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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Better Call Saul season three.]
After years breaking bad, it’s fun for Bob Odenkirk to play someone who is (more or less) good.
The actor is enjoying his third consecutive Emmy nomination for his leading role in AMC’s Better Call Saul, the drama in which he plays the quick-talking lawyer Jimmy McGill. Against all odds, it’s a surprisingly sympathetic role, giving a look at Saul Goodman before he became the criminal (emphasis on criminal) lawyer known to Breaking Bad viewers.
The third season saw a lot of changes, most notably the death of Jimmy’s brother Chuck, played by Michael McKean. It’s a loss that weighs heavily on the show, and on Odenkirk as he contemplates a future without his most seasoned sparring partner.
It’s hard to imagine the show without Michael McKean. How will the show move forward, and how will it affect you as an actor?
Working opposite a great powerful actor like Michael just makes you better. That was true with Bryan Cranston. It centers you and it challenges you. I don’t know if there’s a competitive side to acting, but maybe there is somehow. It makes you more present and whatever emotions you have get fed by that person’s presence and what they bring to the moment. I’m going to have to work around that deficit of not having him there. And personally, it’s sad to have to say goodbye to him. He’s just one of the funniest people I’ve ever been around.
You are, presumably, about halfway done with this show’s run, and we’re starting to see more of Saul Goodman’s nature come out in Jimmy. How are you preparing for that?
I miss Jimmy McGill already, because he’s becoming Saul. And I genuinely mean that. I feel kind of sad for this guy going away. The depth of the character is, at least for a time, turning into the less dimensional Saul Goodman, who I don’t like personally. And I have to say goodbye to Jimmy in the course of this story that we’ve committed to tell.
Will you go back and watch your performance on Breaking Bad as a refresher course as your character moves closer and closer to Saul Goodman? (Hat tip to BCS and Breaking Bad scholar Brian Davids for this question.)
I don’t think I really need to watch my performance in Breaking Bad. He’s already become so much more dimensional, and while there’s going to be, I think, aspects hidden away as he chooses to present himself as Saul to the world and to try to steal and take from the world as much as he can, [showrunners] Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan and the writing is going to get me there into that place. I wouldn’t be surprised if they show us a few more dimensions of Saul himself. In Breaking Bad, we only saw Saul at work, which makes sense because he was working for Walter and that was his value and purpose in the story of Breaking Bad. But if we’re going to get to know him as well as we have in Saul, perhaps some of those sequences in Breaking Bad, we might get to see behind Saul’s story a little more. His side of the story that might make him a different character in the course of seeing that — [a side] even I haven’t seen yet.
Vince and Peter have said they are interested in Gene, the identity Saul takes on to live in exile in Omaha post-Breaking Bad. What excites you about seeing more of him?
Gene is completely shut down. He is hiding his name and his identity, but he’s also hiding his personality and that’s what’s killing him. That’s what’s suffocating him. He can’t let go of the Saul Goodman side of him, the side that likes to be talkative and active — and he has to swallow all of that, and that’s why he faints I believe in that scene in season three. He’s just not breathing. He’s completely submerged and some part of him can’t take it anymore. We’ll see what happens. But I don’t think he can live that way entirely.
How have fan interactions changed for you since Better Call Saul started?
There’s a lot of sympathy for Jimmy. People like Jimmy. I love that I’m playing a character that people feel a lot of emotion for and root for because they are very kind to you if you are playing that kind character. Poor Michael McKean. As wonderful as he was, he played a guy who was just torturing jimmy, and I think he heard about from fans.
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