‘Better Call Saul’ Star Rhea Seehorn on Jimmy and Kim’s ‘Alarming’ and ‘Heartbreaking’ Fight
This story contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, which we recapped here.
Rhea Seehorn was a Breaking Bad fan before she was cast as attorney Kim Wexler on that show’s prequel series, Better Call Saul. She knew that Kim never appeared on Breaking Bad, while Kim’s partner Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) did, albeit under the name Saul Goodman. So for a while in this new job, Seehorn couldn’t resist wondering what happened to Kim and why she wasn’t around when Saul was working as Walter White’s attorney. Eventually, though, she realized that she would rather not know what was coming, since the woman she was playing couldn’t see the future.
This week’s Saul episode, “Fun and Games,” potentially answers Seehorn’s long-dormant questions. In the wake of a series of tragedies and terrors that Kim and/or Jimmy helped initiate, Kim decides to quit both the law and her marriage. In an astonishingly raw and intimate scene that features perhaps Seehorn’s best work of the series, Kim says, “Jimmy, I have had the time of my life with you, but we are bad for everyone around us! Other people suffer because of us. Apart, we’re OK. But together, we’re poison.” When he tries to make her stay by saying that he loves her, she replies, through tears, “I love you, too. But so what?”
Is this the last we will see of Kim — especially since the episode abruptly cuts from the end of the argument to Saul Goodman on his own sometime in the future? Seehorn unsurprisingly wouldn’t say. But she spoke with Rolling Stone last week by phone from London about the work that went into making the breakup scene so great, her long-overdue Emmy nomination (for the first half of this final season), and how this show has forever changed how she will feel about the Saul Goodman we see on Breaking Bad.
How did it feel to finally get this Emmy nomination everyone has been campaigning for on your behalf for years?
It feels amazing. I was over-the-moon excited, and still am, and to see Bob nominated and the show nominated. You don’t even know whether to hope for it after a certain point. The good part is, the critics and the fans were already doing a lot of the heavy lifting. I could just sit back!
Did you know before you got this script that this would be how Kim and Jimmy’s relationship ended?
No. No, I did not.
So what was your response to reading the script, getting through that scene, and then seeing that the very next scene is Saul Goodman?
It was alarming, and it was heartbreaking. I found it just an incredibly heartbreaking scene. Because it is not about two people falling out of love. They still love each other deeply. That scene is the first time we’ve heard them say “I love you,” even though I personally think they’ve said it to each other often off-screen before. But to hear him say it for the first time in the show, and her response to be, “So what?” — and not in a flippant way, but her saying that it can’t alter the erosion of who she is at this point. She’s aware that whatever it is, whether he’s the fire and I’m the match, or the other way around, the two of us together, whatever has happened, the road that she has gone down, she loathes herself far more than she has ill feelings about him. It’s about herself. I just found it tragic and sad, and really interesting storytelling. We made a choice, when Bob and I were rehearsing with [director] Michael [Morris]. We spent a lot of time rehearsing it, and realized that we needed to have [director of photography] Marshall Adams and our camera ops come in because we wanted it to be relentless. I haven’t seen it myself yet, but people that have seen versions have said, “I had to take a moment and walk around the block after it.” It’s what it’s going on in the scene, it’s how it’s performed, but it’s also how it’s being filmed in this breathless way. I know we spent a lot of time, and Eli, our dolly grip, figuring out how to do this dance with the camera. There’s no escape from this argument, and it feels as overwhelming to the audience as the people doing it. It was important to us to keep that energy of “where’s this going, where’s this going, please don’t go off a cliff,” and then it goes off a cliff.
Kim is so composed when the scene begins. She has made this decision, and she just wants Jimmy to understand. He’s upset, but she is mostly able to keep it together, and you don’t really break emotionally until she says, “So what?” What did you and Bob and Michael talk about regarding the emotional arc of the scene?
