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“My name is ASAC Schrader,” and you…can complete the rest for yourself.
But here’s the thing: Hank Schrader’s famous final words aren’t his final words anymore. Dean Norris, who starred as Walter White’s beer-brewing DEA agent brother-in-law on all five seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad, is back in the crystal-meth universe by way of Better Call Saul — a development that many fans hoped to see play out since the very beginning of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s prequel series, but is only now coming about with less than two full seasons until Saul clocks out.
Returning alongside longtime partner and friend Steve “Gomey” Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada), Hank steps into Better Call Saul when Domingo “Krazy-8” Gallardo Molina (Maximino Arciniega) is arrested and in need of legal help. Enter: Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill, now officially named Saul Goodman and well on his way toward the criminal lawyer’s worst criminal activities. Jimmy brokers a deal with DEA agents Schrader and Gomez to lean on Domingo as a criminal informant, a piece of mythology still lingering from the Breaking Bad days, and one that makes Hank and Gomez active participants in the rise of Saul Goodman — and, by extension, active participants in their own eventual demise, given Jimmy’s own key role in the rise of Heisenberg.
Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter speaks with actors Norris and Quezada about returning to the Breaking Bad universe by way of Better Call Saul, what it was like putting Hank and Gomez’s badges back on and their hopes for the future of the franchise.
Fans have wanted Hank back in action for a long time. How did this come together?
Dean Norris: I talked to Peter and Vince years ago about the possibility. They mentioned it to me. I only had one request: “I don’t want it to be gratuitous. I don’t want it to be jokey, where he’s just there for the sake of being there.” That was my main concern. I got a call. My agent said Peter and Vince wanted to talk, and I knew what it was going to be about. I told them, “Look, if you think this is legitimate — if you think it’s fair and justified to have him back — then I would love to do it.” And Vince said, “Absolutely.” So I was in. Peter said something interesting to me. He said that Saul’s development as a character, maybe Hank had something to do with that. That was great to me. It made sense, and it wasn’t gratuitous. It was great to see early Hank. The last half of Breaking Bad, he was just so depressed. It was a tough time for Hank. It was good to see him in all of his glory and swagger and loud-mouthed self. (Laughs.)
Steven Michael Quezada: It’s a pretty awesome blessing. You just never know how writing goes. When we got the call, and Dean called me about it, we were so excited. It pretty much fell on Dean. If Dean said no, then I’m out of the loop, man, so I’m glad he said yes. (Laughs.) I’m glad we got to go play and bring back characters we love so much.
How much was a return to the character on the mind for you?
Quezada: In my mind, I saw them slowly moving toward Breaking Bad. Keeping that in mind, I really figured there was a chance for us to come back, especially as the show is really exploring the crime, the meth, the drug dealers. If people start getting busted, they’re going to have to call up Hank and Gomez!
Hank and Gomez’s stories on Breaking Bad ended on such a dark note. Did it impact your own feelings about the characters, getting to come back and play them at this earlier stage?
Norris: Absolutely. I thought it would be great for the fans, too, quite frankly. It’s great to get to see who Hank originally was, you know? It takes some of the sting out of his ending. You get to see him back. They wrote him perfectly, just the stupid stuff about the expired food. In another episode, he’s just yapping about all kinds of stupid stuff, and Gomey is annoyed that he has to listen to him. (Laughs.) They really did a great job tapping back into the early Hank. They wrote it perfectly.
Quezada: Pretty much for the first three seasons, we were almost the comic relief, with the banter back and forth. There was no PTSD, no drama, none of me worrying about my partner. It was the fun, regular old everyday people who also happened to be DEA agents. That’s how we approached them as actors, until we figured it would change, which it eventually did. But reading those scripts on Better Call Saul and seeing them stay so true to the beginnings of Hank and Gomez…it was so great. So funny. Hank has that spring in his step. He’s still happy. They’re both just loving doing their job. It didn’t end up for them that way. To go back to the start? It was really special for both of us.
What was your first day back on set like?
Norris: It was fantastic. It was all of the interrogation stuff. It was great to see my buddy Steven Michael Quezada again. It was a great homecoming. At least half the crew, maybe more, is the same crew from Breaking Bad. I got to see all of these people I spent six or seven years of my life with. Getting to act again with my good buddy Steven, on a script that was exactly like getting a Breaking Bad script back…we just couldn’t wait to do the scene. It was great. It was a really charmed two weeks of my life to get back there and do the show.
How easily did you two resume the dynamic between Hank and Gomey?
