Some very small actors did some pretty heavy lifting at the start of episode three, Season Five of Better Call Saul — specifically, two thousand red harvester ants handled by ant wrangler Jules Sylvester.
As fans may recall, episode two, “50% Off,” ended with Jimmy/Saul (Bob Odenkirk) abandoning his mint chocolate chip ice cream cone on the street when Nacho pulls up alongside him and insists he get in the car. Jimmy then finds himself descending deeper into the criminal world as he’s enlisted to aid the cartel. At the beginning of episode three, “The Guy for This,” we see the ice cream cone once more — swarmed with red harvesters, a metaphor for how quickly Jimmy’s life has become overrun.
BTS — @BetterCallSaul ep. 503 All real, no VFX. Our ant wrangler was from LA. When we finished shooting, he vacuumed them all up (doesn't harm them) and went on his merry way! pic.twitter.com/PE4ZcMOSGq
— Ann Cherkis (@TheRealCherkis) March 3, 2020
That striking scene, as it turns out, was not courtesy of VFX, but real-live ants — emphasis on the “live.” Sylvester — a member of the Los Angeles teamsters for animal trainers — was brought on to provide the talent. He’s been working in the movie industry since 1974, with more than 350 movies under his belt. He started working with reptiles as a professional snake catcher in Kenya in 1965.
“I suggested 2,000 red harvester ants be used for several reasons,” he tells Rolling Stone. “They’re very common throughout the southern and western states, they are hardy, large enough to see and I could collect them from the hills around my house.”
Sylvester also revealed that the ice cream was not, in fact, ice cream. “Ice cream is too cold for the ants to crawl on,” he says. “The colder the ant, the slower the ant, so a lookalike concoction of edible and non-toxic ice cream was made for the scene.”
As for how the ants were wrangled after the scene was shot? Sylvester says that he used a mini vacuum lined with paper towels to suck them up. “I could then pour them from the vacuum into their plastic cups, no worse for wear,” he says. “At the end of the shoot, all the ants were packed up and taken back to the holes and area where they were caught. One of the animal trainer rules and a creed that we all work and live with is, ‘Everybody goes home alive and unharmed.’”
Hopefully, Jimmy and Co. are as lucky as the ants.