Bob Odenkirk (‘Better Call Saul’) on Jimmy McGill creeping towards alter ego Saul [Complete Interview Transcript]

Bob Odenkirk is now four seasons into playing Jimmy McGill on “Better Call Saul,” following four seasons as his future alter ego, Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad.” This season saw Jimmy creeping further towards Saul and dealing with his complex relationship with Kim (Rhea Seehorn). Odenkirk has already collected Golden Globe and SAG nominations for Season 4 and is well on his way to notching another Emmy nomination this summer.

Odenkirk spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Matt Noble after Season 4 of “Better Call Saul” about his favorite moments from the season, working with Seehorn, and how Jimmy is relatable to the audience. Watch the exclusive video interview above or read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Bob Odenkirk, four seasons into “Better Call Saul.” What’s the biggest question you still have about Jimmy?

Bob Odenkirk: Well, like everybody I wonder what’s gonna happen to Rhea’s character, Kim Wexler, because I don’t feel like they could be together when Jimmy has become Saul and when we see him in “Breaking Bad.” I just don’t see how they live together. What’s the biggest question at this point in 4? Let’s say he’s compartmentalized this idealistic, younger version of himself, Jimmy McGill, and he’s Saul Goodman and he’s scamming people and working with real bad folks and just trying to con his way through life. The good part of him, the good-hearted part of him that really wanted acceptance and respect, is it completely disappeared or are there moments where it peaks through? In a way, I’m asking, “What does Saul Goodman’s day look like? What does his week look like? Does he even help anyone out of any sense of humanity? Is there any of that left in his world or is he literally just doing that job, going to strip clubs, getting drunk, playing golf and obliterating himself?”

GD: And I guess that’s the big question ‘cause a big challenge for you guys coming into the series was how do you make this Saul Goodman character endearing.

BO: Yeah, ‘cause who wants to watch a guy who’s that awful all the time? They did. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, who wrote “Better Call Saul,” they just did an amazing job of making Jimmy McGill a likable guy who’s striving to be rewarded and respected and liked and to do things right.

GD: How do you find that endearing stuff as he gets closer to the dark side of Saul Goodman?

BO: He’s completely burying that side of himself. He’s disconnected himself from the desire to please. I think he’s very wary of anything that feels like needing other people’s approval and wanting society to appreciate him. He’s starting a reactionary response of kicking back and pushing away any societal norms. He’s gonna be a rat and he’s gonna love it.

GD: And as you say, it doesn’t look good for where his relationship with Kim will head because of where we are in “Breaking Bad,” but where do you think his relationship with Kim is right now at the end of Season 4?

BO: He’s feeling kind of strong, ‘cause he gets his law license back and he does it with subterfuge and he does it willingly and thoughtfully and consciously and it works great. So he’s feeling strong, like, “Look at me go!” I feel like that is a likable energy in anyone, but Kim is obviously feeling distanced from him, especially in this moment. He’s certainly gonna try to bridge the gap with Kim, I think, and try to come to her with the argument that, “This is me being great at what I do. How could not like it?” I feel like when you’re in a couple and you’re doing the part of you that works and that makes you happy, for the other person to deny that or not be enamored of it is very confusing. It’s like, “I thought you liked me? This is me.” And in this case, she doesn’t wanna live her life, I don’t think, on the wrong side of the law. So I don’t know how they stay together. I think he’s gonna try to win her over.

GD: Obviously this season we haven’t had Michael McKean, or Chuck, but he still was a big character in the season. How do you think his presence looms?

BO: He’s always there in Jimmy’s heart and in his life story as this judgmental but high standard person he tried to live up to. If he could’ve had his way, Jimmy would’ve won his brother’s trust and love and appreciation in all the right ways. The truth is, somehow Chuck’s ego was gonna keep him from ever giving Jimmy a chance but it’s hard for Jimmy to see that. At this point, he’s just running away from the whole world that Chuck lived in.

GD: As an actor, has Michael’s performance still got a presence in the show as you approach scenes and things like that?

BO: Sure, I think it’s easy for me to recall Michael in that character and to feel the weight of his presence and his expectations that Jimmy is always… He always feels those eyes on him. For some of us, it’s our mother or our father but it can be many people in your life who are that person you aspire to their approval and I think it’ll always stay with him that he wishes he had Chuck’s approval.

GD: With where Jimmy is, what would you say is at the heart of Jimmy McGill as a person?

BO: He wants approval and he wants acceptance, at the least. He’d like respect but he would take acceptance. And in that way, I think he’s like a lot of people. I think that’s the way he’s relatable. He’s not really asking for much, I don’t think. What he hasn’t figured out is how to use his natural skills to get that acceptance. Although, I guess it feels like he’s getting closer to it because he wins at the end of Season 4 and he gets a big win getting his law license back in a short amount of time. But really, that’s all he’s asking for from people.

