Bob Odenkirk talks about the allure of Better Call Saul and how he looks forward to playing the comedy in the drama.
There are criminal lawyers and then there are CRIMINAL lawyers. Bob Odenkirk plays the latter on AMC’s critically acclaimed drama Better Call Saul. Once solely known as the prequel series to the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Bob Odenkirk with it have quickly come into their own. Odenkirk managed to pull off a well deserved Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series and received an Emmy nomination in the same category.
On the surface, Better Call Saul documents Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill before he evolved into Saul Goodman, but, at its heart, it illustrates the journey of a man at odds with his own nature. The question on everyone’s lips, though, is when will Saul Goodman finally emerge? I sat down with Odenkirk to catch up on season two and tease the answer out of him.
AwardsDaily TV: It’s such a pleasure speaking to you. I mean, that cliffhanger! Oh my God!
Bob Odenkirk: Oh yeah? Good, I’m glad you feel that way. Did you like season two?
ADTV: I loved this season. I’m still wondering when we’re ever going to see Saul emerge.
BO: Saul doesn’t emerge quite so much as he’s in a little cocoon right now and I guess butterflies emerge. It’s more like cracking an egg. I think he’s just going to pop open in a beautiful, glorious flood of jibber-jabber and lime green socks.
ADTV: Every season it’s like, “Is this the season?” I hope we’re getting closer. I honestly thought maybe for season two, but now I’m thinking the egg might crack open in season three.
BO: Yeah, I think it will! When we get to it, I think it’ll happen a lot faster than people think. I don’t think becoming Saul is as slow an evolution as everyone else seems to think it is. I think that Jimmy McGill is really trying to live by some principles that he believes in, and they’re slowly getting beaten out of him. There’ll come a day where something will, I think, hurt him in a deep enough way that he just rejects all these fairly decent principles that he grew up believing in. I think it’ll be just a choice that he makes to be Saul Goodman and it’ll happen pretty quickly once it happens.
ADTV: What about when Jimmy admits that he swapped the one and six around. What do you think? Do you think Jimmy knows he’s done this terrible, terrible thing?
BO: Yeah, yeah. He loses sight of a bigger picture whenever he gets caught up in his inspirations, but that’s true of Saul Goodman too. It’s one of the reasons that when people compliment the character of Saul Goodman and say that he’s good at what he does, I’m always thinking, “Well, he’s good at getting excited about plans, but the follow-through doesn’t necessarily turn out the way he intends.”
ADTV: You’ve just finished an excellent, excellent second season, and the show has come into its own really. Have the comparisons between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad died down? Is there less pressure on you guys now to distance yourselves?
BO: Absolutely. I think all the critics and fans feel strongly that the show has defined its own tone and perspective on the world. We have nothing but thankfulness for the excellence of Breaking Bad and the way it set the plate for us. But, there’s no longer any anxiety about maybe that we’re stepping into their territory too much or anything. I think this world is kind of formed at this point by the hard work of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and the writers. Now, I think you can almost feel them relaxing that this new Better Call Saul world is populous and filled with attitude and energy and plots and drives and hopes and dreams. They can relax and even think to include some of the characters from the Breaking Bad universe and not feel any concern about what it means to the overall picture. It’s literally just storytelling now.
ADTV: Do you have a brother in real life? Has somebody said you have to ask him about how he would react if you did what Chuck did? Would he react differently?
BO: I do have brothers. My brother Bill is a director for The Simpsons, my brother Steven is a banker in Tucson, and my brother Phil is a geologist. I would never treat them the way Chuck treats Jimmy. That is insane. He’s a fucking asshole [laughs].
ADTV: He is [laughs]. He’s terrible, but he’s still likable in some way.
BO: Well, he justifies his choices for sure. I guess you could sort of see his point of view. He’s worked very hard to become who he is, a paragon of virtue in the law and legal matters, but that doesn’t mean he’s justified in not giving his brother a chance to be someone and prove himself.
