For a guy best known for playing someone who barely ever cracks a smile, Breaking Bad's Lavell Crawford is full of excitement. "Rolling Stone? It's an honor!" he tells me at the start of our interview. "Hopefully next time, I can do a picture for you like Janet Jackson with somebody's hands over her breasts."
The split between Crawford's high-energy presence, honed during years on the stand-up circuit, and the taciturn demeanor of Huell Babineaux, Saul Goodman's mountainous bodyguard-enforcer-pickpocket-dogsbody, is striking. It's the kind of contrast that made Huell's terrified confession to Hank Schrader in this week's episode so unexpectedly tough to watch: Huell's seen-it-all attitude cracked in the face of that bogus photo of Jesse with his brains blown out, another casualty in the Hank-Walt war. It was a side of Huell (and Crawford) we hadn't seen before. And since it revealed how Walt had hidden his money, it marked the beginning of Heisenberg's end.
You're a stand-up comic. Bill Burr, who plays your partner Kuby on the show, is a stand-up comic. Bob Odenkirk, who plays your boss Saul Goodman, is a comedian. How'd you all end up on a show this dark?
To me, comedians aren't clowns who tell jokes. We're more like the Joker. We could go evil at a switch. I think a lot of comics have a dark side; most comics just know how to put it on. Onstage, a lot of times, we're just talking about our pain, something bad in our lives, and making it funny.
Bryan Cranston told me he did comedy for eight months or something. And to go from Malcolm in the Middle to the fast track to evil – watching him do that, it's like he's a teacher. There are so many great talents on there. When me and Bill Burr are together, it's a lot of fun – just two wise-cracking guys. Bob Odenkirk, Bryan – they're so encouraging.
I found it really affecting to watch Huell, who's been this comic-relief character, break down when Hank showed him that picture.
I always thought of [my character] as funny, because I was a security guard, but I was that security guard that wasn't really gonna protect nobody unless there was someone for him to beat up, you know? They have you start doing things on a smaller scale, and you start thinking you're the man. Saul's a charmer. He can talk you into things, he can make it make sense so you think you're doing the right thing. Then things happen, like last season, when Ted Beneke broke his neck, and we're thinking "Holy crap, man, we in some crap now!" By the time you look up, you're doing crazy stuff. But it's like, "I'm just doing my job." Once the gig is up, though, I'm like, "Oh man, this is crazy. I ain't going to jail for these sons of bitches! I'll tell you anything you need to know!"
In a lot of ways, that's what the whole show is about: People start doing something to make money, and they don't give a lot of thought to the consequences until it's far too late.
Oh yeah. You get so high you don't even look down. Then you look down, and you see the Earth, and you're like, "How do I get off this thing?" When somebody gets killed, it's like, "Oh my God – these are awful people. I'd heard about it, but I hadn't seen it before." I'm at a point where I'm just trying to save my own bacon. Shit, I don't know what's going on. [Hank and Gomez are] telling me they're looking after me, Walt's coming after me, and I'm like, "Really? Why's he coming after me? I ain't done nothing to him. He must be getting crazy. If everyone's going down for no reason, I'm not going down like that."
This season in particular, the show's been a real cultural phenomenon.
It's one of my fantasies come true. There a lot of people who can't say they were on an award-winning, hot show like this. I've got a cult following, too – that's craziness. Me and my wife and son went to California Pizza Kitchen in San Diego to get something to eat, and it was like everybody in the damn kitchen wanted a picture with me. A lot of brothers watch the show now, too, which is exciting because they didn't used to watch it. "Now that they've got you on it, I'll watch it!" Well, right on, then.
Every second of this show comes under a lot of scrutiny. Fans will freeze-frame sequences like when Huell pickpocked Jesse's cigarettes, or turn moments like Huell lying down on the huge stack of money into animated GIFs. Do you give any thought to that when you're on set?
Nah, I just play my part. When you try to do something like that, you fail. I just go on and play the character – give me what I need to do, and I just go for it. I enjoyed just standing around looking crazy or reading and all. That was fun . . . but it's cool getting into a little bit of action, too.
Bob Odenkirk mentioned how much fun it was to stage his fight scene with Jesse.
Oh man, that was intense, but also a lot of fun. It's like being at home – everyone's hanging out and watching TV, and all of a sudden you hear a big car accident outside and somebody cussing and fighting. You go outside like, "Oh my God, a little action!" You know? You don't want it, but you're kind of excited. "All right! Somebody's getting their head bashed in! I feel sorry for him, but I'm gonna get some potato chips and watch this." [Laughs] I couldn't wait to see it, but I was a little mad that they didn't use the take where I knocked the door off the hinges to break them up.
Have you heard anything about the Saul Goodman spinoff? Bob Odenkirk told me that even he hasn't. Would you be up for it?
I heard about it on Twitter, but Vince [Gilligan] didn't say nothing to me, so I don't know. It would be fun, but I haven't talked to anybody about that. I'm not even keeping a secret – that's the truth.
It's tough to imagine Saul without his "A-Team."
That's what I'm saying. If they wanna do it, I'm game. I'd love to see what his mind would come up with. A sleazy Matlock, shaking down congressmen or something? That would be hilarious.