GD: I guess that’s why it could be so heartbreaking what could potentially happen with Kim is ‘cause she’s the one person who has given him acceptance and respect over the years. She’s the one person who hasn’t given up and believed in Jimmy.

BO: Yeah, she’s given him acceptance and she’s given him faith but she’s also looking at his choice, his overall choice to scam people and to use his own true feelings as he does in front of that board to con them. That’s kind of an awful, ugly thing. It feels wrong to her and it’s understandable and probably also she thinks there’s just no future in it for them together.

GD: What have you learned the most over the course of being in “Better Call Saul”?

BO: You mean from the story itself?

GD: I would say as an actor, as a person, what’s the thing that you understand now that you may have not understood four years ago?

BO: I’m pretty different from Saul Goodman. I’m kind of the opposite in my dealings with people. I prefer a blunt honesty, so blunt that it can be appalling. You can make good comedy out of that, too. I mostly did comedy all my life. I wouldn’t say I’ve developed an appreciation for it, but maybe it’s a feeling that, look, everybody’s got different skills and everybody wants to contribute their skills to whatever we’re doing, the interaction, the project, and you have to accept people for what they’ve got to offer. Everyone at least at some point, they offer their skills in a genuine way, and it may not be what you have and what you prize but it doesn’t mean they’re not being genuine in it. I think that Jimmy is a genuine and mostly good-hearted guy, especially when we first meet him in “Better Call Saul.” And then it gets turned into his worst instincts. He decides to learn the worst lessons from life’s various blows. That’s another lesson, but I think it’s something I knew before which is really, the challenge in life is to try to learn the right lessons. It’s just hard to do.

GD: Where Jimmy was at the very end of the season, how close do you think he is to Saul Goodman?

BO: I think he’s there. I’m not sure that Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan feel this way, but I do. I feel that in his heart and in his mind he’s there. He’s Saul. He just needs to get the office and come up with the idea that, “Who will be beneficiary of these particular skills? Who would value them the most?” I don’t think it’s a long journey to drug dealers and scumbags are gonna appreciate how fast and loose I play with the truth. They’re gonna marvel at it and appreciate it and not in any way have any issue with being a con job lawyer. Whereas, a law firm or, let’s say a banker, a banking firm, or some respectable member of society, they would be less apt to want that kind of lawyer representing them ‘cause they have a certain status in the social scene that they wanna maintain.

GD: How much gas do you think is still in the tank for “Better Call Saul”? How long do you see it potentially going?

BO: I’d like to find out what happens to Gene, the character he is after “Better Call Saul,” after “Breaking Bad,” but I feel like the way these guys tell a story, I feel like maybe two seasons. Maybe. I also like when the story speeds up. I respect how good they are at picking things apart and slowing them down but I like when things go a little faster, so for me, I feel like two seasons would be the outside of it.

GD: Which would bring it close to episode total of “Breaking Bad.” If you did six 10-episode seasons you’re at 60. I think “Breaking Bad” had 62.

BO: Yes. That’d be about right. I’d like to fall short of “Breaking Bad.” If “Breaking Bad” is the mothership then we shouldn’t be as big as them.

GD: No more than six seasons of 10 episodes, really.

BO: That’s my gut but I’m not writing the story.

GD: How have you found acting with Rhea over the seasons?

BO: It’s the best. This season, fourth season, I think we had our best scenes together. A lot of, for me, my favorite scenes were the scenes of domestic interaction with Kim Wexler, Jimmy and Kim together in their house just making breakfast and having a chat and maybe sharing something important but in the context of life carrying on. Not stopping down to tell the other person some big news but smaller stuff. The scene in the bathroom where he says, “What the hell is wrong with me,” and she comforts him, the scene in the morning at breakfast where she says, “Are you gonna go see that therapist,” and he says, “You know, I don’t think that’s right for me,” and she’s kind of understanding of that, those are really delicate, real-feeling scenes that don’t have these big plot movements in them but are kind of massive scenes between a couple where you tell the truth to your partner and they listen without prejudice and are accepting. That’s an amazing thing to be given and I feel like because Rhea and I are such good friends, we’re able to play those scenes well.

GD: Some lightning round questions now. Let’s go with what was your favorite scene to act this season on the show?

BO: That would be the scene in the bathroom with Kim Wexler where Jimmy says, “What the hell is wrong with me,” and she comforts him and he says, “Yeah, I’ll try to go see that therapist.” He’s really just right there. He’s just as present as any person could be on camera and so is Kim Wexler.

GD: What do you think, and it could be the same answer, was the biggest moment for Jimmy this season, the most pivotal in terms of his journey?

