Everyone has their own theories as to when is the best time to end a successful, long-running TV show. For Bob Odenkirk, the star of AMC’s tremendous Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, the answer was simple math.
“My point of view was that it probably shouldn’t last longer than Breaking Bad. As it turns out, we might last one episode longer,” Odenkirk says.
Yes, when Better Call Saul concludes its stellar run with its sixth and final season next year, it will have aired 63 episodes compared to its progenitor’s 62. That’s a final, fitting numerical ode to a series that had no business reaching the heights of one of TV’s best ever dramas, yet decided to go ahead and do so anyway.
Before all that, however, Better Call Saul has two more seasons to go, the first of which is set to premiere on February 23 on AMC. Better Call Saul season 5 finds Jimmy McGill finally living under the legal name of Saul Goodman and fully throwing himself into his practice as a criminal lawyer. But as 9 seasons and a movie within the Breaking Bad universe have taught us, the human capacity for change isn’t always simple chemistry.
We sat down with Odenkirk to discuss what’s in store for season 5, what it means to end one of TV’s most beloved franchises, and the eventual fate of Jimmy McGill, Saul Goodman, Gene Takovic, and maybe more personas.
DEN OF GEEK: This is the first season of Better Call Saul in which you’re going to be playing the entity known as Saul Goodman…full time or close to it. How did that inform your performance this year and what was it like to retake that name again?
BOB ODENKIRK: I’ve actually played Saul a lot, on and off, over the last few years. Which is to say I’ve played the character where he is in full Saul mode. It really is just a piece of who the character is. I’ve played it many times in Better Call Saul. There’s no change up from my point of view. I perceive it as a facade of this guy and something he can switch on and switch off at will. It’s his game face. He just hasn’t always necessarily used to the name Saul Goodman when he was doing a task. He’s just being the scammier side of his personality.
While it’s a fun story plot point that he’s made this conscious choice to be Saul and present himself to his world as this guy, for me as an actor it didn’t feel like that big of a change. Also, playing Saul is actually easier than playing Jimmy McGill because Saul is not a very complex guy. Jimmy McGill is a complex character. Saul is just a persona or a “game face,” I call it, that he plays at work. We all play characters that work for the different people that we’re with and this is his least complex version of himself. It’s the easiest one to play. It’s actually closer almost to a sketch character than Jimmy McGill is. That’s when he’s being his true self and he’s living in a world that’s filled with all the things that shaped him. When he’s Saul, he’s putting on a con, you know?
Do you think that Jimmy’s authentic self is close to that con that he ends up playing?
No, I don’t. I think he’s far away from it. I think it takes some effort to be just that one-sided personality that he becomes when he becomes Saul. He has to swallow all these other sides of himself. He’s got to focus his energies in one direction only and just be that guy.
When did you first find out that season 6 was going to be the end?
We’ve talked about it even two or three years ago. When I talk to Peter (Gould) and Vince (Gilligan) we do these conversations maybe once a year about the overall flow of the show and I toss them my two cents. I’m really speaking as a fan, not as a person telling them what to do. It’s their show, creatively, and I’m an actor in it. But they do wonder what I think. I said my point of view was that it probably shouldn’t last longer than Breaking Bad. As it turns out, we might last one episode longer.
You know I’m just realizing now…the flash forwards on Better Call Saul with Gene Takovic might end up being, chronologically speaking, the last we see of Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad.
Yeah. I think you might be right. That could be the furthest it goes on the timeline, the whole story. On the other hand, you never know. I don’t know if Gene is the last iteration of the character either, because if he were to come out from hiding, I don’t think he can keep that name. So we’ll see what happens. I do think that they have in mind for us to get to know that later version of the character in season 6, which will be shot starting in September.
Better Call Saul has often balanced its legal and criminal storylines separately. Does season 5 blend those two worlds more since Saul is now going be the full-on criminal attorney? If so what is it like to play around with that?
They’re definitely overlapping a lot – the legal Saul world and the criminal world. This season there’s a lot of connection now. It’s fun. I like raising the stakes. I think that we are delivering for the audience what they’ve been hoping for. I speak myself as an audience member of the show and I’m thrilled that Peter Gould and the writers have decided to raise the stakes on Saul in season 5, make more dangerous characters come into his world and make everything scarier. I love it. This is what we’ve been talking about and preparing for for five years. I’m thrilled that it’s happening. I think this is our best season ever. The story moves faster in season 5 than it has ever. You’ll see that the season goes to a really dangerous, difficult place, which is good.
It seems like Saul is the bridge character of the Breaking Bad universe, because he’s the connection between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad and then in Better Call Saul he’s the connection between the legal world and the criminal world. How is he able to just ingratiate himself into all these worlds?
Of course. I think he’s a funny guy because he crosses through all these worlds but he almost does it without thinking. It’s like he doesn’t even notice what he’s doing. He’s a little oblivious to how dangerous he’s making everything for himself and for Kim. It’s fun to play a guy who’s so carried away with his own personal inspirations. I like it.
AMC has announced some Breaking Bad characters will be returning for season 5. What was that like to welcome Steven Quezada and Dean Norris as Gomez and Hank back into the universe?
My experience of this is not yours or even anybody from Breaking Bad‘s experience. For me the show didn’t end. Breaking Bad stopped and then we started Better Call Saul. It was in the same place with the same crew but with different sets and different aspects to the character. I think the Dean would have had a more interesting experience having left the show and in his mind and his heart feeling like, “Well, that’s over.” Then being surprised to find himself back there. Whereas for me, I’ve been back there. That’s what I’ve been doing since Breaking Bad ended.
Seeing Dean and Steven is just great. I love both those guys and I love working with them. We’re all on the same page because it’s the same page that Breaking Bad came out of. It’s the same writing, same style, same focus for our work and the crew. In fact, a lot of the same crew still, even five years in – 40% of our crew was Breaking Bad people. That’s a lot of people to carry this far into the future. Dean was the one who had a remarkable experience and I was happy to see him again. But for me it’s the same story going on and on.
What are you most excited for people to see once this season premieres?
I can’t wait for them to see me almost die!
I’m talking about Bob Odenkirk, yeah.
When does that moment happen? Will we know it when we see it?