'Better Call Saul's' Michelle MacLaren on Shooting at Iconic 'Bad' Location

The director also reveals the great lengths the show went to in keeping Tuco's role a surprise: "We always referred to him as Mijo."
AMC

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Monday's episode of Better Call Saul, "Mijo."]

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) showed he can fast-talk both in the court room and out in the desert with knife to his throat in Monday's Better Call Saul.

Jimmy outsmarted Tuco (Raymond Cruz), convincing him to spare his life and those of the skateboarding twins (Daniel Spenser Levine and Steven Levine), and returned to the courtroom with renewed energy — taking on case after case in a very Breaking Bad-esque montage.

See more 'Breaking Bad': 25 Most Badass Quotes

While Vince Gilligan directed Sunday's pilot, he and fellow co-creator Peter Gould enlisted their former Breaking Bad comrade Michelle MacLaren to do the honors for episode two.

MacLaren, a longtime Breaking Bad director and producer, also has worked on The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. She is now working on the highest profile project of any of Breaking Bad's behind-the-scenes talent, signing on to direct the Wonder Woman film for Warner Bros.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, MacLaren reveals the great lengths to which the production went to conceal the Tuco storyline and shares the inside story of crafting that montage. For more from the episode, read THR's postmortem with co-showrunners Gilligan and Gould and interview with Odenkirk.

What were the biggest challenges of this episode?

The big scene in the desert was challenging because it was so long. We had to shoot it over two days. When you're out in the desert, you are constantly changing your position as the sun changes. You have all these people with no real landmarks other than the mountains. We kept moving the cars and the people as the light moved. That's a challenging thing to do when you're doing such an emotionally dramatic, intense scene. 

Read more 'Better Call Saul': Bob Odenkirk Explains "Sad as Hell" Opening Scene 

On Breaking Bad you were known for desert scenes — was this a location you had shot in before?

It was close to where we shot the "Say My Name" episode. We shot a lot of stuff out there. We called that our backlot. It wasn't far from the "Salud" episode, when we went to Mexico with Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and the guys are driving through the desert in the car when they are blindfolded. It's beautiful desert out there, and you can use it for a lot of different things.

What were the conversations like when deciding how to portray Jimmy?

On the set, we never used the name Saul. We always referred to him as Jimmy. I had to catch myself a couple of times and remember this isn't Saul. Vince, Peter, Bob and I talked a lot about who Jimmy McGill is and how we wanted to portray him. And we wanted to portray him as a very dedicated, hardworking lawyer who wants to do right by his clients and his brother.

Read more 'Better Call Saul' Bosses on Shocking Cameo, Going Beyond 'Breaking Bad' Timeline

In Breaking Bad, the montages always served a specific purpose. What was the goal with this one?

It shows he is a hard-working, dedicated lawyer. He's a good guy. He's trying to do the right thing and he cares deeply. The guy just can't get a break. We get a little hint of how he crossed over to maybe having not the most honest clients.

What did you hope to get out of Raymond Cruz and Tuco in this episode?

We wanted to keep in mind that this is a prequel. Tuco is not full-blown Tuco yet. We were counting on everybody knowing this is an unstable character. The moment you see him open the door at the end of the pilot, you go, "Oh no!" In that first scene when he's coming across as somewhat sweet and calm with his grandmother, you want to know that bubbling under the surface is this maniac. Anyone who has watched Breaking Bad knows what he's capable of. But we don't know if he is at that place yet. We wanted to evolve Tuco, so to speak.

How did you keep Raymond's guest role a surprise?

We always referred to him as Mijo, never as Tuco. There was this piece in the desert scene when he is stomping down on the guy's leg, and we did an upshot we had to shoot in front of his grandmother's house. We had fans watching, and we didn't want anyone to see Tuco, so we parked the trucks so nobody could see him, but I had to talk to him during the scene. I'm talking to this guy, and instead of saying, "Harder, Tuco!" I'm going, "Harder, Mijo!" (Laughs) It was so funny to be talking to this bad guy who is so dangerous going, "Mijo!"  

Are there any Easter eggs we should be looking for.

I don't really want to say because I'm not sure what Vince and Peter have planned. I will say I've never laughed so hard as shooting the montage with Bob in the courtroom. Bob was ad-libbing, and he is a phenomenal improv artist. I hope they put it on the DVD because it is so funny what he was saying. I had tears in my eyes behind the camera I was laughing so hard.

How much do you know about the rest of the season?

I decided I am going to enjoy this as an audience member. Whenever I went over to the office to visit, I wouldn't look at the boards on the wall. I know more than you would know from just episodes one and two because of things I needed to know, but other than that I don't know where they are going. 

Better Call Saul airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on AMC.

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch 

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