With little meth in sight, the cast and crew of “Better Call Saul” gathered Thursday night at L.A. Live for the AMC/Sony Pictures TV drama’s premiere, with “Breaking Bad” cast members including Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, R.J. Mitte and Betsy Brandt in attendance, along with Jonathan Banks, who also has a role in the new series.
No meth, of course, because this isn’t Walter White’s show — it’s Saul Goodman’s. Or, more appropriately, it’s Jimmy McGill’s, as the story begins in 2002, long before Jimmy McGill, attorney at law, becomes Saul Goodman, modern-day Tom Hagen.
Bob Odenkirk, who played Goodman in “Breaking Bad” and stars as McGill in “Better Call Saul,” said that to go back in time to Saul’s origins required completely revisiting the character.
“I did kind of clean slate it and I took these scripts that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould wrote and I sat with them,” Odenkirk said. “I acted them out and thought about this guy. They added so many layers to the character. It’s a different person.”
Gilligan, who co-created and executive produces the show with Gould (who originally created the Saul Goodman character), said the writers were forced to figure out how to craft a new show and narrative around a character that fans already knew.
“The biggest challenge of all [being] that Saul Goodman as we know him on ‘Breaking Bad’ is very self-assured, very confident. And that can be a tricky thing, dramatically,” Gilligan said. “It really helped us to go six years in the past and see him before he was Saul Goodman, and see him as an underdog and struggling and really trying to make it.”
The Emmy-winning writer/producer said the idea to spin off Saul into a new show was born out of love — the love he felt writing for him — and he doesn’t expect to keep spinning off infinite new shows.
“As much as Walter White is into empire building, and as ‘Better Call Saul’ progresses, [you’ll see] Jimmy McGill is into a little of that as well, [but] I’m not particularly into empire building,” Gilligan said. “I want to keep doing great shows that intrigue me and interest me, but they do not all have to be in the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe.”
Odenkirk — a writer and actor with credits including “Saturday Night Live,” “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and FX’s “Fargo” — said his role as Saul Goodman served to obfuscate the lines of his stardom. Now, when people recognize him and say they’re fans, he never knows what it’s going to be for.
Longtime Odenkirk fans will be happy to hear that Saul Goodman is not the only role he’s reprising — a “Mr. Show with Bob and David” reunion is in the works.
“We’re working on something like that,” said Odenkirk. “It’s the 20th anniversary of ‘Mr. Show.’ We’re going to do something.”
As for “Better Call Saul,” the show’s production has been shrouded in secrecy (true to its “Breaking Bad” roots), with Gould saying they just want fans to have the chance to experience it on-screen, rather than through plot leaks. So the top-secret shoot put a hamper on some cast members’ bragging abilities.
“I would leave my trailer and be shielded visually,” said Julie Ann Emery, who plays Betsy Kettleman. “They didn’t even want [anyone] to know which actors were in the show. … So the whole time I was shooting, I couldn’t tell my family, I couldn’t tell my friends. And I’m a huge ‘Breaking Bad’ fan, so I was dying.”
In fact, she — along with the most of the cast — didn’t even get to see the first episode until last night’s screening.
The secrets will start to be unveiled with the two-night premiere of “Better Call Saul,” beginning 10 p.m. on Feb. 8 on AMC.
(Pictured: Bob Odenkirk and Jeff Garlin at the “Better Call Saul” premiere.)