Norris: We had stayed friends, and our friendship developed even more since Breaking Bad. When we first started, we didn’t know each other, and of course we became friends. But we’ve stayed friends, and now, 10 years later, we get to come back. It was almost more comfortable hanging out with him on screen now because we are such good friends, even more than when we had started Breaking Bad, because we know each other so well now.
Quezada: I really think our friendship helped how the characters came across onscreen. People would always say we seemed like the best of friends onscreen, and that’s what happened in real life, you know? That’s what we felt. I think that’s why it transferred over. For us to be standing there again and going, “This is kind of cool.” We fell right back into it, man. We went right back into our work ethic. Me and Dean were famous for three takes every setup. We never did more than three takes on any setup, and if we did, it wasn’t our fault. He taught me how to show up prepared. I give Dean a lot of credit for where I’m at now as an actor. I was a stand-up comedian and he knew it. I was a theater actor, but not a television and film guy…just some tiny roles here and there. I was more known as the stand-up, so it was a whole new skill set. Working with Dean, every time I’m on set with him, being with someone who puts that much thought into it and shows up ready to work? He turned the pressure up on me, but I stepped up to the plate, and I think every season I got better — and now I get to go back to before the beginning of Breaking Bad and be an even better actor.
What was the level of secrecy getting you to and from Albuquerque?
Norris: They had a fake name at the hotel. They had certain screens that were on the set that we were supposed to hide behind, because people could actually see us out on the street when we were doing some of the scenes. There are extras, all kinds of things…. I thought there was no way they were going to keep it a secret. I pretended I was in Albuquerque promoting the Schraderbräu beer. (Laughs.) I was telling people that’s why I was going to Albuquerque. I thought that worked, but obviously, not enough. I was surprised they announced [the return] at TCA.
Quezada: A lot of the complaints you read on social media are people saying, “Why did you tell us?” (Laughs.)
It’s hard to imagine how this would have stayed a secret right up until the episode, let alone the fact that it stayed a secret as long as it did…
Quezada: But Breaking Bad has always been good about keeping secrets. That’s a great skill set that AMC and Sony and Peter and Vince have. People would want to talk to me about it, and I would always have to be [tight-lipped]. I never wanted to give away any of it. It’s such a good show, why would you ever ask me for a spoiler? Heck, I didn’t even read the scripts. I would flip through them, see my stuff, work on my stuff, and then I got to experience everything else like everybody else. All of those great moments, I got to see them the way everyone else saw them. Never read them. Why would I need to? I’m not connected to any other characters, so it never mattered to me what happened to them [as an actor]. I want to see it how it’s meant to be seen, to see how all the other actors put their work into it.
Would you have preferred to keep the secret, or has it been fun getting involved in hyping up Hank’s return to the show?
Norris: The latter, for sure. It’s true, you might as well get into it! If we’re not going to be able to keep the secret then you might as well get people excited about it and have fun with it.
Better Call Saul is a prime example of a prequel that actually works and enhances the original material. Based on your time working with the crew, why do you think the series resonates as much as it does?
Norris: It’s great writing. Peter and Vince and all of the writers…it’s hearkening back to whether Hank would come back or not and saying it wouldn’t be gratuitous. They are such great writers. They’re able to write great characters. In Breaking Bad, there were all these great twists, but it was always based on solid characters and the writing of those characters. When you fall back on that, you’re willing to listen to a story and watch a story unfold from these writers. It’s such great writing. I think these guys could do anything at some level, because they’re such good writers. They’re so disciplined. Going back to Vince telling me Hank’s return wasn’t going to be gratuitous, and how it was going to be a part of the story of who Saul becomes…they were just so right in how they did that. They’re disciplined in their demand for quality and their demand for good storytelling. That’s what it comes down to.
Quezada: The writers are brilliant, but Bob Odenkirk, Rhea [Seehorn] and everyone else on the cast…they’re just so amazing. I’m so honored and humbled to get to do some episodes on this incredible show. I’m at a point where I’m just over the moon.
Do you feel like you’ve said everything you need to say with Hank and Gomez, or do you have the bug now? Are you ready for the Breaking Bad zombie season?
Norris: I definitely haven’t said everything I have to say with Hank. I would love for him to come back, for them to find a way for him to do more stuff, but you can’t be greedy. I was just so happy to get to play him again for a couple of episodes. We’ll see what happens after that.
Final one for you, Steven. Have you ever eaten expired frosting?
Quezada: I totally have. I have eaten many expired things. (Laughs.) But my wife changed that for me. She’ll say, “You can’t eat that!” I’ll go, “Why? There’s nothing wrong with it!” She says, “It’s gross. It’s expired.” And I go, “Oh, come on. This stuff doesn’t expire. They just put that on there so you buy more!”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow THR.com/BetterCallSaul for more coverage.
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