Tony Dalton was tasked with bringing to the screen the legendary, and legendarily unseen, character of Lalo Salamanca to life during season 4 of Better Call Saul. During our interview, we discuss what it was like creating the character, working on such a critically acclaimed show, and a little about what might be in store for the fifth and penultimate season of Better Call Saul. It looks like we may want to strap ourselves in for a wild ride.
Awards Daily: How did you come to Better Call Saul?
Tony Dalton: It was old school. (Laughs). I did a couple castings, got a call back, and got the part.
AD: Your character, Lalo, is referenced way back in Breaking Bad season 2 when Walt and Jesse kidnap Saul. The character existed as legend for a long time before you brought him into the flesh. What was it like to take on a role like that under those circumstances?
TD: It’s a little surreal. We all watched Breaking Bad and that scene where Saul is pleading for his life because he thinks Walt and Jesse were sent by Lalo. In a million years while watching it would I ever have thought that Lalo was me. (Laughs). I can’t even begin to explain how weird that is. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with these guys. They are such talented individuals – from Vince (Gilligan) and Peter (Gould) to my fellow cast-mates, the directors and the whole crew. To get to be in this world and play this off-beat character that breaks a little bit with the established narrative. Everything is a little more dire and serious and then Lalo shows up and he’s kind of a hoot! (Laughs).
AD: It must be a heady experience to join the Breaking Bad universe.
TD: These guys are so clear in the storytelling and in their understanding of the genre that they are in. And then the tone – how Saul started out as this off-beat comedy and has started to become this serious drama. Those are deep waters to be swimming in. If just one thing goes off your story becomes not relatable. They understand so well how this puzzle is working out and how it’s going to end. They know when they can get away with moments of humor and when they can’t.
AD: Your role is going to be much bigger in season 5. That must be pretty thrilling.
TD: Yeah, I’m in a whole bunch of this season, which is great. You don’t know until you start getting the episodes. I remember shooting the first one and then getting number 2 and number 3 and just…wow! And you never know. Except for Giancarlo, Jonathan Banks, and Bob, the rest of us don’t know when we are going to get killed! (Laughs). You read the new scripts a little scared. This could all end tomorrow. Which is fine, it’s part of the storytelling.
AD: A dose of trepidation arrives with every script.
TD: Yes! What happened in this case is there was more Lalo every time. Which was just awesome for me.
AD: Season 5 debuts Sunday, February 23. What are your plans for that evening?
TD: I can’t wait to watch it. This career is so strange. You are constantly looking back at your work. We did this a whole ago. It’s not like something I just did yesterday. I filmed an entire movie after that. So, it’s good to see what you did and go along for the ride – to see how they cut it up and how it fits all together. Wait until you see it. Season 5 is out of control. It’s on an entirely different level than the first 4 seasons. It takes a turn off-road and goes into some serious dangerland. We are really pushing the envelope.
AD: The show has gotten continually darker from season to season.
TD: Also, things are moving much faster. Which is totally on purpose. Peter and Vince did kind of the same thing on Breaking Bad, although that show went into overdrive in seasons 2 and 3. I think they took their time a little more on Better Call Saul with the character development. You become a little more attached to Jimmy and to Kim and there’s a sweetness do it. Then it becomes dangerous. Which is what happens in season 5. Things become more dangerous.
AD: Vince and Peter have been playing a long game here. To control the tone all the way through is challenging enough, but I’m sure they have an ending in mind. Things have to be so precise to get there and stick the landing.
TD: These guys are master storytellers. I believe season 6 is going to be the last season. Kind of like what they did with Breaking Bad. They always had this arc. They always knew what their end point was. They are doing the same thing here with Better Call Saul. The end of season 5 is going to be explosive. When I read the last episode of season 5, I started jumping up and down in my apartment! (Laughs). It’s amazing.
AD: I think a lot of shows continue on past their creative peak because the ratings are there. That doesn’t always mean the story is there though.
TD: That happens all the time. A show is making good money, and they keep going even though they don’t know where they are going. Vince and Peter are more about the art of storytelling. Even with El Camino, it was sort of like an epilogue for Jesse. They didn’t have to do that, but it was a perfect ending. It was purposeful.
AD: We’ve talked a bit about working with the show’s creators, but I bet it’s pretty great working with these actors as well.
TD: What can I tell you? They are all super pro guys. I was reading the scripts and going over my scene as Lalo with Gus and Giancarlo ends up being just the greatest guy. You work with these guys who you’ve watched for so long – even just sitting in the chair waiting for the scene is exciting – just chatting. Jonathan Banks and I ended up becoming good friends. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met. They are all so good. I feel like someone who was playing tennis just a little bit and then I’m at Wimbledon. How did I get here, man? (Laughs).
AD: Last year we found out that Lalo was the person who came up with the bell on Hector’s wheelchair – it was like having an Easter egg revealed. Can we expect more moments like that this year?
TD: There’s a lot of that stuff. I’m really thankful to Peter and Vince for giving that to me. That bell could have been anyone and this season there are lots of things where you realize that was Lalo too and you think he did that also? I feel like I don’t deserve it. I just got here! (Laughs). There’s a huge Easter egg reveal in episode 2. There’s a lot more after too. Lalo’s always in there. Like a ghost. It’s a lot of fun seeing these knots get tied.
AD: I imagine things are tightly constructed.
TD: They are, but you’d be surprised how open Vince and Peter are to opportunity. Like Mike wasn’t supposed to be in the whole show when Jonathan came to Breaking Bad. Lalo wasn’t going to be that big of a character. They are willing to do that. They know where they are going, but they don’t always know how they are going to get there. That to me is fascinating! I’m so excited thinking about these guys sitting in a room figuring out season 6.
AD: That is incredible to think that they leave room to make up some of this as they go along. Everything feels so locked in place. That would seem to add a degree of difficulty – introducing new ideas and extending characters beyond the original plan.
TD: It makes it so much more difficult, but it’s so pure. They are only interested in seeing how the story is best told. They’ve made it into this living, breathing organism that reacts and then sits and waits and gets rebooted. You can see that on the screen.
AD: How do you think the experience of working on such a great show will affect you in the future?
TD: I hope it’s positive. I’ve been doing this for a long time. You always hope that one job gets you another job that will be just as good. That’s all you can really hope for. I’m really happy for what I’ve got. I have actor friends from when I was in New York and we were waiters and they still don’t get work. As an actor, you always hope in the back of your mind, ‘I hope they call me again.’ (Laughs). For a long time nobody ever called. The phone might stop ringing any second – just like it was before. That’s one of the fears that every single actor in the world has.
AD: I have a feeling your phone is going to be ringing a lot.
TD: From your lips to god’s ears! (Laughs).
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9 pm ET on AMC.