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'Breaking Bad' Q&A: Bob Odenkirk on the Soul of Saul Goodman

The funniest man in the meth game on Republicanism, Saul's homelife and the spinoff rumors

August 27, 2013 10:55 AM ET
Bob Odenkirk
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in 'Breaking Bad'
Frank Ockenfels

Bob Odenkirk loves getting the shit kicked out of him. "It's certainly a physical effort, but it's the funniest, funnest, most childish aspect of what we do," he says about the beatdown that his character, criminal attorney Saul Goodman, suffered at the hands of an enraged Jesse Pinkman in this week's Breaking Bad. "It's like being a kid again. I can't believe I'm getting paid for it."

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Virtually everything Odenkirk says about Breaking Bad – and as he puts it, "I've been talking a lot about Breaking Bad in the last two months" – is shot through with that tone of disbelieving gratitude; the co-creator of the seminal sketch comedy series Mr. Show sounds for all the world like the drama's biggest fan. He specifically singles out BB creator Vince Gilligan for working with him to turn a comic-relief character into a person capable of holding his own with the Walts and Jesses of the world – and potentially anchoring a spinoff.

Why does Saul interact with these incredibly dangerous people, anyway? He could make a decent living as a regular old ambulance chaser.
OK, here's the thing: Saul is a regular old ambulance chaser, but with a little bit of extra spunk as far as wanting to score big. He's been trolling the depths for years looking for a big score, and Walter White walked into his office, and he thought, "This is the guy." He's just an American. He's just trying to become a rich man. Isn't that what we're all trying to do? We're trying to all get wealthy. That's the point of life. I believe it's my right as an American to make as much money as I possibly can, and for everyone around me to help me do that and not ask for anything back, ever. I'm a Republican, by the way, in case you couldn't tell.

So the giant inflatable Statue of Liberty on top of Saul's office comes home with you after shooting?
Yes, it's the only thing I kept from the set. My wife and I have it in our bedroom. It fills the entire room.

We never see Saul interact with family or friends, just clients and employees, so we have no picture of his life outside of work. I have no idea what Saul does when he gets home from the office.
First of all, he doesn't come home from the office. He goes to a strip club, has a drink and has some laughs. Then he goes out to any one of a million restaurants – not the best places in the world, but he orders the nicest thing on the menu. Usually, I think, he'd bring a stripper along. That would be great too. Then he walks to a private cigar club, and he goes and smokes a cigar with the other douchebags who smoke cigars in private clubs. Then he comes back.

Not a lot of sitting around, catching up on his DVR.
I don't think he watches any TV, unless porn on the Internet counts.

As the show's gotten darker, how has it felt to be one of the funny characters?
It's gotten much darker for Saul, so he finds it harder to joke around and be lighthearted. He still does joke around 'cause he's a cynical guy, but in the last season especially, Saul's just trying to save his ass. I've loved playing this role – its seriousness and the drama of it. I feel like my greatest quality as a sketch actor, besides being able to say "goddammit" and make people laugh, has been my ability to commit to a character and whatever stupid thing they're pursuing. Playing Saul is an extension of that ability – to commit to seeing the world only through the eyes of the character you're playing and just be that person.

To see this guy who's so sleazy and cynical be forced to grapple with matters of life and death the way he's been in the last few episodes was very jarring and compelling.
That's great to hear! That's where Saul is three-dimensional, not two-dimensional. He's a sleazy guy, he's a shallow guy, he's chasing money, but when his back is against the wall, you can see humanity leak out. I think he grew up in a house with a brother or two, and maybe a sister, and a mom who was nice to him, and a shitty dad, probably. He's a human being. Saul has the capacity to be a person with a little more empathy for people around him and more on his mind than just money. But like a lot of people in our society, he's encouraged to just express that side of his personality.

A Saul spinoff seems a lot more feasible after the last couple of weeks.
I agree. You need to see that other side, that other dimension, to believe that you can do a whole series with this character. If all it was is Saul being a sleazeball, there's not much show there. But if he's a person, and he has some depth to him, and his reactions are not cookie-cutter or obvious depending on the situation he's in, then he's worth watching.

Is there any movement on that front?
You know, I'm left out of that progress, or whatever's happening there. I only hear rumors, just like you. I take Vince seriously; I don't think Vince starts rumors for any reason. In other words, if he's talked about doing a spinoff, then I believe him and he's serious about it. But that's all I got, really. That's all I know. I certainly don't think I'm owed a single goddammed thing. I've been rewarded, seriously, for being a part of this amazing show, and it's all I could ever ask for to be included the way in the way I've been included so far. Anything after this . . . I don't know what's going to happen, and my expectations are nonexistent.

Dean Norris and Aaron Paul have both talked about how Vince Gilligan took their characters into far more complex territory than what they were intended for. It seems like he routinely sees something in characters who were created with a limited role in mind and builds something bigger out of them.
It's amazing. Vince Gilligan is a wizard – and a fantastically hard-working wizard. So yes, to everything you just said. It's not just Saul, as you pointed out – Jesse, Hank, Marie. Vince has an ability to flesh out characters who are perfectly entertaining not fleshed out, but then he can find ways to make them a richer person and a more real-seeming person. But I want to say that aside from Vince being a talented person, he works very, very hard as well. I think sometimes when people compliment writers, it can sound like, "Oh, it's easy for him." I can see how hard Vince works and how hard he concentrates and how much he cares. He deserves an unbelievable amount of appreciation, from me and from everyone, for how seriously he takes his work.

The thing about this season, though, is that I'm so convinced anyone on the show could die at any given moment that I honestly have no idea if a Saul show would be a prequel or a sequel.
I know exactly what you mean, and I will not change the way you watch the show with anything I say. [Laughs] I feel the same way, and I love it.

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