After turning heads in a just a few minutes of onscreen time as an earnest, ill-fated aspiring actor in "L.A. Confidential" (1997), Aussie actor Simon Baker went on to become a deft specialist in playing rapier-edged television heroes with distinct antiheroic tendencies or smarmy lotharios in various film roles. Once he gained notice from "L.A. Confidential," Baker landed supporting roles in Ang Lee's "Ride With the Devil" (1999) and the big-budget bomb "Red Planet" (2000) before starring on the hit lawyer drama, "The Guardian" (CBS, 2001-04). Though he had made significant strides in his career, Baker's Hollywood fortunes fluctuated, thanks to a string of misfire movies like "The Affair of the Necklace" (2004) and "The Ring Two" (2005). He stepped up with key supporting roles in "Something New" (2006) and "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), only to stumble when his regular role on the high-profile crime drama "Smith" (CBS, 2006) was cut short after only three aired episodes. Undeterred, Baker finally received his proper due as the star of "The Mentalist" (CBS, 2008-15), which allowed the actor to fully display the promise he had demonstrated from the start of his career.
Born July 30, 1969, in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, to Barry and Elizabeth Baker, his family moved to New Guinea in the early 1970s, and his parents split up not long after. His mother met Tom Denny, a butcher from the western suburbs of Sydney, and remarried, settling Simon and his sister Terri in the bustling city. A few years later, they moved to an idyllic spot on the northern coast of New South Wales, where he spent the rest of childhood and adolescence, unaware that Denny was not his biological father. Living adjacent the ocean fostered a passion for water recreation and sports, most notably surfing. "I didn't grow up with money, but I grew up with a lot of space," he recalled to one interviewer. "All I did was surf. I was committed to the ocean." He returned to Sydney after high school to pursue a nursing degree, but wound up not completing it; instead, working a series of service sector jobs until his boyish good looks and sleek build eventually earned him appearances in music videos. That led to more narrative thespian work, under the name Simon Denny, starting in 1992 with the Aussie soap opera "E Street" (TEN, 1989-1993), on which he met his future wife, the actress Rebecca Rigg. His work on the show earned him a Logie award, Australia's version of the Emmys, for "Most Popular New Talent," as well as a succession of TV work. After learning of his paternal father, he changed his name to Simon Baker-Denny. His work on "Heartbreak High" (TEN/ABC, 1994-99), another blue-collar oriented drama, cemented his heartthrob status in Australia, and in 1995, he and Rigg decided to try to leverage that into a career in Hollywood.
It did not take long for Baker to land his "L.A. Confidential" supporting role as Matt Reynolds, the hapless would-be star caught up in a web of vice and corruption - as were, cozily enough, the characters of fellow Aussie co-stars Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, in their breakout roles. The small but pivotal role put him on the map for a string of indie film roles, including a smarmy actor and nemesis of star Adrien Brody in "Restaurant" (1998) and a darker role as a psychopath in "Judas Kiss" (1998). The next year he would get his most prominent role to date in Ang Lee's big budget western, "Ride with the Devil" (1999), playing a conflicted member of a cadre of Confederate guerrillas in the U.S. Civil War, having freed his own slave (Jeffrey Wright), who in turn fights alongside the rebels. That twist mired the film in controversy and likely hurt it at the box office. After a supporting turn in the sci-fi actioner "Red Planet" (2001), he scored one of his favorite parts, a scheming Don Juan opposite Hillary Swank - still hot from her 1999 Oscar win - in "The Affair of the Necklace." The lavish production took Baker to Paris and Prague, and had him swashbuckling in period costumes of Revolutionary France, but while he received generally positive notices, the critical reception of the film was less friendly and it flopped badly, failing to even make $1 million in the U.S.
