When Peter Gould joined the Breaking Bad universe as a writer in 2010, he couldn’t have possibly known how important he was going to be to not only to that show, but also to its spin-off, Better Call Saul. But from small things, big things come, and Peter’s role grew from writer to co-executive producer on Breaking Bad, to executive producer on Better Call Saul. In our conversation, which was partially truncated due to Peter’s desire to get out on the picket line to support his fellow writers during the current strike, he and I discuss the decade plus experience he had on two shows that have already become legendary.
Awards Daily: You’ve been in the Breaking Bad universe from nearly the beginning, correct?
Peter Gould: Yes. On Breaking Bad there were two of us from the original writer’s room who made it all the way through to the end. It was me and George Mastras. We were the two that made it all the way. All the way to the bitter end. (Laughs). Well, it wasn’t bitter. But to the end.
Awards Daily: Obviously, your role in this universe grew from beyond that room. How did you get all the way here?
Peter Gould: Oh, boy. I had never been in a writer’s room before I started working on Breaking Bad. I’d been writing on my own for quite a while and I’d been a professional writer, and delighted to be making a living, but I had never been in a writer’s room and I just loved it. I loved the way Vince ran the room. I guess I made a good contribution because he kept on having me back and he promoted me and some other folks. I had the time of my life on that show and one of the reasons was I just had instant faith that it was all going to be fine. I just loved the show. In fact, I was disappointed the first season or so that many people didn’t really know anything about it or hadn’t heard of it, because I thought it was phenomenal. Then Vince and I kept working together and we had this idea to do a spinoff.
We made an agreement that we’d start it off together and then eventually I’d run it solo. I think Vince didn’t realize how much he was going to love the show, but he did eventually leave, or at least put one foot out the door starting in season three. Breaking Bad was the time of my life, partially because I always just knew Vince was always going to be there to fix things. And then suddenly I had to be the one to fix things. I had a lot more sleepless nights on Better Call Saul, let’s put it that way. Vince is such a generous, open-minded guy. Sometimes people who work with someone will say, oh, well I know he’s going to like this, or he is not going to like that. I never assumed anything about Vince because he makes connections that I don’t think anyone else would. He did a wonderful job at creating a positive environment. I tried to carry that through on Better Call Saul because the work’s too hard to be a jerk or to have jerks around. I had a great time for 15 years and it had to end, but I’m still sorry that it did.
Awards Daily: I know that there was some talk, before Better Call Saul debuted, that it might be quite a bit different than Breaking Bad, almost sitcom-y. And it would make sense with that character to a point. It seems like what you folks did was to sort of split the difference early on and then continually move towards the darker Breaking Bad tone. Am I right?
Peter Gould: You are. There was even talk at the beginning of doing the show as a single camera half hour. I was always more comfortable doing an hour because I have too much respect for comedy people to think that I can do that. When Better call Saul started off, the thing that we said to AMC and Sony was Breaking Bad was 70% drama and 30% comedy and Better Call Saul was gonna be 70% comedy and 30% drama. We were unable to achieve those ratios as anticipated, but I do like to think that there is comedy there. I think the great thing about putting comedy in drama is that they set each other off. And by the way, you’d be an idiot to have Bob Odenkirk as your lead and not do any comedy. (Laughs). So the nice thing about it is that when you have comedy next to drama, comedy doesn’t deflate the drama, it enhances it . It’s a little bit like peanut butter and chocolate. They’re just better together.
Awards Daily: One of the hardest things to do with any series is stick the landing. What I thought was so interesting about the finale, was that even the last season of Better Call Saul felt a little muted—in a good way. To give an example, Giancarlo had fewer lines. It felt like there was an efficiency and a quietness that I thought was just fantastic as you went through, because as things become more grim and more desperate and harder, people hide, right? They try to shrink from being seen, and I felt like that played well into that finale.
Peter Gould: A couple of things occur to me from that observation. One is that these actors are so great that they don’t need an awful lot of dialogue to communicate. I think if you look at both shows, you’d see that there’s less and less dialogue and that’s something I love. I love film as a visual storytelling medium but also sometimes I feel that in the audience, there’s more power for me to lean forward and to try to understand what’s going on with someone rather than having them tell me. I think behavior is the most interesting thing. And also, we know these characters. This is the great thing about serialized television. By the time you got to Giancarlo’s last episode, how many episodes with Gus Fring had we seen at that point? We knew that guy so well, and yet I think in that last episode we were able to show a side of him that hadn’t been revealed before. And so, it’s a wonderful thing about the medium that we’re working in, of this long form storytelling that you can turn the characters and see different angles on them. And if the audience is with you, and it’s all dependent on that, they too will lean forward and they too care about these people. That’s a real privilege.
