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Emmys Q&A: Bob Odenkirk on ‘Better Call Saul’s’ Evolution, Kim’s Wild Side and Mike’s Future

It’s not easy to get Bob Odenkirk to talk about Bob Odenkirk. “Who even remembers my show?” he asks, before segueing into praise for Amazon’s “Catastrophe.” (“It’s the best comedy since ‘The Office!'” he raves.) He does applaud others on “Better Call Saul”: the producers, his co-stars, and the creative team for the way they cut, edit, and shape the drama. “That scene with Jimmy and his father was from season one!” he exclaims, about a moment that aired in the second season. “Did you know that?”

Odenkirk, who plays the morally challenged Jimmy McGill on the AMC series, was nominated for an Emmy for the show’s first season, and is once again widely considered a front-runner.

How has “Better Call Saul” evolved from its predecessor, “Breaking Bad”?

It’s still evolving. I was a character actor, a part-timer really, in “Breaking Bad,” and I would fly in, do my part, and leave, and many months would go by between seasons. So we’re still getting to know each other a little bit, even after these two whole seasons. As time goes by, I become aware of just how different [the writers’] wheelhouse is from the one that I worked at for so many years — which is sketch comedy — and how much respect I have for the 10,000 hours they put into the writing and creating of a plot. They have these honed senses of what an audience is watching. I think they’re out on a limb, too. You can’t really find much precedent for what they’ve done at “Better Call Saul.” Obviously we have some similarities to “Breaking Bad,” but, actually, most people comment on how different it is from “Breaking Bad.”

It’s a shift for you, too, as an actor. Have you gotten more comfortable with drama?

The effort of it is fresh, and the challenge of it is fresh, and I approach it without some old reliable tricks. I just really work hard. I don’t have any shorthand for what I’m doing here. Sometimes when you’re in an endeavor for a long time, you find ways to circumvent just putting in hours and working hard. I don’t have that. I cannot do the big scene without a ton of preparation and rehearsal. I don’t see any change in that just because I’ve done two years of it.

How closely do you work with showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould?

I’m approaching it as an actor and not trying to manipulate the story. I’m not trying to affect their choices. I just trust them that this will all work out, and I focus on what I’m doing. That’s why when people ask me would I ever write [an episode] or even direct one, the answer is no. No, no, no. I’ve got enough on my plate trying to deliver it, honestly and in the moment. I like that I just know what Jimmy knows, and that the guys manipulating this world have so many plates spinning, but I’m not aware of them.

Was there a scene this season that was particularly challenging for you?

The scene where Chuck [Michael McKean] has sorted out what Jimmy did to undermine him in that court case, and of course Chuck has got it right to the letter, and he was spinning it out there to Kim, telling him what I did, and I’m standing there. That’s a tricky scene because my character — his mind is exploding as he hears his brother lay out this very specific plan that actually happened, that he’s guilty of. A million thoughts are racing through his mind, but he can’t give any of it away, and the least little thing will give it away because Kim, as we’ve established her — and as Rhea Seehorn has played her so wonderfully — is such a smart and perceptive character.

In a moment like that, you must ask yourself, “How good an actor is Jimmy?”

How good an actor can a regular person be who isn’t an actor, who hasn’t done any training to be an actor? Probably not as good as a real actor, but at the same time, in that moment, you have to be as good as anyone ever, because he is absolutely rocked back on his feet by what his brother is saying, and he cannot give even a shred of it away. That was a tough one. I had to play it honestly but not give anything away, because that’s really the ultimate goal of the character in that moment.

Rhea Seehorn’s character, Kim, has really evolved this season.

I think a lot of people had questions after the first season. “What does she see in him? Why is she with him?” I think in season two, there were some glimpses of a wilder side of her character that you didn’t really see at first. You became aware that you don’t know her past. We start to become aware that she’s a complex character, and we start to see some of her attraction to Jimmy and the ways in which we’re very different. But we see some ways in which they share [a] spirited outlook on the world, and she really likes his energy and his gamesmanship, [his] willingness to go for it in any one moment —  and she can do it, too. She can match him. She really was amazing. I hope to God she gets a nomination. I would vote for her. 

What would you like to see for season 3?

Mike and Jimmy sitting in a tree. Or in a parking attendant’s booth. More me and Mike together, squaring off. It’s just always fun. It makes me laugh. It’s a great burst of energy to be working with [Jonathan] Banks like that. I have crazy ideas. I’d love to see some of Saul during the years of “Breaking Bad,” but off-screen, out of his office, not in his Saul mode. I’m curious what that person is.

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