As season four of the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul accelerates towards the inevitable moment when small-time lawyer Jimmy McGill transforms into the delightfully dodgy Saul Goodman; the crime drama is proving to be a more than worthy follow-up to its illustrious predecessor.
The show’s creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould spoke to us about the dawn of the series, the wonder that is Bob Odenkirk and the chances of Walter White joining the already-long list of Breaking Bad cameos. It’s all good, man.
Why was Saul Goodman your first choice to be given a Breaking Bad spin-off show?
Peter: It sort of happened organically. I don’t think there was a lot of calculation to it. Tell me if you disagree Vince, I think it started off as a joke in the writer’s room pretty early on in Breaking Bad as soon as we introduced Saul.
We just always thought that there were a lot of ideas that we couldn’t use on Breaking Bad and we would joke that we could put that one into the Saul Goodman show. And then really unexpectedly, Vince started taking it seriously. A long time before I did. And I hesitated to even think of it as a reality because it seemed too good to be true to keep working with Vince and to keep working in this world and to get to do a show with Bob. There’s a lot of unexplored territory to Saul Goodman. And I think we thought it would be a light romp of a show in contrast to Breaking Bad. I don’t know, maybe we did bring our dark cloud with us?
Vince: Boy, were we wrong [Laughs].
So when you first started seriously looking at this and writing the show in terms of planning, was it always the intention for you to go back and meet Jimmy and see how this alter-ego was created?
Vince: Peter wasn’t kidding. Our first idea for the show, like Peter said, we kind of wanted to keep the band together, so to speak. I love working with Bob. I love working with Peter. We wanted to get as many crew people as we could from Breaking Bad as possible. We just wanted to keep the family together. And we really did not have that much of a concept of what the show would look like and our first vision of it was that it was going to be a half hour long TV show. Just pretty much a straight up comedy.
There’s an animated show here in the States called Dr, Katz, Professional Therapist where different patients come in and hang out with this doctor and get diagnosed by him every week and we thought that would be what our show would be. Basically different stand-up comics come in pretending to be other people and bring their legal problems to Saul Goodman in his office. That was the first incarnation of this and it didn’t last long because Peter and I are not half hour sitcom type guys but we didn’t even think initially that we’d go back in time and meet the Jimmy McGill that we now know and love from watching Better Call Saul.
We didn’t know at the beginning that we’d even do that. We thought to ourselves – well at the start it’s called Better Call Saul we might as well have the guy who calls himself Saul Goodman in there from the get go but then it tapped on us that it would be interesting to see where he came from. Thus began the prelude to the series, which is really exploring what made this guy who he is. At that point the show got darker and deep.
Was Bob always on board? And what’s he like to work with now that you’ve done two massive shows with him.
Vince: He’s great.
Peter: Going back to Breaking Bad and before, Vince and I have both been huge Bob Odenkirk fans long before we even got a chance to work with him. When he agreed to be Saul Goodman way back in season two of Breaking Bad it seemed like a dream come true. It’s like getting to go to fantasy baseball camp and play with the world’s greatest player.
And what I found was that Bob is a real pleasure to work with and he’s very serious about his comedy and very serious about his work. He is maybe the hardest working person I have ever known. He is somebody with just incredible focus and he is always a pleasure but he is so focused on doing the best job he possibly can. One of the things... we found was that he hadn’t done as much dramatic acting when he started on Breaking Bad and boy, did he take to it. I feel that he has always been great, but every season and every episode he has gotten deeper and deeper with this character and his work has become so original and surprising and interesting with every moment. And so real. It’s been fascinating to see his work.
I don’t know how to say it but I think that his work has evolved a little bit as we gone. As the character has evolved. I also think that Bob is our secret weapon on the show because he has an extraordinary comic mind that he is also a wonderful dramatic actor. He has scenes, which are just as dramatic as anything we ever did with Walter White on Breaking Bad.
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Vince: That is so true. Rhea Seehorn, what a find. This is an actress who had done a fair bit of work here in the States, but I hadn’t ever seen her before we were watching her audition tape. And she’s great.
A funny little bit of insider knowledge is that we could have potentially made a casting mistake. We were so worried about the script for the first episode of Better Call Saul inadvertently getting out into the world that what we do, and probably a lot of shows do this, we fake up the audition scene. We had one of the folks in our office write up an audition scene that’s completely different from anything that’s in the episode and we messed this one up too much.
We had this character as a female cop that was upset that her sister was a drug addict. So Rhea Seehorn first time she came in she was playing a cop who was worrying about her junkie sister. We had gotten so far afield in our quest for security and not getting our script out there that we were watching this thing and thinking what the hell has this got to do with this character?
We almost missed out casting her because she was playing the part of this character so well and this character really didn’t belong in our show and thank god we came back around. Like a week later. We should take another look at this young woman she’s fantastic. But god she is good. Rhea Seehorn – what a treat. I feel like I’m probably speaking for Peter here too, she is so good. She is a star. The sooner the world realizes it the better. She is so damn good. She just makes the show so much better than it would be. We just couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with her.
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Peter: I think if Vince and I had our way – all these actors would have been in the show from the very first frame of the very first episode. However, I’m proud of the fact that we held off having Giancarlo Esposito back in Albuquerque until Season 3. We try to be self-disciplined only using the characters and elements that we need to, to tell the story.
We can always think of fun things to do with these different characters but are those fun things part of the Jimmy McGill story? Or are they part of the story of Mike Ehrmantraut? And I think the reason why we see more and more of them is just that the story has moved in a direction that is some ways is closer to Breaking Bad. So it seems very natural to us to start seeing them. But, boy in the writers room we have a corkboard with 3x5 cards with the name of all the characters from Breaking Bad and now quite a few characters from Better Call Saul that we definitely want to see again. And every time I look over there I see so many characters and actors who I want to see on the show again.
So having David Costabile come back this season as Gale was a real thrill. And by the way – he had to go way out of his way. It was not an easy thing for him to come and be part of our show in Albuquerque because he is shooting another show called Billions, in which he is great, and he had to jump on a plane, do a scene, then jump back onto another plane. And I am just so grateful that he was willing to do it.
And hopefully we’ll see Walter at some point?
Peter: What do you think, Vince?
Vince: Never say never. [Laughs]
The best way that I think I can answer that is that I think it would be a real shame if this show went how ever many seasons it’s going to go, hopefully several more, at least and we didn’t see him. That would be a real crime against the fans is the best way that I can put that. [Laughs].