ADTV: On the subject of Chuck, he doesn’t show Jimmy that he has proof of the crime. What do you think he’s going to do? Is he going to sit on that or does he have a plan? What is Chuck up to?
BO: Oh my God. Well, everything I say is conjecture. I don’t know a goddamn thing about what the future holds except that one day Walter White walks into my office and then who knows if that’s the end. Anyway, I think that Chuck does not have a clear path because I think that Howard Hamlin, played so wonderfully by Patrick Fabian, is kind of annoyed by Chuck’s inability to move on to form a relationship with his brother. They’ve got work to do. My personal brainstorming on the matter is that Chuck wants to blow Jimmy up with this tape or this proof, and Howard is just like, “Can’t you just leave it alone? I order you to stop obsessing about that and get to work on things that will make us money.”
I think there’s a bump there. There’s not an easy path for Chuck to just pursue destroying his brother. Hamlin is just this guy that you initially saw as a bad guy and a snake and then they gave him depth and an empathetic quality to his nature so that he was kind of on Jimmy’s side in a lot of ways. What I think about Chuck with this tape is that his life isn’t easy with it, and he can’t just take that and beat Jimmy over the head with it. He’s got to either be careful or figure out what it means to him. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I think we can understand that, in some way, becoming Saul Goodman is this character Jimmy McGill burning down the house. He’s burning down the principles and the things he’s grown up that he believes in and he’s just saying, “Forget all that. I reject it and I’m going to be Darth Vader, or evil, now.” Something really bad has to happen for Jimmy McGill, who we’ve come to know as a sweet guy who cares about his brother and actually wants people’s respect and wants them to think he’s a good hard worker with talents. To just forget all that and give up and become this guy who presents himself as an ethically slippery person and that’s how I’m going to make a living and that’s who I’m going to be to the public.
As far as comedy goes, thank God that Peter and Vince give me comic scenes and fairly pure comic scenes every once an episode or every other episode. I promise you – I am relieved when I get to do them and I relish them and I’m thankful for them because they are a breath of fresh air for me, and I need them.
ADTV: We’ll see what happens. Did you ever think that you’d still be playing Saul, now Jimmy, after all these years?
BO: No, I did not. Listen, it was a big risk to put this thing on, but it was a risk that seemed like a smart one with Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould writing. I feel like risk is at the core of what we do, all of us, in show business, so how can you balk at a risk? I don’t know anything I’ve done that was a sure thing except working hard, but other than that we’re all taking turns rolling the dice every time. I’m just incredibly thankful to play this character to people. I’m acutely aware of how sensitively written this story is and how unique it is in its seeing life through a macro lens on a very small and subtle level. I’m amazed and just blown away that regular people can watch it and get involved and care and be entertained by it. It’s wonderful to see. It’s a statement about what people are capable of if you just give them a chance.
ADTV: And they tune in week after week and want to know more. They’re invested in your character. That’s what’s fun about it, I think.
BO: I think people who haven’t been able to suspend some disbelief or relax and watch the show and let the show be what it is feeling like it’s slow. To the rest of the audience, it’s amazingly quick, and they’re wrapped up in watching it on the level it’s being written and played at. It’s a very macro level of drama.
ADTV: You’ve been doing drama, but your background is in comedy. Do you still do any improv and do you miss it much?
BO: I loved doing sketch comedy. I don’t improvise doing Better Call Saul. Pretty much everything I say has been written exactly the way I say it. And I mean exactly. That’s a goal I have is to do the lines to the letter. I don’t always do it, but I’m always trying to do it and I think that’s its own a unique challenge that I find very rewarding. I have enough improv in my life and I know there’s more to come so I’m good on that score. I think this challenge is a really cool one so I’m a pure actor in this endeavor in that I’m trying to do the lines exactly as written. As far as comedy goes, thank God that Peter and Vince give me comic scenes and fairly pure comic scenes every once an episode or every other episode. I promise you – I am relieved when I get to do them and I relish them and I’m thankful for them because they are a breath of fresh air for me, and I need them.
Bob Odenkirk will return to Better Call Saul on AMC in 2017.