SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the Season 5 finale of “Better Call Saul,” entitled “Something Unforgivable.”
Save for the Season 4 finale of “Better Call Saul,” in which he kills an unsuspecting money wire service employee, Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) has rarely flexed his violent side, although its malevolent potentiality has always loomed large on the show.
In the Season 5 finale, Lalo let loose, slaughtering the hitmen sent by Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) — and facilitated by Nacho Vargo (Michael Mando) — to murder him at Lalo’s house in Mexico.
Here, Dalton talks with Variety about complicating the stereotype of a narco, the tense Kim-Saul-Lalo scene from Episode 9 and what Lalo would be doing in quarantine.
How difficult were the shootout scenes at the end of this episode?
It took a couple of days to do that. It’s an amazing crew, and the guys that are behind the cameras at “Better Call Saul” are all super super professional. It’s all very calculated. I find it a lot more challenging to do a scene, for example, like the one at the end of Episode 9 with Rhea [Seehorn] and with Bob [Odenkirk] than to go through a huge, long tunnel really fast a whole bunch of times. It was fun. They say, “OK here, you walk into the bathroom, and you shoot him in the face.” I go, “OK.”
Those are like when you’re playing cowboys and Indians when you’re a kid. It’s all good fun. But the ones where you have to sort of scrape the bottom of the barrel and find some emotions there to tell the story, it’s a little bit more different.
Does Lalo know the extent to which Nacho has been double-crossing him?
I think it’s pretty clear. The guy turns around and sees that it was him. And I don’t know to what level we will find out. The writers are the ones who decide. But Nacho is definitely in trouble.
There’s this moment when Lalo first arrives at the house, and we see this really warm side to him — he’s well-received and well-loved. Why is it important that we see that side?
I think what happens in this last episode is you really hadn’t gotten to see Lalo. You’ve never really seen him be aggressive except for the Travelwire [incident], but that’s it. So, you don’t know what level of danger this guy has. He sends Nacho to do stuff and things like that. I think that also was part of the plan with [co-creator] Peter [Gould] and all the writers and [co-creator] Vince [Gilligan]. Little by little, and this last episode, it’s like, “OK, you want to see who this guy is? But before we show you how evil and mad he can get, let’s show you that he’s got a big heart and that people like him and he’s a great guy.” It’s sort of this “Downton Abbey” hacienda, where everybody loves the big boss.
That’s also something I wanted to get across with that last scene. In Mexico, there’s these nanas that are part of the help. They cook, and they also take care of you. They’re around the house since you’re a kid. This was Lalo’s nana [who is killed at the end of the episode], or at least that’s what I had in my mind, and that’s how I portrayed it.
He doesn’t have anybody. He doesn’t have a family. He doesn’t have kids. I mean he has a family with the Salamancas but I mean at home, a wife and kids. That last scene is kind of like, “Aw, man.” It’s the first time that you see him kind of like, “OK, now he’s mad.”
“Downton Abbey: Hacienda” would be a great spin-off, by the way.
[Laughs] Yeah, with drug dealers involved.
Lalo always seems to approach his circumstances with a joie de vivre. He’s upbeat, almost.
There’s always these images of the Mexican narcos, and they’re all serious and very dangerous and killers. I figure a lot of these guys — not all of them — know they’re going to die. So, if you approach a character who knows that his end is near, his life becomes a lot better — “Let’s just enjoy the life that we’ve got.” He could get knifed in the jail when he’s there, by some rivals. It’s that kind of carefree life I wanted to get across instead of the portrayal that has been cliché for so many years in all of the American series and even the Mexican ones. To get somebody who’s a little more upbeat, change it around, speaks English better, doesn’t have to have this huge thick accent.
I could have done it with an accent, but I was born at the border, in Laredo, Texas, and this is the way other people speak that live in that area. It doesn’t all have to be the cliché that has been portrayed for so many years and with so many characters.
So, you see Lalo as complicating that stereotype, for lack of a better word, of the Mexican drug lord then?
A hundred percent. A hundred percent. And that’s what you try to do, you try to bring something new to the table. Otherwise, you know, don’t even sit there. [Laughs]
The scene in Episode 9 (“Bad Choice Road”) with you, Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn — how did the three of you approach that scene, because the tension is so palpable from beginning to end?
Huge shoutout and kudos to Tom Schnauz, who is the writer and director of that episode. He set that tone, and he wrote that scene. We had rehearsal with Bob and Rhea two days before just to get the motions, which really helped out a lot because then you can go home and work with the spaces you already have in your mind. It’s like, “OK there’s fish here. Right. So, that’s what I’m going to be doing.” And you just start to fill up the spaces more as much as you can with the moments that have already been traced. I don’t mean to be too specific. [Laughs] The point is, we worked on it a couple of days and then we kind of just let it go. Rhea is the bulk of that scene. She’s amazing in it and such an amazing actress. She kind of set a tone for that.
What would Lalo be doing in quarantine?
In the “Downton Abbey” hacienda? I think he’d be laying by the pool with a plate of enchiladas and a couple margaritas. Actually, mezcal.