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.