"Mentalist" star Simon Baker: The charm is no act

(CBS News) Simon Baker played opposite Anne Hathaway in the 2006 fashion industry send-up "The Devil Wears Prada." These days, he's on TV each week, playing a role that seems to wear very well on him. Rita Braver has a Sunday Profile:

Watching Simon Baker hang out on the set of his hit TV show "The Mentalist," you'd never know that he plays a character who is haunted by his past: Patrick Jane, formerly a phony "psychic" who claimed to have supernatural abilities, even going on television to announce he had profiled a notorious serial killer.

The enraged killer murdered Jane's wife and daughter.

Chastened and ashamed, Jane becomes a consultant to California State crime investigators. While he doesn't have paranormal powers, he has honed some special skills: An uncanny knack for observing human behavior, an ability to smoke out lies, and a brash style of confronting possible suspects.

What makes Jane's character so popular with critics and fans is how cocky and quirky he is - both annoying and charming.

"I've always been a shy person," Baker said. "To play a character like this was an enormous sort of challenge to me. To play a character that's so verbose, and also so confident at times. It's such bravado!

"The charming thing, that's easy," he laughed.

Baker was born on the Australian island of Tasmania, and grew up on the coast of New South Wales. He is proud of his working class background, but says he had a difficult childhood.

He had a "strong dominant stepfather that I never saw eye to eye with. And in a lot of ways, a repressed mother because of that . . . it gave me something to sort of rebel against and to find myself."

Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) suspects that Agent Susan Darcy (Catherine Dent) has ulterior motives when she asks for his help with a homicide investigation, in a 2012 episode of "The mentalist."

His outlet was surfing - a passion he still pursues today.

But he harbored a secret dream of becoming an actor.

"It's the kind of thing that would have gotten laughed at, you know," he said, "in my family and also sort of where I'm from. Oh, you want to be an actor? Me, I want to fly to the moon! Go and move that pile of bricks over there! - you know, that was sort of the mentality."

After high school, he moved to Sydney, and literally worked his way into brief background appearances, like a music video.

"I met the guy that was sort of directing them and I ran around - if he needed props, I'd run and go get them. We need smoke? So okay, I'll build a little fire in the corner of the studio and fan it. I was just involved," Baker said.

"And they go, 'Okay, Simon, jump up and get in there, we need another person.' That's sort of how it worked."