Awards Daily: I love the use of black and white down the stretch run of Better Call Saul, and particularly in the finale. What made you go in that visual direction?
Peter Gould: We started off with this idea of the very first scene of Better Call Saul as a black and white flash forward. I don’t know that there was a lot of thought to it beyond the idea that this very colorful guy’s world was drained of color. Then as we went on, we kept on flashing forward to that Omaha world. We started really liking the black and white and it felt different. So, the question came with this final season, what do we do? Because one of the options would’ve been to create some kind of transition sequence that we would’ve started in black and white and then the color would sort of bleed in, and then we’d be in color for the whole end of the series. If there are two choices and one is more bold, I’m always tempted by the bold one.
I thought, let’s just be bold. Let’s just do Omaha in black and white. And there were also technical considerations. One was, we weren’t really shooting in Omaha. And so having that world in black and white kept it feeling like a new world, a different world, a world of its own. It’s obvious from the show we’re all movie buffs and there’s so many great black and white movies, so as we moved to black and white, I did a kind of a portfolio of images from black and white movies to inspire us. We did a zoom with the directors, and the production designer, and both of our DP’s and we went through it and I said hey, what about this? What about that? Sometimes those meetings really kick things off in a fun way, and I couldn’t be happier with it, but I learned so much about black and white and about snow in black and white, and wardrobe in black and white. It’s a shame there’s a good chance I’ll never work in black and white again. But I would love to have a chance to apply that again someday.
Awards Daily: I want to talk about the relationship, especially in that last episode, between Jimmy and Kim. The one person that Jimmy had to, at the end of the day, be a good person for, or the best version of himself for, was her. I love the fact that when they have their final moments together, it’s emotional, but it’s not over the top. You folks kept it muted and I thought that was a great choice, and a bold one, to use your words.
Peter Gould: I have a theory. Like all theories, it could be just complete BS, but my theory is that what you want is for the audience to have emotion. Sometimes that means having the characters be very expressive, but I always find it very moving when characters are restrained and as a viewer, I can put my own emotion into the scene. This was a case where Rhea had had her weeping scene. This was a character who was incredibly stoic, and restrained, in control of herself. And in the previous episode, she has this breakdown and it’s not in front of other characters who are going to talk to her about it. She’s on a bus full of strangers plus Vince’s wife, Holly, and yet that’s where she breaks down. That just felt right.
So much of this is instinct, and I’m glad you feel that way. But I think it’s also that the two of them have both grown up a bit. They’ve become themselves and there is a certain satisfaction in that, even though god knows both of them have some tricky circumstances. She’s got this lawsuit hanging over her head and he’s in prison. I don’t know how much worse it gets, but somehow you get the feeling that they’re going to be okay. That’s what we were hoping for. And, as a movie buff, again, you can’t help thinking about what are the great endings, not just of TV shows, but of movies. I couldn’t help going back to all the movie endings that I love, where you kind of are left continuing the story in your head a little bit. That was the hope: that the characters would live inside the viewers’ heads afterwards, that it wouldn’t be just over with the fade out.
Awards Daily: Now that you’ve completed this journey of taking El Camino as the ending, Breaking Bad as the middle and Better Call Saul as the beginning, how are you feeling now that you’ve finished this and what’s next for you?
Peter Gould: How am I feeling? I have incredible gratitude. How many people get to do this, and tell a complete story? The world is full of people who have great stories who aren’t going to get to tell them. So I feel just incredibly lucky and blessed to have gotten to be a part of this whole operation. And to tell a story that I’m really proud of. That’s not to be taken lightly. At the time when we were working on it, I kept thinking I was gonna be burned out and who knows what would be next? Of course, now that it’s over, I’m just raring to get going with the next thing. I’m working on something now that I’m very excited about and I hope people like, and we’ll see if it ever sees the light of day. But I think it’s really fun and really great. So hopefully it’ll be coming into your screens at home eventually.