‘Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk Reflects on Jimmy’s Growing ‘Self-Awareness’
The series focusing on shifty Albuqurque-based lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) — now going by Saul Goodman — raised the stakes as he got further entwined with cartel activity. Representing Salamanca boss Lalo (Tony Dalton), Jimmy found himself in some major pickles that have put both him and his world outside of work in danger.
Strong performances all around the show continues to validate sticking around in the Breaking Bad universe. Odenkirk’s evolution into the lawyer that fans encountered in the original series remains one of Better Call Saul‘s most appealing aspects. Below, the actor reflects on Jimmy’s Season 5 journey and reuniting with former Bad costars, and he teases what he thinks could be ahead for the criminal lawyer in the show’s impending final season.
Jimmy goes through the gauntlet in Season 5. What storyline were you most excited to tackle this season?
Bob Odenkirk: I have been thrilled the last two seasons by a degree of self-awareness that the character has developed. The naïveté that he exhibited in the first couple of seasons was actually really hard for me to connect with. I was playing a younger guy and so I just loved that he’s thinking, that he’s noticing his own behavior a little bit. I also love the complexity of the Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) relationship.
Fans sometimes ask, “Why the heck is she with him and how close are they really?” I think that they’ve given us a couple of scenes now in the last two years that make me think they are, at times, a really good couple. They’re kind to each other, forgiving, comforting and they just have that dimension that you need to be together. So those are my favorite things of the last two years.
I would say I love Episode 8 of Season 5 (“Bagman”) in the desert because I particularly like when Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is under great physical duress. Early on in the show, I was in a garbage dumpster. There have been many times when he’s physically in danger and he always is a fun character to play because he’s somewhat the mechanic of his own terrible fortune. It has a funny dimension to it and his brain works in triple speed. I just like seeing him tortured.
In that respect, do you believe he makes things harder for himself on purpose, or does he enter situations believing he’s taking the easiest route?
I think he has some powerful blind spots in his self-awareness and those blind spots have gotten smaller and that’s great because I believe him more. I believe him as a human being more [now] that he started copping to his own limited vision of himself. He’s earned that self-awareness, but as soon as there’s long-term numbers on his approach to life [the blinders can go back up], which is not good. I believe it’s not good to behave that way.
No, but he somehow manages to escape real — at least so far — mortal danger. Although he came pretty close this season.
Yeah. I think there was mortal danger in Episode 8. Even in Season 5, we didn’t see him overcome that [experience] or compartmentalize it yet. You haven’t seen that. He was in shock all through Episodes 9 and 10 of Season 5. Everything after the desert, he was kind of a different guy— frail and a little bit more hesitant than the Jimmy McGill we’d come to know. So I think that was a very affecting situation for him in the desert.
“The Bagman” was definitely a season standout as far as episodes are concerned. What was the most challenging aspect of approaching the desert-set installment? The physical or emotional?
The emotional sharing is harder than just physical exhaustion — you can fake that if you need to. Although, a fair amount of it was not faked because we were in the desert for a long time. It was 110 degrees and it was brutal out there, but you could fake that a lot easier. I don’t consider most acting to be heavy lifting. So I don’t want to talk about how hard my job is, but it’s probably a little more challenging to put yourself in the emotional pain or to feel the complexity of his situation. But that’s my job [Laughs]. That’s why they pay me, so I better do a damn good job of it.
You’ve been playing this character for more than a few years at this point. Do you feel as though you have a full understanding of him as a person or are you still learning things about the character?
The biggest conflict I have is that you start to like your character and I don’t think I’m alone in this. You start to like your character and you start to want your character to do the right thing with their life and make a healthier choice, or a more mature choice. Saul is an impetuous guy. Jimmy gets carried away all the time with his plans and inspirations and his natural energy. There’s a natural desire to want them to behave in a reasonable way, and that wouldn’t be a very fun drama show to watch.
When the season ends, Kim begins plotting ways to take Howard (Patrick Fabian) down in order to achieve her own career goals. Do you think Jimmy feels his influence has affected her in a negative way?
I don’t think he’s thinking that yet, but it’s a legitimate thought completely that he might have over a bit of time. I think in the moment, he’s just very shocked and very off balance, wondering if maybe he’s really seeing her for the first time in a way that he’s never looked at her closely, and I don’t think the viewers have either. I don’t think she’s shown this side of herself as strongly as she does. It has to become clear with the action of the next few episodes. But without a doubt, they put a big question mark in front of everybody about who Kim is and what drives her and what’s happening inside her head. So I think Jimmy is questioning that stuff too. He’s wondering exactly what is happening here.
Dean Norris entered the fray this season, reviving his Breaking Bad character Hank Schrader. You also work with a lot of your Breaking Bad costars on the show, but does it take you out of Better Call Saul‘s past timeline when fan favorites like Hank stop by?
Granted, it’s a joy to see those people again. They were so welcoming to me when I came in to their world, which they had established well before Saul arrived. So I love to see them as people. As a character, there is a little bit of a logic to work out, which is who Saul was in Breaking Bad. Thankfully, we never saw him at home, we never saw behind the scenes of his office and his persona. I don’t have to try to justify that because we never saw any of that, but I guess my assumption is the characters in Breaking Bad have only ever seen his Saul Goodman persona.
That is actually not hard to play. That’s the easiest thing I do because Saul is a very shallow person. He’s a compartmentalized, single facade that the character is playing. There’s not really any depth behind it because the point of it is to not show himself. He wants to be this easy-to-grasp voice of a shifty, shady lawyer, con-man dealmaker. So that’s kind of easy to play.
Looking back on Breaking Bad and what you know about Saul now, do you think he was wearing more of a mask in Bad than fans may have initially thought? He seemed pretty carefree for the most part.
Yeah. You’re bringing up, I think, the mystery of the next season that we’re going to have to confront and explain. I don’t know [if] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] will do that, but I think your point’s a good one. Saul seemed pretty carefree and self-satisfied. We know that Jimmy is tortured and has a lot of regrets and is sort of an emotionally distraught person. One of the reasons he escapes into Saul Goodman, I think, is to run away from those feelings of failure and loss and the struggle he’s had to find himself, but your point is a good one. Saul didn’t have a conflicted energy.
Speaking of Season 6, is there anything you can tease about what’s next or the progress that’s been made on the show’s return?
Well, all indications are that it will be tragic. And yet, I hold out hope that as opposed to Walter White, the character can end up in a better place than he started. I don’t think that having self-awareness, even if it’s earned through incredible pain and trauma, is a bad thing to get. I think it can make you more happy with your life … I don’t like Saul, but I liked Jimmy and I like the man inside the man. I have an affection for that guy and I want him to be okay. We’ll see … I doubt it, but I can hope.
Better Call Saul, Season 6, TBA, AMC