[Warning: The following story contains major spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Mentalist. Read at your own risk.]
So did you figure it out or were you shocked you-know-whatless? After five seasons and change, The Mentalist has finally revealed the identity of serial killer Red John — it's Thomas McAllister, the quirky Napa County sheriff played by Xander Berkeley! "Xander is a wonderfully subtle actor who can go deep — deep enough to be our Red John," says series creator/exec producer Bruno Heller, who says he selected McAllister to be his Big Bad "about a year ago, after carefully weighing all other options. McAllister made the most sense. He had the perfect cover job as the sheriff of Napa, where he was the master of his domain. No one ever questioned his whereabouts. He didn't have to answer to anyone. He needed that freedom and the quiet loneliness of the countryside to do his thing as Red John." But let's hear from the badass himself! TV Guide Magazine spoke with Berkeley (Nikita, 24) about his new place in TV infamy and Red John's startling death.
TV Guide Magazine: How'd it feel when you got the news you'd been picked to be Red John?
Berkeley: Fantastic! I was stunned and flattered. Earning this little place in pop-culture history was the last thing I ever expected. Truth be told, I thought I was a red herring. I thought, surely, there was someone more deserving of the title.
TV Guide Magazine: Yet McAllister was the perfect choice since he goes almost all the way back to the beginning of the series, right?
Berkeley: I did the very first episode after the pilot. I remember it all looked like such a lark back then. Though this was a show with this tortured mentalist and this dreadful killer, the series seemed to have a really special sense of humor and so I played McAllister as a cornpone guy who had a bit of a swagger — the kind of guy who wished he was a sheriff in the Old West. I thought it was just a quick, little tongue-in-cheek job, never imagining I would linger for years!
TV Guide Magazine: Considering Red John's grand, operatic crimes, it's so interesting that his life ended not with a bang but with a whimper.
Berkeley: Yes! It's such an incredible choice to end it with Red John and Patrick Jane alone, eye-to-eye. It was so personal, so right, that Patrick would strangle him. The perfect way to go out. So simple, really. Of course, prior to that we had that endlessly complicated chase scene which we actually shot in numerous neighborhoods all over the place. We were in Hollywood, Pomona, Pasadena, Whittier. [Laughs] I was chased all over Southern California! Red John wouldn't f—king die! He even went through some poor, unsuspecting family's plate-glass window and kept going. It went on for so long that, after a while, I was thinking, "Is the bullet still in him?"
TV Guide Magazine: When and how did you find out McAllister was Red John?
Berkeley: I sort of figured it out early this season through osmosis, and then I called up Bruno Heller and set a meeting to discuss it with him. I really felt a lot of responsibility to give him what he needed. He was very sweet and very flattering, telling me that McAllister had always been one of his favorite characters. He thought the sheriff persona was the perfect mislead — for a sociopath to adopt that kind of career just seemed so extra creepy. But, still, why me? [Laughs] I never saw it coming!
TV Guide Magazine: Well, you do have that vibe!
Berkeley: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess there is a certain quality X that suspects are required to have. It's funny, because on the audition circuit I'm always running into the guys who played the other Red John suspects. In fact, I'm old friends with Michael Gaston, who played Bertram, and Kevin Corrigan, who played Kirkland. The three of us did a movie together in Pennsylvania. We know how to make the audience just slightly uncomfortable without overdoing it, and how to deliver a line that can be read two ways, so the audience can project whatever they want onto us. That's the dance we actors love to do. But you never know where a character is headed. My wife, Sarah Clarke, was Nina Myers on 24. In her mind, she was playing a nice, devoted member of CTU and was just gobsmacked to find out she was not only playing a traitor but that she'd be shooting Jack Bauer's pregnant wife in the stomach! It was crazy!
TV Guide Magazine: Were the other potential Red Johns jealous when you won the prize?
Berkeley: One day on the set Malcolm McDowell [Bret Stiles] said to me, "Mate, you're Red John! Do you know what that means? Do you realize how much money you're going to make on this?" I'm, like, "Huh? What do you mean?" He said, "At the conventions! Don't tell me you don't go to the conventions! Listen to me, mate. Get that girl over there with the camera and tell her to take loads of photos with you and that guy over there" — he points to Simon Baker — "and you go to those conventions with stacks of those photos and people will line up with their money and they will pay you to sign them! It's true! You go, 'Next! Thank you very much! Next! Thank you very much!' It's huge!"
TV Guide Magazine: You've played a lot of baddies. Safe to assume Red John ranks right up at the top?
Berkeley: Absolutely, but as good as it's been for me, I am hesitant to keep going there. There's the typecasting thing — in Hollywood they see you do something and they want to see you do it again and again. But also I have two little girls now. I don't want them to think their dad is such a creep. I didn't ever want to play someone who'd done the horrible things Red John has. I just don't want to put that crazy-psycho stuff out there. [Laughs] I'm trying to go through a bit of redemption! Of course, I played an arch-villain [Percy Rose] on Nikita for two seasons but found a way to justify that guy's behavior — his Machiavellian ends justified his means. I didn't feel I was tapping into any really deep, dark place with that. But Red John? That's a different matter. He's so sick. But the good thing about being him so late in the game is that I didn't actually have to shoot any of the grotesque things he did to his victims. Nobody has any images of me doing that. There is no footage. It's all in your imagination. And he's dead, he's done, he got what he had coming. So it's all good.
TV Guide Magazine: Of course, this isn't the first time you've died in spectacular fashion!
Berkeley: [Laughs] No it isn't! I have 200 credits on my resume and I have probably died in half of them! I've fallen from 30-story buildings three times, including once as a transvestite psycho-killer in a tutu and a red wig. I've died in a few plane crashes, in The Rookie with Clint Eastwood, and in Air Force One. I also crashed on 24 — that is, after I inhaled airborne plutonium. In Candyman, I was ripped open with a hook by Virginia Madsen in the ultimate revenge on a cheating husband. Some very traumatic deaths! [Laughs] And I never learn! In Terminator 2, I had the line, "Tell that f--king nut to shut up!" and — bam! — I got shish-kebobbed through the head. Never say that on film if you want to live to see the next scene! [Laughs] But I can't complain. I've got the kind of career where I can get away with making pad puns like, "Dying...it's a living!"