You might remember Amanda Righetti as Hailey on The O.C. or as Jenna on Fox's promising but ultimately short-lived Reunion. Now, on CBS' The Mentalist (Tuesdays, 9 pm/ET), Righetti has settled into the still-evolving role of Grace Van Pelt, a rookie investigator whose strong morals and relative inexperience are a conflicting combination. "It's always going to be two steps forward and two steps back for Grace," she says. TVGuide.com asked her what's up with her character's on-again, off-again flirtation with Rigsby (hint: it's off again), why she ends up hand in hand with Jane (!) and how she practiced her scream for that new Friday the 13th remake.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any idea that The Mentalist would be a hit?
Amanda Righetti: No, I don't think you ever know going in. I've done a lot of shows that didn't do well. You have to go in with a 50-50 take on it. If it goes well, fantastic. Hope for the best and plan for the worst. I thought [The Mentalist] was clever and different from other procedural shows. The wittiness was interesting. At the table read, when Simon and the whole cast were there, it really started to come together for me.
TVGuide.com: What did the producers tell you about Van Pelt going in? She had a juicy expository speech in the pilot.
Righetti: I actually had conversations with [co-executive producers] Bruno Heller and David Nutter. We spoke a lot about where she came from and her naivete playing into Jane's hands. She comes from a small town, and has a few brothers. She was a beat cop, so this reassignment is new and exciting for her. As the show goes on, a little bit of that backstory will be revealed.
TVGuide.com: Am I right to infer that she is somewhat religious?
Righetti: Yeah, I think it's a really cool element of the character. She has a religious background and believes in God. She's the moral center, and there's very little of that on television now. I really love that about Grace.
TVGuide.com: What is Van Pelt's role on the team?
Righetti: As the moral center, the jokes about the dead bodies don't go over well with her. She can be very serious in that way. Because she's a rookie and stuck in the office, she's also the computer nerd of the group. But really, she's still finding her feet within the team, learning the ropes and how peoples' personalities differ. There are times when she walks on eggshells and others when she takes a bold step forward. Two steps forward, two steps back...
TVGuide.com: What does Van Pelt think of Patrick Jane?
Righetti: I think Van Pelt is intrigued and amused by him. But because Patrick is the lead of the group, we all — Lisbon included — look at him with mystery: How did you know that? How are you coming to these conclusions?
TVGuide.com: One of my frustrations with the show is that every time the team's police work starts to fail, Jane has a breakthrough.
Righetti: I think we all shake our heads at that a little. I think it's a necessary evil; it's what makes the show work. It's about coming to a conclusion, about Patrick Jane and how he contributes to the team: He closes cases.
TVGuide.com: How do you like working with Simon Baker?
Righetti: He and I have had a lot of fun. There are a few episodes where we've had a lot to do together. In one that we recently shot, he can't see and I have to lead him around by the hand.
TVGuide.com: Why is it always boys against the girls on this show?
Righetti: You think it is? That's funny. It's interesting to hear how people perceive it, because there are things that I don't notice.
TVGuide.com: Well, the male characters seem to be more accepting of Patrick's gift, while the ladies are always dubious.
Righetti: I think you're right there. The women are definitely skeptical, kind of on the fence about what he's going to do next. He might close cases, he's still got a lot of mischief in him, whether intentional or not. I think Lisbon and Van Pelt share morals; they have one up on the guys in that regard. We wonder what his true intent is in some of his crazy ideas.
TVGuide.com: Is Van Pelt ever going to hook up with Rigsby?
Righetti: I think it's going to keep simmering for a while. The writers have a funny way of revealing it. In a couple of upcoming episodes, they come very close to doing something, and then something breaks them apart. I don't think they're going to get to it this season; I have a feelling that they're going to keep riding it out.
TVGuide.com: Are we supposed to assume that they've hooked up at least once?
Righetti: No, in the pilot they are in the elevator together, but Grace's reaction to him getting out of the elevator is to say, "Don't even try it, buddy." The job means more to her than the relationship. It will be interesting to see that evolution, if the relationship starts to become more important, or vice versa for Rigsby. He's definitely willing to take that risk, but Grace is the rookie. She knows that if they're caught, she'd be the first to go.
TVGuide.com: So what's this I hear about Grace finding another guy?
Righetti: There is a guy, but he is not what he seems. There will be some tense, funny jealousy scenes [with Rigsby], but Grace comes to her senses. She decides that her work is where she should keep her nose.
TVGuide.com: What else can we look forward to?
Righetti: Grace gets more opportunities to be in the interrogation room, and she challenges Lisbon to let her step it up, and in some ways she messes it up. When responsibility is put on her shoulders, it doesn't always work out.
TVGuide.com: How'd you end up in Friday the 13th remake?
Righetti: I felt like if I was going to do a horror film, this would be the one to do.
TVGuide.com: Are you a fan of horror films?
Righetti: No, the horror genre is not my first love. I don't run to the theater to see horror films. But it's such an iconic, longstanding franchise. When the opportunity presented itself, it was very exciting. Also, it was a reimagining and remake of the original. Jason is back to being Jason, not some space creature-robot-zombie goofy monster. I think Derek Mears [who plays Jason Voorhees] did a great job of giving Jason some humanistic traits. He's very much a hunter in this movie; he's got that instinct. He's been living in the woods, and that's his domain.
TVGuide.com: Did you go back and watch the original?
Righetti: Yes, my favorite part of the original is Kevin Bacon's performance. I thought he was great. Plus, the ending was really precedent-setting.
TVGuide.com: Does the remake have any sort of homage to that?
Righetti: Yes. I think it really pulled the best pieces from the originals, and gave them a face-lift. I hope people enjoy the ride of it. It really exceeded my expectations.
TVGuide.com: I've heard that horror films are the most fun to film.
Righetti: Oh yeah, we had a blast — people hanging out at craft services all covered in sticky muck. We had a great cast. It was a young group, shooting in Austin, Texas, we went wakeboarding every weekend. We really bonded.
TVGuide.com: Did you have to practice your scream?
Righetti: I scream more than I speak in the movie, but no, I didn't. I just winged it. I knew I didn't want to hold back, for it be stifled. I wanted my voice to be warm, so I did a lot of vocal warm-ups. I think the consensus is that I have a pretty good scream.