Before knowing that outcome, however, he returned from the European shoot and, with a third child on the way, grudgingly decided he needed more stable work. "I just got to the point [where] I feel like taking a little control of my destiny, so I asked my agents to find out what's going on on TV," he told an interviewer in 2001. He was extremely reticent to return to the often less creatively open medium of television, but if the right project turned up, something that would bring him into millions of American households as something other than the flawless American leading man stereotype, or, as he called it, "these f*ckin' knights in shining armor." That role was callous, high-priced corporate lawyer Nick Fallin on CBS's "The Guardian." The fall 2001 premiere introduced the viewer to the character - whom Baker later gleefully referred to as "that little prick, Nick Fallin" - as he was being sentenced to probation and 1,500 hours of community service, laying the groundwork for the general theme of each episode's plots - that Fallin must take up the cases of working class people, often putting him at odds with the corporate status quo to which his law firm serves as a bulwark. Though the show did not set the ratings on fire, it would perform well enough to last three seasons, much on the strength of Baker's charisma and chemistry with co-star Dabney Coleman.
After the "The Guardian" shuttered, he returned to CBS series work on the star-studded, ambitiously dark crime show "Smith" (2006), but the well-reviewed look at criminals, instead of cops, failed to catch on with viewers and it was cancelled not long out of the starting gate. Still, as he often expressed, the regular network paycheck allowed him the freedom in his off-months to pursue smaller film projects, such as "Book of Love" (2004), a dark, disturbing love triangle tale; "Land of the Dead" (2005), George Romero's fourth installment of his zombie arc, with Baker as a reluctant hero in a dark, apocalyptic cityscape; "Something New" (2006), a smart, frank interracial romantic comedy; and "Sex and Death 101" (2007), an odd, ultra-dark menagerie of sci-fi, eroticism, comedy and philosophy. He also snared some roles in more high-end projects, including Dreamworks' ill-fated horror sequel "The Ring 2" (2006) and Fox's 2006 hit comedy "The Devil Wears Prada" as the foppish, predatory romantic foil for Anne Hathaway.
But in 2008, CBS again found a home for Baker, picking up the Warner Bros.-produced "The Mentalist" (2008-15) for its fall season. In an eerie - or conspicuous - parallel to the USA Network comedy "Psyche" (2006- ), the lead character is a fraudulent psychic who taps the keen observational and cold-reading skills he once used to bedazzle customers to instead assist cops in solving crimes. With CBS's attempt to put a bunko-ish twist on its successful spate of "procedural" cop dramas, Baker played the mentalist Patrick Jane true to his previous form, with devilish arrogance - not to mention an open disdain for the "profession" from which he has outed himself. With the premiere of "The Mentalist," in spite of the "Psych" controversy, The Hollywood Reporter called his performance "glib, cocky, spirited and irrepressible...This role is tailor-made for Baker, who has a flair for playing irreverent characters who are crucial to the success of the system even as they tweak its authority figures." Thanks to his fine work on "The Mentalist," Baker was nominated in mid-2009 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series - the first Emmy consideration of his career. Later that year, his awards train kept on rolling with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama, which was soon followed by a nod from the Screen Actors Guild Awards in the same category.
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Cast on the Australian series "E Street" as Sam Farrell; met future wife, Rebecca Rigg
Appeared on the popular Australian soap "Home and Away"
Breakthrough role on the Australian series "Heartbreak High"
Moved to Los Angeles
Made American feature debut in "L.A. Confidential"
Cast as a egocentric actor and rival of Adrien Brody in "Restaurant"
Played a sex-crazed kidnapper opposite Carla Gugino in "Judas Kiss" (Cinemax)
Co-starred in Ang Lee's "Ride With the Devil"
Cast as a photographer of album covers in "Sunset Strip"
American TV series debut, played the title role on the CBS series "The Guardian"; earned a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination in 2002
Once again played Adrien Brody's rival in the period drama "The Affair of the Necklace"
Co-starred opposite Naomi Watts in "The Ring Two"
Starred as an altruistic hero in George A. Romero's "Land of the Dead"
Co-starred with Sanaa Lathan in the romantic comedy "Something New"
Played writer Christian Thompson in the adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's best-selling novel "The Devil Wears Prada"
Cast in a leading role on the short-lived CBS series "Smith"
Starred in the dark comedy "Sex and Death 101," written and directed by Daniel Waters
Cast as Patrick Jane, a consultant to the California Bureau of Investigation, on the CBS series "The Mentalist"; earned Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG nominations in 2009 for Best Actor in a Drama Series
Starred in the independent thriller "Not Forgotten"
Acted in Michael Winterbottom's controversial noir drama "The Killer Inside Me"
Joined the ensemble cast of the financial drama thriller "Margin Call"