We did it many many times in rehearsal and in performance. Bob and I are both horrible at what they call “saving it for the close-ups.” Part of that is the nature of the show, where you never know if a pivotal moment will be played in a wide or a two-shot. But we also really want to be there for each other, and with the camera and what they were doing. We [did it] almost like the scene where they almost break up and she said, “Let’s get married instead,” and the camera stayed with us, which allows you the freedom to do very tiny, nuanced changes and shifts in the scene. There were times filming this scene when I broke in other places, where it was later or earlier. It’s a wonderful marriage at that point of craft and being fully present in the scene. Bob and I both do so much homework and think about the beats and the blocking, and know the lines forwards and backwards. I didn’t know which take they used, but you’re telling me that one, and I do know that one, and I believe it was based on Bob’s line reading of “I love you.” It had a quality to it that was pleading, and also sort of absolutely raw and naked, like “This is me with no armor, this is my truest essence, is this love I have for you.” And it’s very, very difficult for me to then utter my line. And that’s one of those wonderful moments where not being allowed to ad lib was a gift. It hurt to make those words come out, and then that’s what you see. And that’s what works for the scene.
Back when you still allowed yourself to speculate on where Kim’s story was going, had this scenario been one you considered?
No, not in its intricacies. But there’s always the possibility of, “Does she leave him?” But I feel like it’s a much more intelligent, intricate, and complex breakup. Sometimes, I can look at the scripts just as a fan, because I love the show, and I was like, “Oh, this would be more rewarding to me if I was a fan watching it.” It’s not that I’m storming out because, “I can’t stand your shenanigans anymore!” It’s complex. And it really shows you the depth to which the show allows characters to evolve. Not all shows really do allow that. You mostly need to stay the same. These are characters that are learning from mistakes and characters that are evolving from mistakes and reacting to mistakes. Be it Jimmy’s reaction, which is to completely start wearing a mask and become this whole other person that we know from Breaking Bad, or Kim’s, where she can’t even live in her own skin anymore. It’s an utter erosion of who she wanted to be. All the intelligence and morality and ethics you’ve seen from Kim in earlier seasons leads to that moment where she’s feeling, “I just can’t keep eating myself alive.” She can’t figure out another way to molt the skin that she made for herself. And I didn’t see all of that coming — not that kind of complexity, not that kind of pain. I think you almost could have predicted that she’d leave that relationship in anger. But it’s beautiful. When she’s at the memorial for Howard, she cannot even stand to be in the room with herself any more. And to quit the law? It’s sooooo tragic, in every way. The fact that that’s how desperate she is, it’s another very smart piece of the writing. That’s how on the mat she is. It isn’t even just leaving Jimmy. Like, “I have to leave everything. I can’t even be on this planet.” And the tragedy of that, but it’s also, what Jimmy says about all the people she helps — why should everyone else pay for this? Why not continue doing good to counterbalance all the bad that you’ve done? And I think she thinks for the first time in all of these years that we’ve seen her, “I can’t tip the scales anymore. I’ve been tipping the scales just a little bit in favor of those who are ‘deserving,’ and look where it’s gotten me. I have no business practicing the law, I have no business passing judgment on anybody ever again.”
How do you feel about the way the episode is structured so that Jimmy is watching her pack and then the very next thing we see is Saul Goodman, and the way it suggests that Kim was the only thing preventing him from becoming this person?
That’s a very dramatic jump cut. I found it just like a punch in the gut [laughs]. Very upsetting. I personally don’t see it as only because of Kim that he becomes Saul. It’s a series of events we’ve seen unfold, including events while he was growing up before we started watching the series. But you’re right that she’s sort of last man standing in the way of it. But that is also a horrible tragedy. It makes me think about the Saul Goodman that we all thought was, at worst, a person with no conscience who’s fine ordering hits on people and at best, a clown. And now I think that if I were to revisit Breaking Bad right now, I would find the character sad. I’ll never not be able to see it as a tragic character now. It’s so brilliant that they’ve managed to change your perspective on the show that already existed. I guess that’s what I think about that last moment. She was the last person that thought that he deserved anything better than what the world kept telling him. And without that voice, he only has the dark voice that we all have in our heads. He lost the one that said, “That’s not true. You’re a good person.” And that’s horribly sad.
I suspect you cannot answer this, but I am professionally obligated to ask it anyway: Was this episode the final time you worked on the show?
I cannot answer that. But… we had to film some things out of sequence, because of a location here or there. So even if I told you that I went back to film again, that still wouldn’t answer that question of whether this is the last we see of Kim.(*)
(*) This was a phone interview, but this writer feels 99.9 percent confident that Seehorn was smirking when she delivered this answer.
You’ve spent a lot of time with Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito over these years, but never on-camera before this season, when Kim finally interacted with Mike a few times and had a phone conversation with Gus. Would the experience have felt incomplete to you if one or both of those hadn’t happened?
