Better Call Saul‘s third season ended in haunting fashion on Monday night, in a way that left Jimmy McGill seemingly closer than ever to becoming Saul Goodman. And Saul star Bob Odenkirk has very complicated feelings about that.
On the one hand, he knows that this is where the story is going, and that he signed on for exactly this journey. On the other hand, having spent three years of playing a complicated but ultimately good-hearted guy, he’s not wild about going back to playing Saul Goodman, whom he describes as “a shallow asshole.”
Yesterday, I spoke with Odenkirk about what Chuck’s fate means for Jimmy, why he’s not particularly looking forward to playing the full Saul Goodman when the time comes(*), how he would have felt if he had known going in that Saul would be as dramatic as it turned out to be, the split between the Jimmy and Mike shows, playing a scene with Gus Fring, and more.
(*) I should also put in a quasi-spoiler warning for his answer to my second question, in that Odenkirk is a bit looser-lipped about conversations with bosses Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan about what the show’s future might be. He’s still speculating, and nothing is definitive — the show technically hasn’t even been renewed yet, even though it’s surely coming back — but Odenkirk seems to have some idea of how much we might see of him as the full Saul Goodman, and as Gene from Cinnabon. Also, in a later answer, he treats Chuck’s fate a more definitive than the writers have so far, though that may just be a result of him not being in the writers room as they’ve discussed whether to unring that particular bell.
How did you find out about Chuck’s fate?
I got a phone call from Vince and Peter. No, first Michael told us in a casual way, because he had gotten a call, and then everybody was talking about it on set and stuff, and then a few hours later I got a call from Vince and Peter, who are very considerate and very sensitive about these big choices in the story, and they were thinking that they were breaking the news to me. I was clear that we had all talked about it. I think they didn’t realize how Michael would be able to handle it. Michael’s done so much stuff, and so many different jobs, and while he saw the value of the great great writing of this show, and his part was so important, and such a wonderful part for him, and he did it so well, and I think he would’ve liked to carry on doing it for years to come, but he’s also a writer himself, and he knows that story has to be paramount, and this had to happen in this story. He took it great, like the kind of experienced actor that he is, and he shared it with all of us, and then Vince and Peter called to let us all down gently. Look; there’s things about this show that are inevitable. You have to be a grown-up about it. It’s gonna end at a certain point. I don’t really know right now, but sooner rather than later, it’s gonna end, and the character’s going to become Saul, who’s kind of a shitty guy. He’s going to go from being a dimensional, empathetic character to a shallow asshole. And that’s the journey that we all agreed to. All these things are going to happen. It’s a big deal, but these are things we’re all knowing are coming down the pike.
With the way you describe the transition from one to the other, if there winds up being an extended period of time where you’re playing the Saul of Breaking Bad, are you looking forward to that? Or are you going to miss playing this guy you’re playing right now?
This is a more rewarding part than that. So, yes, I would miss the part that I’m playing now. I don’t think there is an extended period of time that we’ll be enjoying Saul’s ridiculousness. I think there will be a story to tell there, though. We’re not quite there yet. With Chuck gone, that is one of the two big things that are connecting him to humanity, and the other being Kim. When those pillars fall away, he’s in freefall. We’re fairly close to that. And then there’s some story to tell as Saul. Peter and Vince and I talked, and as a viewer myself and a fan of their storytelling, I want to understand what happened with Saul and Mike, and Nacho and Lalo, who I’ve never met, none of us have met, that leads to all the stuff that goes on in Breaking Bad.
Also, frankly, I would like to see what happens to Gene, the character Saul is post-Breaking Bad. I hope they’ll give some story to him. I think they will. They’re talking about it. So I don’t know how much time is left, but I will and do already feel bad about saying goodbye to the very likable and, I think, good-hearted Jimmy McGill.
Rhea (Seehorn) says she has speculated about where Kim is during the events of Breaking Bad, while Michael has said he never liked to think about Chuck’s future. Is this something you’ve spent a lot of time speculating about?
I feel like Kim has to be out of Jimmy’s life for him to have to be Saul. I don’t know if she has to be gone from the earth. But I also feel like for him to behave as Saul, even with her, let’s say she lives across town and she can see his billboards and stuff, I think that would be an embarrassment to him. So I don’t know what happens to her that he carries on becoming this guy in such a public way. Maybe she just rejects him, and it’s his way of making her feel bad. I don’t know. This will be interesting to see what happens. These guys are good writers. All the desires and motivations will be acknowledged in some way. But they can’t be together. I’d be shocked if they are together, Kim and Jimmy. The weird thing is, if Chuck had lived, becoming Saul would be a great way to fuck with him. Putting your billboards up over town, that would be a great way to wave that in his face and make him embarrassed.
You referred earlier to Jimmy being a much nicer person than Saul is, but in the season’s ninth episode, what he does to Irene feels like one of the worst things anyone has done to anyone else on either this show or Breaking Bad. How did you feel when you saw that in the script?
Terrible. It felt terrible. I called Peter Gould, who has kind of taken the reins of the show, and I said, “Goddammit, man. This is sad. All that’s left is for me to go shopping for lime green socks, and this is Saul now.” And he goes, “Well, two things. One, this is the story we said we were going to tell,” so kinda tough shit. And secondly, he said, “It’s not entirely true that he’s all the way there now.” But in some fundamental way, in the telling of that little story, that was a big break for this guy into becoming a mercenary, selfish actor in the world, and something he wasn’t really entirely before. It bummed me out. Because when we play these characters, you do have to do the things they do, and you have to come up with your mental justification for it, and try to play it as the choice that you justify. It’s shitty to play a shitty person. It sucks to play someone who is being a jerk.