AMC’s prequel to “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” premieres on Feb. 8. Here are a few behind-the-scenes tidbits Variety learned from the producers and cast:
“Better Call Saul” was supposed to be a comedy.
Showrunner Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s original concept for the show was a half-hour comedy. “It would have been, you never leave the guy’s office, and he’s kind of a crazy, colorful lawyer,” recalls Gilligan. “And even crazy more colorful characters come into his office, so that he is ultimately the straight man, and he solves their problem. And there’s a fun show to be made that way.” They ultimately dropped that idea, though, in favor of an hour-long drama.
It’s color-coded just like “Breaking Bad.”
As with “Breaking Bad,” the creators of “Saul” paid careful attention to color. Remember Marie’s attachment to purple? “We really thought about what the world looks like to Jimmy,” says Gould. “There’s a certain allure to criminals and the excitement of people who aren’t playing by the rules, so wouldn’t it be cool to use hot colors to set those people apart?” So the perps will be wearing red, while the lawyers will be in blues and greens. Where does that leave our erstwhile hero? Jimmy is in brown — “colorwise, he’s already bridging those worlds a little bit,” explains Gould.
Jimmy’s car had a stunt double.
Jimmy spends a good deal of time driving around Albuquerque in his car, so the production needed a way to film him in action. The transportation team created a “Franken-steem”: An Esteem with a Ford Astro van attached on the back. “What’s more fun than me being given a shitty car and being told to please drive it as fast as you can?” says Odenkirk.
Michael McKean was cast by Bryan Cranston.
McKean first met Vince Gilligan on “The X Files,” when the producer created a character for him. But he landed the role of Jimmy’s older brother, Chuck, thanks to Cranston, his co-star in the Tony-winning Broadway play “All the Way.” The “Breaking Bad” star was the one who told him about the spin-off, and recommended him for the role. With Cranston as the matchmaker, it was fated. “I’ve played very intelligent people who are kind of horrible, and I’ve played benign dumbbells,” says McKean. “This is a guy who’s being crushed by the world but who’s also a good man. That’s a very important trigger for the show.”
It was shot mostly on location.
Unlike “Breaking Bad,” which used soundstages — Walter White’s home, for example — the “Saul” production had to be more nimble, spending 7 out of 8 shoot days per episode on location. (Both shows lensed in Albuquerque’s ABQ Studios.) “Jimmy has this natural energy to him that makes him a bit of a wanderer,” says executive producer Melissa Bernstein. “He is not a home-bound or office-bound person. He is truly trying to find himself and find his destiny. And that puts all of us on our feet.” So the production had to scout new locations in and around Albuquerque that they hadn’t already used in “Breaking Bad.”
The Kettlemans were originally only supposed to be in one episode.
In the series premiere, Jimmy runs into Craig and Betsy Kettleman (Jeremy Shamos and Julie Ann Emery), who have been described by Gould as the “world’s squarest outlaws.” Their on-set chemistry was so strong that they wound up in four or five episodes. Shamos and Emery spent a weekend rehearsing their improv so they could finish each other’s sentences. “Some of those improvs are so funny, we’re hoping to do a DVD extra,” says Gould.
You need to pay attention.
“There are things hidden throughout the season that we’re thinking about following up,” says Gilligan. “Hopefully, when the show is over, however many seasons it goes, it will tell one story that will all link up together.”