8:04pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Better Call Saul' Star on Jimmy and Kim's "Authentic" Bond and Big "Sacrifice"
[This article contains the minor spoilers for Monday's episode of Better Call Saul, "Cobbler."]
For its first season, Better Call Saul was built as the tragic journey from trying-to-be-good Jimmy McGill to reveling-in-being-bad Saul Goodman to black-and-white Gene from Cinnabon.
The start of the second season has added depth from expanding the relationship between Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy and Rhea Seehorn's Kim. More and more, there's the sense that this is a love story, a love story peppered with moments of genuine sweetness, in addition to the premiere scene in which Jimmy and Kim teamed up to con a money-managing tool out of a bottle of absurdly expensive tequila.
We know that Jimmy McGill has the soul and, eventually, the life of a grifter, but was the silver-tongued, ethically shady Kim of the premiere the real Kim? Or was the real Kim the one who took Jimmy to task in Monday's episode for lying to the police?
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Seehorn about this season's new prominence for the Jimmy/Kim love story, Kim's dark side and why she hopes Kim is still around in the Breaking Bad universe.
The series began as the story of Jimmy's doomed transition into Saul, but the first two episodes of this season feel almost more like this doomed loved story between Jimmy and Kim. Have you always seen the show as being that, at least to some degree?
No, I had no idea! [Creators] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould], as anybody that follows their awesome podcasts all the way back through Breaking Bad knows, they do not write a bible for the entire series, so while there are definitely two captains at the helm of ship -- and even more when you include [executive producers] Tom Schnauz and Gennifer Hutchinson and Gordon Smith and all of our other fabulous executive producers and writers -- there are some things that they figure out organically, and whether they knew this, I don't know. They definitely didn't tell me. I was very surprised when I got the scripts this season.
There's no fat on their scripts, and by that I mean that I knew Kim wasn't just going to be ancillary or tertiary to everything and kind of not matter at all, that she would figure into it and be a three-dimensional person that is there for a very real purpose in the storytelling, and I was thrilled when I saw how that was going to be illustrated.
What was your reaction to the almost surprisingly sweet moments that Kim and Saul have at the beginning of this season? Those seem to bring a new color to both their relationship and to the show around them.
Yeah! It was really funny. At first, I was afraid like, "Oh, did we lose something about the strange kind of mystery of those two?" The weird, romantic sexiness that they have with each other is between the lines; it's intangible as only a 10-year-plus relationship with two loner-strange-outcast people can be, and suddenly it's being illustrated very clearly and in a traditional way for a moment. Like you said, there's a sweetness to it. But then I realized quickly that that's the way Tom writes and directs, because that's his episode, and then in Vince and Peter's hands as our showrunners, it's never going to be sappy. It's just authentic. They just authentically have a sweet moment because they have a lot of different ways of being with each other. Those two will fight, candidly and frankly, and also have this very sweet moment. Even the moment you're talking about, yes there's the kiss, but there's also the moment before. There's a recognition and a mystery there of what it is that they are saying to each other when they look at each other. There's an agreement of what form this relationship's going to be now. And whether or not that's brand new or revisited and what it means to them and what this agreement is, it's their secret, and I think that's what keeps it from being too pat.
The scene with Kyle Bornheimer's Ken in the premiere, it seems to unlock something in Kim. In your mind or your interpretation, was that a side that she previously knew she had?
To me, it connected to this little secret I've kept with me ever since season one, from the episode where Jimmy creates a billboard as a personal vendetta to get back at Hamlin, where he looks like Howard Hamlin, and then fabricates an accident to make himself a hero to get media coverage. Kim warns him about the consequences of his actions, but she never chides him like other people do, which I love. It's not a nagging shrew thing. It's, "You said you wanted this, so get of your own way. I'm telling you what's going to happen." And yet when Hamlin walks away, you see her smile, privately. To me, that says a couple things. She does not love Jimmy in spite of him, she loves him all-inclusive of him. She knows who he is. But it also said to me that there is another side of Kim that either enjoys it from the sidelines or has a backstory that involves that. I'm not sure what yet. We're still exploring it, and we explore it a little bit more this season, which was fun. There's more to be had with her figuring that stuff out, but it certainly was fun playing that. Whether it's a revisiting of behavior or an uncomfortable new thing, I don't know.
