You”ve already read my optimistic review of “Better Call Saul!” And you”ve read my interview with creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould . Now it”s time to hear from the stars of the thing, and the only regular actors to carry over from “Breaking Bad,” in Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. At press tour, we spoke about their eagerness to revisit Saul Goodman (or, as he”s called here, Jimmy McGill) and Mike Ehrmantraut, how they did or didn”t attempt to look six years younger than they did on the previous show, and whether they feel any pressure to live up to the legacy of that show.
Also, Banks – as he did throughout his multiple press tour appearances last month – took great pleasure at times in channeling his alter ego and making sure the questions he was being asked were acceptable.
At what point in the final season did Vince and Peter start talking to you about the idea of this being a thing?
Bob Odenkirk: They talked to me about it in the third season. Vince cornered me and said, “What do you think about a spin off?” And I said, “If you write it, I’ll do it,” essentially. But he said, “I think there’s something here.” He was delighted by the character. So from that point on, it was brought up fairly often. And I would always say the same thing, “If you write it, I’ll do it.”
So did you feel like that gave you a certain level of a job security that, say, Giancarlo Esposito did not have?
Bob Odenkirk: No, they could have killed Saul off at any time. And it was just talk. I take Vince pretty seriously. Because everyone was joking that there’s going to be a spin off, but he meant it. He was clearly serious about it. But I didn’t think he gave me any job security. It’s show businessm my friend. Don’t count on anything. I think we might be getting a second season of “Better Call Saul!”
I think it actually already is official. I think you’re okay. You’re in the clear.
Bob Odenkirk: That’s as close as you can come to having job security.
Bryan (Cranston) talked at the start of “Breaking Bad” about all the effort he put into helping with the hair and makeup and costume people design: the look of Walter White and the mustache and the saturated colors. When you came in as Saul you were a day player at that point, but how much input, if any, did you have into how he was supposed to look?
Bob Odenkirk: When we talked on the phone about the character, I said, “I have an idea for the hair.” And he was just describing the character to me. And I said, “Could he have a mullet in back and a comb over up top?” And he said, “Yeah, that sounds great.” And beyond that, all the clothes, it’s all Vince and the costume designers. That’s their choice. And that to me helped me know the character, but Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, the costume designers, the set designers, those are the people who told me who this character was and then I built whatever I built. Whatever I added to came all from them. When people say, “When you created the character,” I’m like, “I didn’t create the character, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould created the character and then I built off the script and off these signals and indicators from the costume people or whatever of what kind of guy builds this office for himself? What kind of guy talks like this? What kind of guy makes these kinds of jokes?” And that’s how I made my contribution.
Now Jonathan, you famously said that you only got this job in the first place because (Bob) was not available to appear in an episode. Bob, do you remember what you were doing?
Bob Odenkirk: I was doing “How I Met Your Mother.”
Jonathan Banks: Wait. Wait. Wait. I famously said that?
Well, you’ve said it to me and you’ve said it to other people.
Jonathan Banks: Have I really? You’ve got it on tape do you?
Yes, I do.
Jonathan Banks: All right. All right then. Okay.
Bob, you were doing “How I Met Your Mother?”
Bob Odenkirk: Yeah. I played a recurring character in “How I Met Your Mother,” and they asked me to do an episode, and they were a couple weeks out but they signed me up. And so when Vince said, “I need you for three or four episodes, we don’t know,” we told him right away, “Well, this one week, I can’t do ‘Breaking Bad.”” Later, he told me that’s why we created Mike, because we needed a character to carry this information and to take the plot where it needed to go.
And Jonathan, at what point did you start getting an inkling that this was not just a one episode gig?
Jonathan Banks: Are we going back to “Breaking Bad” now?
A little bit and then we’re going to get into “Saul” too.
Jonathan Banks: I guess when they asked me to do five or six shows. Honestly, without being coy, I can’t remember exactly. I just remember walking out that day and I said to my wife, “You know, I just worked with this kid (Aaron Paul). I think he’s really good.”
How was the rapport between you guys initially?
