best.
"He on top of that is just a stellar human being. He set the tone for this being an environment where there's so much care put into every single thing. There's no cutting corners. There's no driving through walls when things don't make sense. He does it kindly, and he's really just engaged with the experience and with everyone.
"There's a lack of self-seriousness. He has a great sense of humor. He's just a real treat of a person to have as a role model. And also just acting opposite was just so cool."
Her connection to Gleeson and to his character also helped her in that long courtroom scene. She notes, "I really fell in love with Hodges, and so I found myself in that courtroom scene... There was just this three years of love for this human, character, man, Brendan, Hodges, all in one, and the ride that we had taken together. It made it so easy to just tap into that care that I had for him.
"Then Lou, Breeda Wool, is phenomenal. She's just so special. She's so brave and brazen, and just does not have an ounce of self-consciousness, and you can see it in her performance. There's a boldness to it. She's just not afraid.
"There's really not a lot of ego there at all. Even when you watch it, you're like, 'Wow, she's just going on this ride.' If you had anyone who is sitting there self-conscious of going to the places that Lou goes in the series, it would just kill the moments, and she makes it all work in this really rich way. That was also great.
"Everyone, Brett Gelman was a treat. I really like working with him. He's become a friend of mine. It's nice to see him play a different kind of character so well. I think he thinks that, too. He was like, 'Oh, it's so nice to be the guy that the girl has a crush on,'"
Lupe has been impressed with the casting throughout the series. She says, "it's also amazing that Denise Chamian cast Brett. That's the other thing that's amazing. The casting is incredible.
"She said, 'I had this list, and I thought, 'Well, this is weird, but maybe I'll put him on here because I think he's really good at it.' The fact that they saw it and they're like, 'Yeah.' I do feel like there is a rigorous attention to the imagining of these characters. There isn't seeking out the most famous person for the job. I feel like they really just thought, 'Okay, who has the essence of this person?'
"'We're going to fill this with as close to these people as we can find and trust that, instead of relying on making offers to people that will maybe make it more visible.' Brendan's a huge actor, obviously."
Most of all, Lupe enjoys learning from her character. She says, "Holly is particularly important to me. I think I've said this before, but she's the most rewarding character I've ever played in terms of just personally being an inspiration to my personality.
"I aspire to be more like her, and living with her has been such a treat, even though it's a dark world. I feel like most of her stuff is really, there's a gentleness, and also a strength, and an enduring quality to her. There's all these things about her that are really special to me. I really hope that people get to see her."
Mr. Mercedes airs Tuesday nights at 10:00 PM ET/PT on AT&T AUDIENCE Network. For viewers who don't receive the AT&T AUDIENCE Network, seasons one and two of Mr. Mercedes are available on Amazon Prime.
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