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A Chat with Bob Odenkirk

September 27th, 2013 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in AMC | Q&A

When Walter White’s problems grew to be bigger than he could handle, he decided to enlist the services of an unctuous, law-bending attorney named Saul Goodman.

The moment White made that decision — and really, the moment “Breaking Bad‘s” creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan added “Better call Saul!” into the hit drama’s canon — AMC’s very serious show received a much-need injection of levity. Shortly after Saul’s first few appearances, Bob Odenkirk made the character one of the biggest reasons to watch each episode, and certainly one of the characters that will be missed now that our time with Walter, Jesse Pinkman and every other colorful character connected to Saul is drawing to a close.

Fortunately, AMC has announced the development of a spinoff, “Better Call Saul,” which will share the tale of Goodman’s life prior to that fateful day the man known as Heisenberg knocked on his door. While other details about “Better Call Saul” are still brewing, spending time in Saul Goodman’s flashy suits has opened many doors for Odenkirk. He recently made a memorable appearance playing Nixon on “Drunk History” and is executive producing a sketch comedy for IFC called “The Birthday Boys“, premiering on October 18 at 10:30pm.

We chatted with Odenkirk about his expectations for the spinoff, how “Breaking Bad” has affected his career, and what kind of life he thinks Saul would have after his time in New Mexico — that is, if he manages to truly extricate himself from Walter’s web.

IMDb: So, let’s talk about the spinoff…

Bob Odenkirk:  I wish I could. I wish I could tell people more about the Saul spinoff possibilities, but I can’t. It’s all  up to Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.

IMDb: But surely you’ll have some input, though.

Bob Odenkirk:  Well, I suppose I could have some input, but I don’t want any.

IMDb: I find that odd. You’re such an incredible comedian and you’ve demonstrated such versatility as a creator, with writing…

Bob Odenkirk:  One of the greatest things about this role, and I told this to Vince, is that when he called me up, it was already written. And I did it verbatim. Those are things I’ve never done. I’ve always written my own stuff, or gotten the thing and it was in progress, and I’ve contributed to the writing. And on the set, I’ve reinvented it, like comic actors usually do. This has brought on a whole different set of skills and challenges, and I love it. I’ve said (to Vince and Peter), if you do that spinoff, I want to do that same thing again. You write it, you create it, you envision it, and you send it to me and I’ll figure it out.

It’s been refreshing, it’s been challenging. But you know, when you get older and you’ve done stuff, it’s so neat to get to do a different thing. Most people don’t really get that. You know, show business is so eager to put you in a box and say, ‘That’s what you do, and that’s it, and don’t do anything else. I don’t care if you want to, I don’t care if you’re good at it. Just don’t do anything else.’  But luckily I never got famous enough as a sketch actor, or doing sketch comedy, that I couldn’t be seen in a new light. That’s luck, really.  So when I got to do Saul, enough of the audience either didn’t know who I was at all, or didn’t know me well enough that they were willing to watch me portray this guy or they were willing to look at it in an eminently fair, open-minded kind of way. A lot of actors don’t get that chance.

IMDb: It surprises me that you say that you’re not as recognizable as, say, David (Cross). David has gone through a number of different shifts in his career. But I’ve never seen him do anything like Saul, where you get to dive into some deep dramatic moments. I’m surprised that you feel that you’re not as recognizable, because I’ve always recognized your work since “Mr. Show”.

Bob Odenkirk:  Yeah, but look at what you do for a living. (Laughs)

IMDb: Aren’t there parts of that experience that you bring into Saul?

Bob Odenkirk:  For sure. Listen, I’ve always thought that comedy, the stuff I did, much of it is just about committing to that character, its lunacy or its reaction to a given situation.  So playing Saul, and acting, is just committing to this guy.

You know, comic actors are always surprising people every year, right? There’s always a couple of them where people are like, ‘Wow! You did a drama! I can’t believe it!’ But I just think comedy acting mostly is about commitment. Committing to craziness. So I just think that if you can commit to real craziness, you can commit to a more real-world version too. Some people maybe can’t modulate it enough to make the character believable, or their hunger for a laugh makes them push it, because that’s what they’ve trained to do. But luckily I haven’t gotten enough laughs to be trained. (Laughs.)

Remember Jon Lovitz at the beginning of Happiness? That was crushing. Crushing.  So you know, maybe it’s about having the right role. I’m lucky to have this chance…that popular culture was able to see me in this popular show, “Breaking Bad,” and accept me and not say, “Oh, it’s that guy from ‘Mr. Show’! They never saw ‘Mr. Show’.  They just watch the character and, I think, enjoyed him. Which is amazing in its own right. Like, why do you like this guy?

IMDb: Do you really wonder why people like Saul so much?

