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Jonathan Banks Talks Filming ‘Better Call Saul’ Showcase Episode ‘Five-O’

Jonathan Banks has lived with Mike Ehrmantraut for over six years now. The “Better Call Saul” co-star memorably played the taciturn fixer for multiple seasons on “Breaking Bad,” earning an Emmy nom for his final run in 2012. But he never had a showcase quite like “Five-O” — the “Saul” installment in which Mike comes clean to his daughter-in-law (Kerry Condon) about the tragic truth behind his son’s death at the hands of corrupt cops, before breaking down in tears. Banks talks us through filming that episode, its haunting effect on him and his reaction to watching the final cut.

Better Call Saul” (AMC)
Season 1, episode 7, “Five-O”
written by Gordon Smith; directed by Adam Bernstein

JONATHAN BANKS: “As an actor you have so much backstory that you do yourself. And then it’s taken out of your hands because you do not have the pen that writes the script. Are there minor things that I would have changed? Maybe. I can’t even remember because as soon as I get (the script) — oh, do I have respect for my writers, as well I should — I immediately immerse myself in that. It’s exactly what you want. Gordon (Smith) wrote me this love letter of a monologue. And away we went.

“The line, ‘I broke my boy, I broke him’ — I think that was me in the heat of the emotion. I used the word ‘broke’ because it’s what I felt. And they kept it.

“We got together and rehearsed that scene Adam (Bernstein) the director, and Kerry (Condon) and myself. We all wanted to rehearse it, so we did rehearse it a couple times before we ever got to set. We took a Sunday, about two or three hours, and then we shot it the next week. Kerry and I had never worked together, and we had never met each other. It was important.

“Am I ever as prepared as I would like to be? Probably not. But there’s a time you got to take the leap and go.

“Adam’s a friend. And one of the things about someone being a friend, you don’t have to explain a lot of each other. So when he turns to me and he says, ‘That good for you?’ I mean, I could have been there until today, and I’m never going to be completely satisfied. But my trust in Adam is such that, if he has said to me, ‘I think we need this’ or ‘we need that,’ I would have done it. Or at least I would have tried to do it. It’s spoken sometimes, but many times the direction between Adam and I, it’s unspoken. It’s done with a glance, or a look, or a shrug of the shoulders.

“I have an opinion about tears. People who can bring them easily and do it, good for them. I don’t mean that in a cavalier way. But for me, if there are no tears there, I’m not going to force tears. I will not force tears whether it’s at my mom’s funeral or on a movie or a TV set. To the best of my ability, when we did it, I was living it. And that’s where they came from.

“It was just feeling the fullness of (the scene) and (the tears) just came. You’re so into it with the actress that I’m not terribly aware of what’s around me. You’re just so focused. And the hurt. You hurt. You’re in pain. And I just wasn’t aware of a lot around me at that moment.

“Honesty is what it really was. I have to be as honest with this as I possibly know how. And I’ve lived long enough. I have kids. I have friends that have lost children. A lot of that goes into it. The very idea that you would destroy one of your children, it’s just unimaginable. You can’t live with it.

“I’ve seen (the episode) twice. I looked at it. I thought, ‘Yup, that’s what I did.’ I think I’ve given myself enough of a break. I do what I do and now it’s there and there’s nothing in this world I can do to change it. So, enjoy it if you can. Relax. But I will say this: That night after finishing that scene, it was days before I was straight again.

“You do something and then you’re moving on. You just have to. If you’ve done a piece of good work, well then you’ve done a piece of good work. And now it’s gone and that’s all there is to it.”

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