21 Mar 2017

Bob Odenkirk: Better Call Saul

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:18 pm on 21 March 2017

Few people have the comic pedigree of Bob Odenkirk; working as a writer at Second City in Chicago and then on Saturday Night Live. But international recognition, and an Emmy Award nomination have arrived for his role as a lawyer who gets involved in the criminal world in Better Call Saul, a spin-off of Breaking Bad. The show is entering its third season, and will screen on Lightbox next month.

Read an edited excerpt of Jesse's interview with Bob Odenkirk

How Better Call Saul came about:

It was a joke. All through Breaking Bad since Saul came on board, which was the end of season two, but people joke about the spin-off of the character Saul Goodman and Vince Gilligan, who created Breaking Bad, came to me backstage at Breaking Bad and said, ‘what do you think about that? Do you think there is a show in that, because I think there is’. And I said, ‘Vince if you think there is, then I think there is’, because he’s kind of a genius. In Vince we trust. He wrote some of the greatest X-Files episodes ever and he is the gold standard as far as TV drama writing.

Breaking Bad was ultimately about this guy Walter White revealing who he really was and struggling with that and at some point, giving in and diving in to the worst angels of his nature. I’m hoping Better Call Saul is the flip side of that and he’s going to be a character who started as a criminal… in fact as we meet him in Better Call Saul he’s younger and a doing all kinds of crimes in Chicago and his brother saves his ass and brings him out to New Mexico and finding the better angels of his nature and becoming a good, solid citizen.

On making the transition from comedy to drama:

I think of myself as a comedy writer. I’m lucky to have this amazing opportunity for a second career and I recognise that my presence on screen is kind of good for drama in a way, because it’s kind of complicated. You know, a lot of comedy people… there’s a wonderful quality to many comedy actors… there’s a good, simple quality to their arrival on screen. I think my own presence is kind of good in a drama, because it’s kind of a complex… ‘this guy’s up to something’, is your feeling. Your gut tells you, ‘he’s not telling me the whole truth’ and that is great in drama. It’s not necessarily great in comedy - where you want to like and know the person right away.

The hardest part of acting:

The hardest part is - and it’s the most rewarding part as well – when they write these kind of internal turmoil scenes, as the character struggles with their own desires that are coming to fruition and you kind of have to stay in that place all day, because you have to shoot the scene. Some of these scenes are very long and in the course of the shooting there are multiple camera set ups and, you know, if your character is feeling heartbroken, you kinda gotta feel heartbroken all day. You’ve got to put yourself into that place. Maybe a great actor wouldn’t need to do it.

There’s a great quote from Laurence Olivier, where Dustin Hoffman stayed up for two whole nights to play a guy who stayed up for two whole nights and Laurence Olivier said, “Next time try acting”. But I do think even when you’re acting and when you’re skilled at it, you still have to feel those feelings and when you have to do it all day long and the character is in a lot of turmoil internally, it’ll wipe you out.

His favourite Breaking Bad moment:

I love when Walter White says “I did it for me”. It’s kind of the climax of the whole series. It’s such an impactful, huge statement and it rings true. It’s stunning, it defines the whole story that you’ve just watched for six seasons.

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes

Subscribe to Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm

Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)