Bob Odenkirk:  I do. He’s a snake and a self-interested creature a bit. But I get it. He’s funny. He’s good at what he does. He kinda has fun doing what he does. It’s kind of a laugh to him, at least for a little while. The last season, not so much. But for a good part of it, it was almost like he was playing chess with their lives, and it was only to his benefit in the end.

IMDb: Should the audience feel more assured, knowing that Saul has a spinoff series?

Bob Odenkirk:  You know, I do have a spinoff. It’s called The Rest of My Career. I really do. And this part has given me a new dimension of opportunity in acting. Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska, I’m in that. The Spectacular Now, James Ponsoldt’s film, this film that Dito Montiel is doing, Boulevard, with Robin Williams, these are things I wouldn’t have been approved for before Saul. Bottom line, that’s the spinoff. I get to do more dramatic, comic acting, and I’ll get to do that hopefully for a while to come. And that’s good enough for me. If there’s specifically a Saul Goodman spinoff, that’ll be great.

IMDb: In the aftermath of the events of ‘Breaking Bad’– without telling me what the aftermath is –what would you like to see for Saul, spinoff or not?

Bob Odenkirk:  I can’t help but think about Oscar Goodman who was the mayor, two-term mayor of Vegas. Now his wife is the mayor of Vegas. Wouldn’t Saul want to move somewhere where he could potentially be the mayor someday, no matter what he’s done in his past, because the community allows for that kind of fluidity of judgment? … A community like L.A., or Vegas, where you can have a dark side to your character and the public won’t necessarily hold it against you. Actually, they might think, ‘Yeah, that’s who we want in our corner, that guy who can play hardball behind the curtain.’ That the only thing I think, is that he would move to a place where he can do that.

IMDb: I just got a fleeting vision of Saul Goodman having a Carlos Danger alter-ego, and doing either some accidental sexting or becoming embroiled in some huge scandal.

Bob Odenkirk: But I don’t think Saul would be embarrassed by it, or apologize.

IMDb: I think we may have inadvertently written a storyline for the spinoff.

Bob Odenkirk: Yeah! Why not? I’d go down that road.


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6 Responses

  • John says:

    Good questions…but he seems a little brash and even confrontational at times in his replies! For example, I don’t think he understood where you were headed with the “should the audience be assured with the spin-off” angle…he almost took it as an implication that his career would be over otherwise, or something. Kinda weird. He’s a funny guy, though. I was a big Mr. Show fan and have enjoyed a lot of his little bit parts in comedies over the years. His points about comedic actors going the dramatic route is true, too — I think critics in particular have a habit of just really ignoring comedy. Look at Jim Carrey for example. People have nostalgia for him nowadays because our generation grew up on Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura, but I remember when those films came out – they were ravaged by critics, and critics hated him. Thought he was a rubber-faced over-acting fool with no talent. Then he did dramatic turns in films like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine, and critics acted shocked by his apparent talent. Adam Sandler had a flash of that with Punch-Drunk Love but it seems to have been a one-off.

    I think comedians often, if anything, have a harder time than dramatic actors. I’m sure there are plenty of showbiz quotes about that, but I’m too lazy to look any up. But I think Jack Lemmon is the best example of a great comic who reinvented himself as a superb dramatic actor in his second act.

  • Trittonjuice says:

    What a wonderful spin of career! I wish all my best to Bob and hope to see him in great new movies to come!

  • Marty says:

    I feel like even having seen Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk looks and acts so different in Breaking Bad that you can hardly recognize him. Looking forward to his spinoff, sounds pretty cool.

  • Bob, my boyfriend and I did recognize you from Mr. Show and a handfull of other stuff because we’re big fans of yours. And when we knew you were joining the cast of Breaking Bad, we weren’t worried. We accepted you in that role immediately. You never put yourself in a box, even to people who do know your comedy work. We’re so happy that you’re happy doing what you’re doing. We can’t wait for The Birthday Boys, and it’s great that you’re so supportive of new talent when you find it. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  • BRinMilwaukee says:

    This guy really gets his place in the universe, and his good fortune with Saul. Of course, none of it would matter if he wasn’t able to hit the ball out of the park when his turn at the plate arrived. I’m one of those people who knew his name, but not his face. My impression of him had been ‘friend of a famous person, not very funny’ but I have no idea how/why that impression formed. So after I looked up Saul’s name, I was like, that was Bob Odenkirk?!

  • Barbara Crampton says:

    “Commit to the craziness” I love that. Someone once said to me… “Be out of control in full command” I think you did that too.
    As Saul, you were always, full and sincere. Coming down upon your acting choices, never having to reach for them….
    Funny, dark and out for yourself, you were a character and actor I looked forward to seeing each week.
    Best of luck on the spinoff.