These days especially, it’s rare to find a prequel to anything – be it a film, TV show, movie, comic or game – that lives up to its legacy. However, AMC’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad might be that rare exception. Better Call Saul is more than just a spin-off to
Walter White’s fall from grace. It’s an incredibly polished and well told story in its own right. It’s just as morally complex and creative nuanced – if not more so.
“It’s like two great books from the same author,” says actress Rhea Seehorn.
She plays the indomitable Kim Wexler in the show, who graduates from colleague to love interest in the show’s second season. We caught up with both her and Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould in time for its Blu-ray and DVD release to chat about the show, her character and the future.
Rhea says the on-set culture for the show “is one big bonding experience,” describing it as “quite the collaborative art-form.”
She says this is very much an attitude built into the production from the top down. According to her, “Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are just the most wonderful showrunners you could ever want. They are so respectful and collaborative of every single person that’s involved that you really feel like you’re making it together.”
The actors on the show place a lot of trust with the writers – and they deliver on it.
“They write so beautifully and it’s such rich character work. You just try to keep up – it’s all there in the text. Whenever they had a new part of Kim revealed – it felt organic. It felt like it was always there, it never felt like it was for shock value.”
Going into Season 2, Rhea had no idea just how much of the season’s arc would place her character front and center.
She would only receive scripts only a few days before shooting. She says the writers often start with skeletons [of episodes] and leave themselves plenty of room to grow and change over the course of the seasons.
When asked what stuck with her about the seasons she highlighted the episode “Rebecca” as a particularly memorable one for her as an actor.
“It was a lot of work on my own – sometimes completely by myself for whole days at a time. It’s always challenging when you don’t have a team partner – which is my favorite part of acting, making it about the other person. I’m a better listener than I am talker,” Rhea says.
“Suddenly it’s just you and there were technical challenges with the multiple phone call montages where I had to make up each person and make them feel real and unique with a different nuance and tone.”
“I wanted them all to have a kind of shape and make the journey of the whole episode from [the] eager excitement of having a new idea to getting very exhausted with the tedium of it, thinking you’ve lost and then winning. So that was challenging but it made the rewards that much bigger.”
She says she has no expectations about where her character will go in future seasons but has absolute trust in the writers and whatever direction they take her character.
“I’m as excited as if I was just watching the show. It’s also exciting and relieving as an actor that this person is going to unfold in a way that’s true to her integrity. She’s on a journey and I don’t know where she’s gonna go.”
That said, she’s hopeful about collaborating with co-star Jonathan Banks.
Rhea says she has been friends with Banks for a long time and often sits in to watch him film his scenes.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for the moment when Kim meets Mike Ehrmantraut, hopefully not for deadly reasons.”
Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould says that “In his own way, Mike has as much of a journey as Jimmy.”
He says that “we’re on an interesting parallel track” with Banks’ character and while the Mike of Better Call Saul dresses a lot like the Mike of Breaking Bad, there’s a significant gulf between the two.
The Mike of Better Call Saul is one that, while unafraid to get his hands dirty, has only dipped his toes into the criminal underbelly of Albuquerque.
“We’re on this journey to see how this ex-cop became the right hand of the drug lord Gus Fring” and there’s plenty of road left.
Still, there’s always room to be a little retrospective. One of the first things I asked Gould was whether the show’s darker, more serious direction was always part of the plan.
He says “it took quite a while for it to evolve into its current form” and concedes it’s more dramatic than him and Vince Gilligan originally expected it to be.
“We didn’t know if this was going to be a drama or a comedy when we started. We knew we loved the character of Saul Goodman and we knew we loved working with Bob Odenkirk”
“We didn’t have a good idea of what we wanted the show to be,” he said.
“One of the original pitches for the show was a half hour comedy. We thought of doing something in the style of M.A.S.H. or an animated show called Dr Katz. Strange people would come into Saul Goodman’s office and he would interact with them and solve their problems in unusual ways.”
“I think ultimately we were more interested in the Saul Goodman character and how he got to be Saul Goodman than we were all the wacky characters”
As a result, he says, the version of Better Call Saul that the writing team has ended up with is sometimes comedic “but just as often it’s a drama.”
He says the story of Jimmy is the story of a good person trying to swim upriver against circumstances and individuals that eventually turn him into the Saul Goodman we know and love.
Gould was the member of the writing team who originally came up with the character of Saul in the second season of Breaking Bad. However, he insists the writer’s room for the show is a “group effort.”
When asked how it compares to his experience on Breaking Bad, he says “overall, the experience is very similar.”
For him, the central pillar of the story they wanted to tell in Season 2 was about the dynamic between Jimmy and Kim.
“Ultimately, this season is about Jimmy’s love with Kim Wexler,” he says
According to Gould, the revelation that Chuck had been undermining Jimmy and negating his hard work “took the wind out his sails”
“Jimmy doesn’t seem to care for the law. It’s because of Kim that he continues to be a lawyer… He wants to be in her world”
Gould says “the moment that brings them together is the scam at the start of the season” and that
He says “there’s a lot of push and pull” between the two characters” and insists that the relationship between the two is much more complex than an allegory one where Kim represents order and lawfulness while Jimmy stands in for chaos.
“In her own way, Kim is just as good at scamming as Jimmy but her relationship to it is a bit different”
Gould says it’s a lot more nuanced of a romantic relationship than most TV shows feature with both Jimmy and Kim being positioned as equals with interests and challenges that extend beyond one another.
One such challenge is Jimmy’s brother, Chuck.
I asked Gould if him and Gilligan always envisioned Chuck as Jimmy’s major adversary.
Gould says that the conception of Chuck as a character was a pivotal moment in the show’s development, admitting “…he’s an antagonist but he’s close to Jimmy’s heart… When we first meet him, Saul appears to be a heartless monster.”
However, Jimmy’s relationship with Chuck adds a human aspect to his character that we don’t necessarily get out of Breaking Bad. He’s part of what makes Jimmy who he is.
Gould notes the show “encompasses so many eras” and Saul’s many personas: from Slippin’ Jimmy to James McGill to Saul Goodman to Gene the downtrodden Cinnabon manager.
He ends our interview with a tantalizing comment on the show’s glimpses at a post-Breaking Bad Saul, saying “maybe there’s more of this story to tell.“
Season 2 of Better Call Saul arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week.