Simon Baker Simon Baker

Go ahead and stare at Simon Baker. Gawk at his curly golden locks and his winning smile. He doesn't mind, really.

"It doesn't bother me because I know time is ticking," the 41-year-old Baker tells "I've been doing this for almost 20 years, and I'm able to see myself age on film. Eventually I know what I'm going to become — I've seen my father."

When Bruno Heller was looking to cast a leading man to play the role of Patrick Jane in The Mentalist, he was won over by Baker's looks as well. But he quickly learned there was much more beneath the surface. "What Jane does is get in people's physical space and inside their heads, and in order to do that, you have to be someone that people want to be close to, whether they know it or not," Heller says. "It needed a very magnetic personality playing the part.

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Baker earned critical praise and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. He says he was originally drawn to the "depth and rawness" of the character, which he thought recalled the antiheroes of serialized cable shows. But Baker says he soon began to feel trapped in the role, as the show's procedural elements began to make Fallin more of a one-note character.

"The character was so defined; he was a hobbled, limited character," Baker says. "As the show goes on over a number of years, that repetition can become boring creatively. You want the character to suddenly start to shift and change, and it kind of goes against it to do that."

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The Mentalist
's combination has worked. Now in its third year, the show anchors CBS' Thursday night. Baker earned an Emmy nomination in the show's first season. "That one's a mystery to me," Baker says with a laugh, noting that nominations, like success on network TV, are always uncertain. "The mass appeal of the show is that it's entertaining," Baker says. "If I knew the exact formula, I'd bottle it and sell more of it."

But Heller isn't shy in giving a good deal of credit to Baker. "I think the show could have been successful with another actor of equal qualities, but I think it would have been a much more ordinary show," Heller says. "The show depends on Simon being able to deliver what the package promises, which is wit and grace and humor and redemption and a certain kind of ability to rise above tragedy. There are very few people who can pull that off convincingly."

And those good looks don't hurt, right? "I hope that when I'm really, really old and wrinkly that I'm still able to work," Baker says. "Looks will always fade, my friend. I just hope that my other qualities can have a bit more longevity."