Bob Odenkirk on 'Better Call Saul': "It’s Total Drama"

Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman)

"He is the comic relief, and there are a lot of laughs, but Saul is now in hot water. The stakes are getting higher. Being in the cross hairs is not what he wanted. He wanted to make money! He's very worried about the drama around him. He's in way over his head."

Bob Odenkirk has yet to see himself in Better Call Saul.

“I haven't seen a frame of it,” he said Sunday night in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter's chief TV critic Tim Goodman at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. And it's not that he hasn’t had the chance, as the Breaking Bad spin-off started filming this past summer.

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Instead, Odenkirk suggests he isn't altogether interested in watching what's he done -- or is going to do. He believes it's his job as an actor  to be in the moment. "I really don’t want to know what’s coming later and I don’t look back at what came before," he said, adding: "I think it’s a perfectly good way to approach acting to not know what the f— is going on."

Or perhaps it's that he simply doesn't have the time. On top of filming the forthcoming AMC series and playing a role in FX's Emmy-winning miniseries Fargo, the actor-writer has been busy penning A Load of Hooey, a collection of humorous and satirical essays that was released in early October.

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Here are eight things Odenkirk shared, from his early days writing for Conan O’Brien to how he’s been able to “dig deep” in Better Call Saul.

1) Bryan Cranston Called Him Out for Not Watching Breaking Bad

Odenkirk may have been acting in the third season of Breaking Bad, but that didn't mean he was watching the show. In fact, by that point, he had only seen 10 minutes of the acclaimed series. And Bryan Cranston figured that out when Odenkirk employed the wrong tone in a line referring to another character who Saul didn’t like. “That guy’s not your friend, don’t say it like that,” Cranston corrected Odenkirk, adding: “You don’t watch the show, do you?”

2) Better Call Saul is More Drama than Comedy

Odenkirk confirmed that the hourlong spin-off skips around in time, but it’s set in 2002 (prior to the Breaking Bad time frame). While there was initial talk of making the show a half-hour comedy, as Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan began writing the pilot and developing the idea, it very quickly became an hourlong drama. “It’s total drama, man,” acknowledged Odenkirk. “It’s 85 percent drama, 15 percent comedy.”

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3) Saul Can Do More Than Just React Now

Playing a lead is different than character acting for Odenkirk in terms of the sorts of decisions he gets to make. For instance, lead characters can make decisions that are motivated by the personality or psychology of the person that aren’t easily justified by the circumstances of the moment. “That doesn't happen so much with secondary characters because they don’t need to have that depth,” explained Odenkirk, who thinks the secondary character's main job is to react. “One of the cool things about playing Saul now is that I get to have those moments. I’ve certainly gotten a chance to dig deep in Better Call Saul.”

4) Odenkirk Shared an Office with Conan O'Brien

Before Odenkirk wrote for Conan O'Brien in the 90's, the two comedians shared an office at Saturday Night Live for a year. It's why Odenkirk was also involved in the process of NBC finding a replacement for David Letterman, along with Robert Smigel and O’Brien. Once the latter took the job, Odenkirk flew in and spent three weeks on set, but for most of the first year he would just fax his bits in because he lived in LA (O'Brien taped his show in New York at the time). Odenkirk will actually return to Conan Wednesday, Oct. 29 to read from his new book.

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5) He's Happy about the Niche-ification of TV

Cable is heavy on execs who would prefer to be beloved by a few than be-liked by a lot. "Distinctive programming is something that a lot of outlets are trying to do, and it works for people like me,” he said, referencing Jill Soloway’s new Amazon series Transparent, which centers on a transgender woman, as an example of a show that networks wouldn’t have allowed in years past for fear of alienating large groups of people. “Nowadays it’s like, don’t worry about [the mass audience]. You can’t get them anyway,” he jokes. ”That world does not exist anymore, thank God,”

6) He Turned Down a Gig on The Simpsons 

Though Odenkirk started as a writer, he was eager to be a performer, too. But when he was at Saturday Night Live, he felt that he couldn’t make the transition into acting because he didn’t have enough experience, so he moved to LA in an effort to perform more. The Simpsons, which was just starting out at the time, was interested in hiring him, but Odenkirk turned it town because of the long hours (his friends that worked there then only got Christmas Day off). Get a Life, another show that wanted Odenkirk, offered more reasonable hours than The Simpsons. He took it and didn't regret it: “I was able to write there and do one-man shows but do my own thing at night and get started on performing more."

7) He Once Wrote a Show For HBO like Girls

After The Ben Stiller Show was canceled, a short-lived sketch comedy show Odenkirk starred in, he wrote a comedy pilot for HBO called Life on Mars that starred himself, Janeane Garofalo and Jack Plotnick. "It was kind of like people hanging out. It would have been like Girls," he said. "Really, it had that vibe of just young people with messed up personal lives trying to figure who they are." The series didn't end up moving forward, which led him to collaborate with David Cross on Mr. Show with Bob and David. The HBO sketch comedy ran four seasons, and was, as Odenkirk would later find out, the reason why Vince Gillian gave him his role in Breaking Bad.

8) That One HBO Note

Though Odenkirk claims that HBO let him and Cross do whatever they wanted with Mr. Show, the network did ask them once to cut a line from one of their scripts. The line? "Alright, then why don't you just f--- the baby?" Odenkrik agreed that it was a reasonable request, but he swears it was the only one. “Really other than that, they never asked us to change a thing.”