BO: The most pivotal moment is the end, the very end where he is excited and happy and tells Kim, “Look what I did! I pulled it off! I tricked ‘em and you helped me. You were right, Kim, thank you! You helped me!” And then he goes, “It’s all good, man!” And we know he’s gonna be Saul Goodman now and he’s just so inspired by conning those people with his true feelings and manipulating his way back into legitimacy.

GD: You’ve said how you’re not like Jimmy or Saul. How are you most like Jimmy or Saul?

BO: I relate to Jimmy’s desire to find his place. Obviously, I did comedy for a long time and I did very well in comedy but then I kind of rediscovered a different sort of place I could work. Not many people get a second chance that they didn’t even ask for (laughs). Not many people get an opportunity to redefine themselves to their industry that they work in. So that’s an interesting thing of finding yourself and then re-finding yourself, [that] I think Jimmy goes through.

GD: What’s been your favorite line as Jimmy or Saul Goodman? Or Gene, if you wanna add Gene.

BO: Yeah, Gene hasn’t said much. I love when Saul is funny. What does he say to Walter White when he visits Jesse in the hospital and he says, “Look, now you’re the most handsome Beatle.” That’s a pretty funny, screwed-up line. I like the funny stuff that Saul gets to do. I don’t have any lines off the top of my head but that one.

GD: And it was great to see the film crew back in some different roles this season.

BO: Oh yeah, those guys kill me. I loved doing the scam when I’m on the phone playing a preacher. That was a really fun scene this season. I loved doing the New Orleans accent, the comical New Orleans accent that is pretty overstated but it was very fun to do.

GD: That was great. Last question about “Better Call Saul” before we quickly shift to something else. With “Better Call Saul,” what is it a show about? If you were to sum up the show in a very short sentence or a word what would you tell people the show is about?

BO: The show is about finding your place in society, the most effective place for your personality and skills and searching for that and finding it.

GD: That’s good, I like it. Now, Bob, I wanted to finish off, I ask you each time we talk which books are you reading at the moment, get a few book recommendations from you.

BO: I’m reading “Naples 44.” It’s a British intelligence officer who’s accompanying the American troops as they enter Naples at the end of World War II, it’s just wrapping up, and it’s his diary. I’m reading Knausgaard, Book Six, which is a really, really long book called “My Struggle, Book 6.” It’s pretty good. Not the best of the six books. I’m gonna go over here ‘cause I’m reading some great, great books. I’m reading my friend Erin Carr’s book, “All That You Leave Behind,” which is about her father, David Carr. I’m reading “Sticky Fingers,” which is a book about what’s his face, Jann Wenner, who ran Rolling Stone and is an awful person. I’m reading this great, great book, “Hellhound on My Trail.” So great, Hampton Sides, about Martin Luther King’s last days. I just started, this is a great book, “The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean. I’ve got a couple more but you wouldn’t believe me anymore after that many.

GD: I remember when I see Rhea Seehorn I was talking to her about how many books you were reading.

BO: Yeah, I mean if I get going on one that’s really good, like that Susan Orlean book, I might just stop reading everything else and blaze through that. But “Naples 44” is a journal so you can read three entries and be fascinated by its human behavior in wartime and how awful it is. It’s stunning. Some things you can easily pick up and put down.

GD: When we talked last you recommended “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” which I got when I was up there that year for the Emmys. I actually got that book.

BO: Oh yeah! Did you enjoy it?

GD: Yeah, loved it. I loved how short it was as well. It was great. I hadn’t seen the movies of that so I didn’t really know where it was going or anything. There’s the line, “Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing. Stealing a man’s car, that’s larceny.”

BO: (Laughs.) So many great lines.

GD: It was a great legal, ethical, moral statement that you could see very much in the world of “Better Call Saul,” really. And you did say that if you recommended any book for Jimmy, it would be “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” perhaps ‘cause you were reading it at the time. Let’s assume Jimmy’s already read that book and maybe learned some lessons from it. What book would you recommend that he read next?

BO: I want him to read a book that’ll teach him that the ends don’t really justify the means, but that’s a tough one because the question is up in the air, somewhat. That would be the Bible (laughs). I’m an atheist but I guess that’s meant to be the ultimate lesson of that book.

GD: I guess the story of Jesus on the cross is through suffering, his end is through persecution, not necessarily through earthly, military victory.

BO: Yeah, but the question is would he buy it? I don’t think he would.

GD: Yeah, probably not, but anyway, Bob, it’s always such a pleasure talking and “Better Call Saul” does so well at the awards with Emmy nominations and your Golden Globe nominations that you’ve had in the past. So all the best with them going forward.

BO: Thank you so much. I love the appreciation and the attention to the show. I always think about all the writers who work so hard. They’re the stars. The writing is the star of the show and then the crew that gives their all to the show. To me, the attention is really for everyone and I appreciate it.

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