Breaking Bad’s explosively fatal finale put the kibosh on any hope of a sequel, but creator Vince Gilligan came up with an ingenious solution: putting supporting character Saul Goodman front and center in a prequel set in 2002. AMC’s Better Call Saul! (Sundays, 10/9c, premiering February 8th) relates how struggling lawyer Jimmy McGill reinvented himself as Saul Goodman, with Bob Odenkirk reprising his role and Michael McKean as his attorney brother, Chuck.
Using the same studio, a lot of the crew, and many of the same locations as Breaking Bad, Saul may even feature some of the characters (but not Walt or Jesse, at least in the first season).
Odenkirk tells us what it’s like to carry a series, the advice Bryan Cranston gave him, and the stars that used to babysit his kids.
“The guy you’re going to meet in this show is a far more dimensional character than Saul Goodman was on Breaking Bad—a much richer character. And he’s not entirely sympathetic.”
Breaking Bad was a massive hit. Do you feel pressure to live up to that?
There should be, right? I should be sweating in my boots. I’m not. I kept waiting to get all sweaty and nervous.
How does this feel different?
I have a lot more to say in this show. My character speaks a lot more. I was surprised at how many people liked him in Breaking Bad. He’s a shifty guy. He’s got slippery ethics. I think they liked how funny he was. He made wisecracks. He was good at what he did. He had confidence. But I thought he had to have more dimensions. I had to rethink him. He’s a different guy. The guy you’re going to meet in this show is a far more dimensional character than Saul Goodman was on Breaking Bad—a much richer character. And he’s not entirely sympathetic.
His humor comes from me—it’s my energy. I think it comes from Chicago, my family. It’s a cynical voice, a down-to-earth skepticism my whole family has—that’s still there. He’s still acerbic and tough in his assessments of the world, and that can be funny. There are emotional scenes but I still get to be funny.
Funny, most sharks are pretty comfortable near the beach.
How did you prepare for being in nearly every scene?
I asked Bryan Cranston, “How do you do it? How do you learn all those lines? How do you manage your day?” He told me: “Structure your day so you’ve got good energy, you know your stuff. These scenes are worthy of rehearsal—questioning, learning and working them. The more you do them the more emotions and textures you find in them that you don’t see the first time you read them.” He helped me to understand. So I wake up, I have a healthy breakfast, I look at my lines for the day, go to the set, at lunch I prep for the next day.
Bryan told me, “Make sure you get dinner before you leave the set because when you get home you need time to work on lines for the next day.” My weekends were very structured. I had free time Saturday morning and then I’d get into a longer view of what was coming up in the scenes, make notes, write questions. On Sunday, I’d have a workout, then I’d have a dialogue coach come over and we’d get these scenes on their feet. If other actors were in town for a big scene they’d come over to my apartment in the afternoon and do the scenes. It’s really like being an athlete, prepping for a marathon. You have to eat right, get your sleep and plan out your rehearsal so you show up ready to go.
Truth or rumor: Did Kristen Wiig babysit for your kids?
She did babysit one or two times for our family. She was great, so sweet—that’s all you can ask for. And Casey Wilson did too—we had very entertaining sitters for our kids.
Photos by Ben Leuner/AMC