Incomplete? No. I am so far past where the needle on the dial says “complete.” Given what I was given to do on this show, I won a long time ago. Right now, we’re in full, happy cloud nine of what they allow me to do. But I am super, super grateful I got to do a scene with Jonathan. And not just because, as an actor, I would be remiss in not getting to play opposite, but also as those two characters. I really wanted to work on a scene that was Kim Wexler talking to Mike Ehrmantraut. And I got to direct him as well, and I got to direct Giancarlo in that episode. We spent a lot of time together talking about that scene, that beautiful private moment where he’s at the end of his bed, with the bulletproof vest, having to walk around his house with cameras. He’s being stalked, he’s prey instead of predator. It is a part of Gus that we haven’t seen before.
The scene in last week’s episode where Jimmy and Kim are both still in the apartment with Lalo had to be filmed in chunks several weeks apart because Bob had his heart attack in between, right?
Yes, but I want to make sure nobody is looking for that moment of, “Is that where he’s getting ready to go?” Because it’s not there. It was a very difficult scene to shoot with a lot of coverage [the camera filming one actor at a time]. We had shot the majority of Bob and my stuff, and then we had to come back and turn around do Tony [Dalton]’s side.
In your coverage, Kim is so broken that she’s practically vibrating with fear. Did you have to figure out how to match your newer performance to that? Or not, because the camera was mostly focused on Tony?
I think there was Tony coverage where you can still see Bob and I. We went back to watch the dailies and stuff to make sure we were back in that world. But what you’re talking about, that was all in the first round of playing it. Thank goodness. I would hate for the audience to think that the emotions that Bob and I are playing in that scene were us processing our own feelings of Bob having had a heart attack. We did all of that stuff before.
Finally, you cannot say whether or not you’ll be appearing on the show again. But if this is the last we see of Kim, can you reflect back upon what this experience has been like for you?
Like none other. I always said that if I wasn’t an actor, I would have liked to be a psychologist. And I kind of got to be. The mental gymnastics of figuring out this character that I just love — and I love how inscrutable she is so often. And it’s my job to make sure that I am making a choice about what she’s thinking and why she’s doing something. Other times, it is, like the episode we were talking about, where she says they should just get married. Jimmy tries to talk himself out of a problem, while Kim tries to think herself out of a problem. And this is one of the few times where it got away from her — the impulse came faster than thinking out a plan did. And that started happening more and more. Following these very small cracks in the glaze of this vase has been so rewarding. Because they don’t say plot should dictate character, they say character should dictate plot. Which sounds easy enough, but it’s not, when you need to hit milestones, get certain ratings, or, in this case, you’re a prequel and have to hit certain plot points. Every time Kim shifted, it was shocking, and then it wasn’t. You’re like, “Oh, right, that’s probably who she was.” Or, “Oh, right, that does seem like an organic, albeit bizarre, reaction to that event.” That has been so much fun, to work that hard on that level of detail of human behavior, so that you can afford yourself a story that you never saw coming. On some level, I got to to the same as the audience, where you turn around, and you’ve made so many series of tiny wrong turns that you drilled yourself into the ground, and didn’t even realize it was happening while it was happening. It’s kind of mesmerizing.
So there’s the part itself. There is no bigger gift to an actor to do a role like this. And then you hand me my scene partner, with whom I spent most of seven years. Bob said this about me, and I 100 percent can say it about him. He makes me a better actor. He makes me more present. He makes me want to stay up two more hours to work on this stuff. Not “makes,” but he inspires you to! And then you get directors and showrunners who are great. Just imagine if you had, whoever your heroes are in journalism, going, “Alan, this piece is really, really hard, but I think you’re the one who can pull it off. And now I’m going to write something even harder, because I think you can even soar higher. And now I think you can go higher, and higher.” It’s an incredible feeling to be supported as a freelance person. And to have your heroes say, “Yeah, I think you can do it. Let’s go.” If I’ve done a great scene that I didn’t have Bob or Patrick [Fabian] or any of the others in it, they’re either watching on set, or I’m getting texts saying they heard how great I was, or they’ll write me after the scene airs. My whole writers room will call me from postproduction to say, “We’re watching your scene now.” You don’t get emails from postproduction saying, “I had to take a walk around the block after I saw the scene of you and Bob breaking up.” It’s a support system like no other. And every single person there is in service of one thing: What’s the smartest and most authentic story we can tell about these characters? And then let the audience be as smart as they are, and meet us where they’re at. And they did, episode after episode.