You say she loves him all-inclusive, but in this episode, she goes from amused to disapproving at a certain point. What is the line for her that that story crosses?
That's the big question, and I think it's the big question for every character in this world, and it's a continuation of season one. It's, "Where are these lines in the sand, moral versus immoral? And how far can you color outside of the lines before it's an issue?" So she does draw a line in the sand in that episode, you're right. There's a strange result. There's a negotiation between two people who love each other that has very specific language. She's not saying, "I won't do these things," and she's not telling him, "You can't." She says, "I don't want to hear about it," which is tragic in its own way. We feel that sacrifice of intimacy, like, "What do you mean you guys won't tell each other everything now? That's what you guys do." So what does that mean? But like you said, we just saw her pull off a con with him and enjoy it. So I'm not going to spoil anything, but it's a good question that you're asking, because it's an exploration that she is being forced to look at. Where is this line? Does it move? Does it change depending on the circumstances? I don't know.
I know this is a show that sticks to the script, but it feels like the scripts and the show have an almost perpetual ability to be played as either dramatic or comedic, through performance and interpretation of the exact same scripts. How much variation do you guys get to give to play different tones of scenes, even within the rigid scripts?
We get a lot of room. It's hard to describe. It mathematically doesn't make sense that people that are this specific and meticulous in the craft of the story as far as every word and the punctuation and their scripts read like beautiful novels -- there's a lot of tone and narrative texts in our scripts. It's not just dialogue; it's descriptions of scenes and thoughts and ideas and symbolism and all of that -- and then you get there and Arthur Albert's shooting it and our incredible props people and Jennifer Bryan's costumes and the scenic design and the production design, it is very meticulously crafted, down to the thumb-tacks and the pens and the newspapers -- they love that our fans are so passionate and intelligent that they will freeze-frame things and read the license that comes out of someone's wallet or read the newspaper in the background on a desk -- and yet you get there and you still somehow have freedom. In this awesome, incredible, perfect playground, you then are given the freedom to, like you said, play with exactly where the scene goes. Unlike a lot of television, we do eight- and 10-page dialogue scenes, and the camera holds on people. You're allowed to play pauses. You're allowed to breathe in a scene. You're allowed to end a scene on a physical beat or a small, tiny gesture instead of a punchline or a dramatic button. They're very real, and they have very winding paths, and they take you in different directions, and we are allowed to explore all of that. We have tremendous directors, and then whoever wrote the episode comes down to Albuquerque and is on stage for that. You always feel like someone's at the helm. It's not willy-nilly. But it's an incredible feeling when you show up to the set as an actor, that you are equally respected and asked to bring something to the sandbox. We explore at all.
Given that the Breaking Bad story and universe is at the end of this, do you give any consideration at all to where you hope Kim is by the time we get to the events of Breaking Bad?
I'm absolutely at peace, and that's saying something in this business, as crazy as it can be for an actor. I'm absolutely at peace that Vince and Peter are going to tell the absolute best story that they can and everything will be as it should be. That being said, I do root for Jimmy and Kim, because I believe in how authentically they love each other in the way that they do. They have a bond that I find very authentic and interesting and layered that I love and I want to protect. I think that Vince and Peter and the other writers did themselves and the fans this great service, it's just so cool that they gave themselves this bending timeline where you can go past the Breaking Bad years, as we already saw with Gene, and you then come back into the prequel years, and then you could go during the Breaking Bad years. So instead of it being this countdown of the five or six years leading up to when Breaking Bad starts, it could go all over the place, and you could even have a Rashomon effect, where there are things that occurred during the Breaking Bad years that you didn't see, a different angle, the counterpart to scenes with other things going on. I root for Chuck still being around. I root for Hamlin still being around. The way you saw Saul in Breaking Bad was very specific to circumstance. We never saw him go home or hang out with his friends. Where was he going? Where were these other people? Certainly they could be absent, and that's a driving force in the story, but they could also be a driving force by being present in his life, and none of us have any idea where it's going to go. It's all open to us as well. You don't know, but you feel like you're in very good hands with these writers, and you just wait for the ride.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.