Bob Odenkirk: Awesome. It’s so great that the threat Mike brings, the intensity, the seriousness, the no-nonsense, right up against all-nonsense Saul Goodman is a great clash. It’s fireworks, man. It’s fucking hilarious and I love doing those scenes.
Jonathan Banks: I love doing those scenes.
Bob Odenkirk: It’s the best thing ever, man.
Jonathan Banks: It’s one of those things, because my mind is working all the time. Bob said he didn’t create that character Saul. Well that’s true, I didn’t create that character Mike, either. However, as soon as they handed it to me, I’m very possessive about what’s going on and that it’s mine. And so even more now that we when we do “Better Call Saul!” and we’re with each other and we’re going there and the first time there’s an interaction, and I can’t give away stuff, but in their warped, twisted way, they get closer together.
Jonathan, when Vince and Peter first approached you about being part of the spin-off, was there any reticence on your part or you were eager to do it?
Jonathan Banks: If there was a second of doubt, it was a second. I wanted to revisit Mike.
Saul looks quite a bit different from how we were used to him in “Breaking Bad.” Mike looks about the. Was there anything you did or talked about with hair and makeup and wardrobe to try to make him seem younger?
Jonathan Banks: They’ll always try to make me look younger, but you can’t put a silly wig on in my head. I ain’t going to look right. That’s all there is to it.
Mike is in a very different place in his life when we come into this series than the guy we knew even the first time we see him in “Breaking Bad.” How did you approach that?
Jonathan Banks: Mike is someone that, if he has a dollar in his pocket, he’s still capable. And he is not above making the money as quickly as he can. He needs to survive. He’ll survive.
Now we know some of the backstory of what brought him here: the “half measures” speech and everything else. Mike has had a lot of ups and downs in his life and he seems to be in a down moment when were coming into him; he has a lot in front of him over the course of this show. Have they told you anything of how he’s going to get from point A to point B?
Jonathan Banks: I know in many ways. And you’re going to learn a lot about Mike. It’s all going to break in a large way. You’re going to be well satisfied, I think.
Bob, how did you approach making yourself look and act six years younger than when we met you as this character?
Bob Odenkirk: Phony hair and the best energy I could muster. The great costume.
Jonathan Banks: It’s true. The best energy you could muster.
Bob Odenkirk: I mean it’s a great group of make up artists and the hair person, Trish Almeida, did an amazing job with the hair. And then it’s all in the script: play that guy, what he knows, what he doesn’t know about himself, about the world. I think it’s a great portrayal of a character in that space of an adult who has been living for a while. He’s seen some life, but he still doesn’t know who he is, and it’s kind of driving him crazy to figure that out.
There’s a sequence in the second episode where Jimmy winds up out in the desert in a scenario that very much seems like the kind of messes Walter White often found himself in.
Bob Odenkirk: I did a scene in “Breaking Bad” where I was in the desert with guns on me. It felt like that. It was like a revisiting of that and it was great fun. I love when there’s physical threat. And I love shooting in weird locations. It gets uncomfortable after a few hours, but so what? It’s so unique; it’s so fun to be doing a job where you’re in the desert pretending to be threatened with guns and shit. It’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
You’re coming off one of the all-time great shows. Do you feel any pressure or any sense of obligation to the legacy of “Breaking Bad,” or do you feel like “Saul” has to exist as its whole thing and that can’t be a concern?
Bob Odenkirk: Yeah, I’m not worried about it. I mean, “Breaking Bad” exists. There’s a lot of good DVDs of it, so that’s not going to go away. Your DVDs will not be erased by the existence of “Better Call Saul!” You can still watch it. And it’s a great thing. We’re all proud to be a part of it, and now we got this new show and it’s its own beast. It will take a little while for people to get to know it, and it will be a fun journey getting to know it I think.
Jonathan Banks: At this age, and maybe it’s partially age, I don’t feel any obligation to anything or anybody anymore – maybe my kids, my wife. But what I am struck with and what I am aware of and what I am grateful for is that we had the writers, we have a legacy of “Breaking Bad.” So obligation? No. How lucky because of it? Yes.
“Better Call Saul!” debuts Sunday night at 10 on AMC, before moving to its regular Mondays at 10 timeslot the following night.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org