Vince Gilligan Interview: Better Call Saul And The FIFI B-29 Bomber

On the eve of Better Call Saul’s newest episode, Vince Gilligan and cast will mingle with fans and a giant bomber.

Better Call Saul is one of the most meticulous programs on the medium. It’s also a show that will have its stars not only film fictional commercials for the show’s fake restaurant chain, but also a ten-part series of training videos. Better Call Saul loves to go above and beyond, just like its central character of Jimmy McGill. 

One of the ways in which Jimmy tries to elevate himself to false heights was in the public access commercial that he makes under false pretenses in Saul’s second season. A central component of Jimmy’s commercial involved a B-29 “FIFI” bomber. When the WWII-era aircraft carrier was doing a tour through the US, it seemed like a natural fit to once again pair up the B-29 with the duplicitous world of Better Call Saul. 

Vince Gilligan and the cast of AMC’s series will be appearing with the aircraft carrier to sign autographs this Sunday, April 23rd in Camarillo, CA. Whether you attempt to fake your own commercial using the aircraft carrier and its publicity event is entirely in your own hands, but not recommended. That being said, it would be very Jimmy McGill of you. 

In honor of the event on Sunday, we got to chat with Vince Gilligan about how the B-29 FIFI found itself into the series in the first place and his continued love for the specific aircraft.

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DEN OF GEEK: So you first got to feature the FIFI B-29 bomber back in episode 208 of the show. What’s your relationship with this bomber?

VINCE GILLIGAN: Last year on Better Call Saul when we got to work with the good folks who keep FIFI flying and we got to put FIFI on our show, I was just over the moon. I was ecstatic. I never thought that such a wonderful bit of living, fly history could be a part of our show. 

It blew my mind when I heard that she was going to be made available to us on Better Call Saul and now she’s going to be in the Camarillo Airport this weekend and I want to do everything that I can to get the word out and get people to come by and visit if you’re in the Southern California area. They should get to see such a beauty with their own eyes! And maybe even fly in her, too! For folks who have the dough—it’s a bit of a price-tag but well worth every penny—it’s a life-changing experience to get to fly in here.

Well I was going to say, I saw that you can ride in FIFI for a certain price. Have you ever ridden in one before? 

I sure have! I got to fly in FIFI—it’s a really funny story because before we ever had an episode of Better Call Saul that included a B-29—probably a year before that—when FIFI was on another tour and at Burbank Airport, as a civilian I wrote a big check and wanted to ride it. Unfortunately though for various reasons too complicated to get into, I couldn’t go flying in it. But I did get to tour her, which is a much cheaper ticket. I took probably like 500 photos while there. It was the best. Also, all of the people working there are volunteers. None of them get paid to do this. They really sacrifice quite a bit to keep her flying and keeping her touring the country so people can experience living history. The history of World War II and the greatest generation. 

Yeah, it’s so interesting that I had no idea that they toured aircraft carriers around the country like this—almost like celebrities. It’s a great way for people to get to experience this sort of thing. Are you big on other World War II aircraft carriers, or is there something specific about the B-29 that’s special to you?

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I think all the men and women all around the world that keep this bit of world history alive are worthy of being commended. FIFI I guess has a special place in my heart—now that I’m telling you this story, I’m remembering that the first time I saw FIFI was in my home town of Richmond, Virginia. That was probably 25 years ago. That was the first time I toured her and back then I was a young, starving screenwriter and I certainly didn’t have the money to go flying in her. The ticket is well worth every penny, but it ain’t cheap. It’s sort of necessary to be that way though because it’s so very expensive to get all of these volunteers to keep her in the air, so they need to make a little money somewhere. So I guess when you asked if she has more meaning to me than other aircrafts, the answer kind of is “Yes!”

It’s also the only aircraft to yield an atomic bomb.

Well, it’s a very important part of history. A very complicated, dark part of history. Not the only aircraft to carry an atomic bomb, but you’re right in that it’s the only aircraft—hopefully ever—to drop one in war. And FIFI is the same type of aircraft as Enola Gay and Bockscar. I’m not sure if FIFI was ever flown in combat, but she was certainly the same make and model. It’s another important reason for folks to see her. We all need to know that history. It’s a terrible fact that it happened, but it certainly helped usher in the end of the war. It’s important stuff for us to know and interact with. 

This event that you’re doing in Camarillo with the FIFI is really cool and unusual. You guys have done a lot of atypical sorts of pop-up events like this, like the Pollos Hermanos pop-up shops that were set up at SXSW. Is it cool to be a part of such awesome and eye-catching advertising?

It is awesome and I can take no credit whatsoever for the pop-up restaurant, but it was the coolest thing that I ever saw. That was the good folks at AMC who came up with that idea. I didn’t really know much about it until they told me that the pop-up Pollos Hermanos would be in downtown LA and if I wanted to check it out.  My assistant Jen and I went down and I just had the best time. My mind was blown by the level of detail in that building! I’ve spent a lot of hours in the real restaurant in Albuquerque and I felt like I had just been transported by a teleporter from Star Trek over there. The level of attention and TLC that went into building that thing was amazing. So you’re right, AMC really does think outside of the box in terms of this crazy publicity events. They’re great events to get folks thinking about the show. 

Well for instance, are you excited to get to talk to and mingle with a lot of Better Call Saul fans that are also big aircraft junkies and World War II experts? You’ll get such an interesting cross section of people!

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I think you’re right. There’s an interesting overlap on the Venn diagram, so to speak, between World War II buffs and aircraft buffs in general who are also Better Call Saul fans. I hope we get aviation buffs, pure and simple, who by the time they leave say, “Maybe it would be fun to watch this show about this crazy lawyer…” But what I’d really love to see—if I could only have one thing happen this weekend it would be for people who strictly love Better Call Saul learn about FIFI and the Commemorative Air Force—that’s the wonderful organization that keeps FIFI in the air—and have those people say at the end of things, “My God, this is a really worthwhile endeavor. This is an interesting thing. It’s great to interact with this history.” That’s what I’m hoping for the most. So make it up to Camarillo Airport and learn about something you didn’t know about this weekend!

Better Call Saul’s third season continues to air on Mondays at 10pm on AMC.