Breaking Bad might be unbearably bleak without Saul Goodman, the hilariously craven, self-aggrandizing attorney played by Mr. Show alumnus Bob Odenkirk. Here’s what Odenkirk had to say about his character, in an interview conducted for my recent cover story on the show:
Had you been watching Breaking Bad before you were cast?
No, I had never seen it. I’d only seen the billboards. I knew it was a respected show, and I knew it was an offbeat, interesting show with a heavy tone to it. After I was offered the part, I called a friend, and he loved the show, so he told me, “You have to do that. It’s my favorite new show.” So then I talked to [show creator] Vince Gilligan. I liked the character, and he sounded very interesting, and then I said yes. Then, after that, I watched the show and I was struck by how intense it was, as I think most people are when they first watch it.
Were you wondering, “What the hell am I doing on this show?”
I was wondering, “What the hell are they doing hiring me for this?” I wouldn’t have been surprised if I showed up on set, and they said, “Oh my goodness, no, no, we wanted the other Bob Odenkirk, the one who does dramas.”
How much thought did you put into making the tone of your performance work within the context of this show?
I think that the character was kind of a revelation to everyone as we did it. I got the feeling that Vince initially wanted me to do three or four episodes at the end of the second season. When Vince and the writers talk about it, though, they talk about how Saul brings some lightness to such a heavy show, and they saw that they could do a lot with it and that the audience liked it and kind of needed it. I do think it was a surprise to everyone involved, including me and the guys writing it.
How do you keep it from devolving into just kind of a pure comedic performance?
I just work off the energy that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, or whoever’s in the room with me, brings in. Those other characters and those other actors are deep in the shit. They’re in character, and their characters are in trouble, so I just work off that energy.
In Saul’s first episode, they have a hood over his head, and that’s the moment where your character really comes to life. What do you remember about shooting that?
That was the most amazing night ever. First, I was new to the show. Second, I had to memorize four lines in Spanish, and I don’t speak Spanish. It was 1 or 2 a.m., and we were shooting in the middle of a huge, empty desert space. There was a windstorm, which means sand was flying into our eyes and our mouths as we spoke. It was so much fun. When you’re older and you’re doing crazy things for a living, it’s a great feeling to say, “This is my job and I’m standing in the desert at 2 a.m. pretending.” It’s great to find yourself in these outlandish situations. It was a great, momentous night, one of the special nights of my showbiz career.
Vince obviously has a certain level of attention to detail that’s fairly extraordinary. I was just wondering how that manifested itself with your character in your dealings with him.
Almost everything I’ve ever done in this business I either wrote, produced or directed. So this is a very unique and new experience for me, which is a substantial character completely conceived by someone else, and that I worked my way into, rather than me being in charge and sort of knowing the character beforehand. It’s been an actor’s effort on my part, and I’ve really enjoyed this new way of approaching something, and so I’m all for it. I learned the lines verbatim. I don’t change lines. I don’t influence the wardrobe at all. I just take what they give me, and I find my way to justify or understand who that guy is. It’s been a fun, new challenge for me. I don’t quarrel or even put in my two cents much. It’s been a fun ride.
How serious do you think Vince is about doing a Saul Goodman spinoff show, which he keeps mentioning as a possibility?
I can’t tell. He jokes about it every time I talk to him. But, you know, Saul’s in so much hot water, and I don’t think Vince knows what’s gonna happen next entirely in Breaking Bad. He lets himself be surprised by the writing and where the show goes. I mean, Saul could become the mayor of Las Vegas. He could become the most respectable citizen in the city. Or he could go to L.A. because he’s flashy and he likes being in the spotlight and, you know, L.A. lawyers can get in the spotlight. He’s gotta stay alive first. I hope he’s wearing sunscreen.