'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Rhea Seehorn ('Better Call Saul')

The actress best known for playing Kim Wexler on AMC's 'Breaking Bad' prequel opens up about her roots as a character actress, what she learned from prior short-lived TV series and what it's like to play her current show's only principal character whose fate is not already known.
Courtesy of AMC
Rhea Seehorn on 'Better Call Saul'

"She [Better Call Saul's casting director Sharon Bialy] was like, 'We were able to speak [to the show's co-creators and co-showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould] about a body of your work for a decade that no one has ever seen,'" says the actress Rhea Seehorn, who had auditioned for Bialy/Thomas & Associates for years without getting a job until she was cast as Kim Wexler, a lawyer who has a complicated relationship with Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, on AMC's Breaking Bad prequel.

As we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast at THR's offices, the strikingly beautiful and enormously talented 47-year-old actress, who had previously appeared only on short-lived series such as ABC's I’m with Her and NBC's Whitney, continues, "I'm gonna get teary now. When Sharon told me that, I teared up, just because on paper, every single one of those auditions was a failure because I didn't get the job, but actually they weren't. They were all successes ... it all mattered."

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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.

Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.

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Seehorn was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of a Naval intelligence officer whose work caused their family to move frequently when she was a kid. She ultimately went off to George Mason University and was pursuing a B.A. in fine arts when, during her freshman year, she tried acting for the first time. "I just fell in love with acting the first time I took a class," she says. At the end of that year, he father succumbed to alcoholism, leaving her deeply depressed. She gained a considerable amount of weight, dyed her hair black and got a crew-cut, resulting in an "androgynous" appearance that, paired with her deep voice, took her out of the running for ingenue roles.

She forged ahead as a character actress — in productions at George Mason and in non-union Washington, D.C., theaters, and made her Broadway debut in late 2001 as an understudy in Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway — before adopting a more classic appearance, auditioning for and landing a part on the aforementioned network sitcom I'm with Her, which led her to relocate to Los Angeles. The show, on which she played Teri Polo's sister, lasted just one season, which was longer than most of the jobs she went out for over the next decade. "I did so many pilots that didn't make it," she laments. Then, she found momentum, appearing on Whitney from 2011 through 2013, which overlapped with six seasons of guest-starring on TNT's Franklin & Bash. Still, she yearned for edgier material, explaining, "I was not aware that I would get pigeonholed as a sitcom actress when I got out here, just because that was my first show."

Returning to the subject of the casting directors at Bialy/Thomas & Associates, who she describes as "three super-supportive people," Seehorn says, "They would tell me, 'Don't change the way you attack roles, Rhea. The right people that you're supposed to work with will come.' It wasn't so much, 'The perfect role will come for you.' It was letting me know that it's okay that I keep adding subtext to the [part of a] girlfriend that's just standing there and trying to add other layers to things. It's okay that I take up space in a room. And the people that I should be working with, that will make me a better actor and a richer artist, will come along. And if somebody in that room does not like the way I work, I shouldn't be with them anyway."

Not long after the end of Breaking Bad, Gilligan and Gould decided to make Better Call Saul, and embarked on a "huge" search for an actress to play the one major role on the latter show that had not existed on the former: Kim. When Seehorn learned she would get to audition for the part, she went in largely blind: "I knew nothing," she explains. "I did not know she was a lawyer. She had a different name." Seehorn was asked to read for the part several times and learned she was one of five finalists who were brought in for screen-tests, all of which got her hopes up immensely. When she got the call that the part was hers, she says, she was "bawling," adding, "I almost collapsed on the sidewalk because I knew the level of storytelling that these guys do and I also knew the amount of character development that they write, encourage and enable in an actor, and I just thought, 'There can't be a greater gift.' And I wasn't wrong."

Four seasons later, the show is unimaginable without Seehorn's version of Kim, a more polished version of Odenkirk's Jimmy, with whom Kim has a complicated relationship. "Season four was challenging," says the actress. "It was really challenging — in the way that I hoped the craft of acting was going to be when I very first started. It makes me dig deep." Her scenes with Odenkirk — especially on a parking garage's rooftop and after Jimmy's reinstatement as a lawyer — showcase some of her best work yet. And while the season, which has been nominated for the best drama series Emmy, left Kim "more alone than she's even felt," it also left viewers and critics more impressed than ever at the remarkable talents of Seehorn.