Interview Date: 01/14/2010
Run Date: 03/19/2010
With a comedic legacy which includes stints on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Ben Stiller Show,” and, of course, the legendary HBO sketch series “Mr. Show,” it was somewhat surprising to see Bob Odenkirk turn up in the cast of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” Fortunately, we needed only meet the character of Saul Goodman for a few moments before realizing that, despite the amount of intense drama on the series, Odenkirk was still going to be in a position to make with the funny. Bullz-Eye caught up with Odenkirk after the “Breaking Bad” panel at the Winter 2010 TCA Press Tour, and we took the opportunity to ask him about his experiences on the series, some of his past comedic collaborators, and whether or not he buys the suggestion that Walt, Jesse, and Saul are a modern –day Three Stooges.
Bob Odenkirk: How’s it going, man?
Bullz-Eye: Good to meet you, sir. Sorry to interrupt your meal.
BO: No, no, that’s okay. That’s what we’re doing here. The meal is interrupting you. How about that?
BE: All right, I feel a little better about it when you put it like that. (Laughs) So…Saul Goodman.
BO: Yes, Saul Goodman.
BE: Very shady guy.
BE: I mean that in the best possible way, of course. So did they approach you for the role?
BO: Vince Gilligan offered me the role.
BE: That’s not a bad deal.
BO: Yeah. And I had never seen the show, so I called a friend who…I didn’t know if he had seen it or not. I just called somebody I thought might have. I was going to call a couple of people and see if anybody knew about the show. This is after the first season had run. I mean, I had seen the billboards and stuff, but I had never seen the show. And my friend that I called, the first friend I called, said, “Oh, that’s my favorite show on TV.” So right away I was excited. And then I talked to Vince, and I said, “I can do a shady lawyer, but the problem is I’m not Jewish. Saul Goodman is Jewish.” And he goes, “Oh, no, no. He’s not Jewish.” And he goes, “What are you?” “I’m Irish.” “Oh, he’s Irish. You know, he’s Irish, but he took this name to try to win the appreciation of the gangbangers who would use him, so they’d think they have a Jewish lawyer.” Everything he does is a play to get more, you know what I mean? Or to get things to go his way. That’s why…you know, it’s a simple joke, but when I say “Breaking Bad” is a show about a shifty lawyer and how he makes it big… (Laughs) I mean, that’s the way to look at it for me, because that’s how Saul looks at it.
BE: So when they pitched you the part, how evolved was the character? For instance, did they already know that he was going to have comedic aspects?
BO: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was all written in. I don’t improvise lines at all.
BO: Not at all. I mean, literally, the littlest things are written in, you know. I mean, the writers are very good at the cadence of how Saul talks, and so they put in little asides and double talk and back track, and I can find the rhythm of it pretty quick. And I think they know how I talk now, too, so it’s kind of…it’s gotten easier to do, but it’s all scripted, yeah.
BE: Even from the first episode, there was a lot of chatter online of people saying, “There’s no way that Saul makes it through this entire season. He’s so shady that surely someone is going to shoot him.”
BO: You know what? I agree. I think Saul gets taken out, but I don’t know when or by whom…or if it’ll happen, really. The other thing is, I’ve said that to a couple of people, and I’ve also had people say, “Oh, no, no, no, no. Saul’s the only guy who walks away!”
BE: Saul may get a spinoff.
BO: Could be, could be.
BE: Given that some of your lines are extremely quotable and definitely comedic, was it an issue with the other actors having to keep a straight face?
BO: You know, I think they enjoy watching me play this guy. They’re pretty focused on their own character when they’re doing it, but I’ve had a couple of them crack up after a take and say, “That was great!” I think Saul is…he’s the only guy in the whole show who’s not playing for his life. He’s playing for fun and for money. Everyone else is playing for their life, or the lives of their family. Do you know what I mean? It’s pretty…the stakes are high, except for me. My character is just trying to make a lot of money. And somebody asked me about what happens in this coming season, and I would just…I’m not allowed to say much, you know? But one thing I think happens is that the stakes get a little higher for Saul.
BE: You know, I saw Saul’s commercial, my first thought was, “Well, he got a lot of practice for this on ‘Tim and Eric.’”
BO: (Laughs) Yep. It’s true, yeah. It’s funny to see a character go from that world of comedy to kind of the intensity of the moments on “Breaking Bad.” But you can kind of see both can go exist in Saul.
BE: Was it hard to grasp him because of that?
BO: Um, it didn’t take me too long, but, yeah, it was a little hard to find out where Saul’s tone was. But, you know, it’s not unlike "The Larry Sanders Show" that I was on, when I played Stevie Grant. That show had such a reality feel to it. Again, the stakes there weren’t nearly as high as “Breaking Bad,” so there wasn’t the heaviness that “Breaking Bad” has. But, you know, there’s similarities with Stevie Grant from that show.
BE: On the same theme, looking back at the season, Saul went from being a funny character to a serious character to a full-fledged legal bad-ass. Do you have thoughts on when those moments occurred for you?
BO: Well, he was a legal badass when he bought Jesse’s house. You know, the house he grew up in, away from his parents, and he cut an incredible deal for it. He busted balls with that country club lawyer. I think Saul is always all three of those things. He’s always a comic clown; he’s always a genuine mover and shaker; you know, and he’s kind of always playing on every level. He shifts around fast, too. He’ll go from lying to somebody and kind of bull shitting them, to getting scared and pushing back or giving in.
BE: Given that someone used the term “consigliore” to describe Saul earlier, you didn’t happen to check in with Robert Duvall for any advice on how to play the part, did you?
BO: (Laughs) Can you imagine that? “Hey, Bobby, how’d you do it?” It’s funny to think of him as a consigliere, and to think about the character of Tom in the “The Godfather,” who is so sober and seemingly the nicest guy in the whole family, right? And then Saul is just such a rat.
BE: There’s a quote from you, I actually think it’s on AMC, where you said, “There’s a lot of guys like Saul who are good at what they do, and some day you too may have to go see Saul Goodman.” I take it thus far you yourself have not yet had to?
BO: No. No, I haven’t had to yet. But they are out there; they’re for real. Saul is based on real guys. You know that office that I have in the show? With the pillars and everything? It’s based on a real office of a lawyer in Albuquerque. He doesn’t have that exact thing, but he has an office that is designed to impress clientele who are essentially lowlifes. I mean, it’s an amazing character. He’s one of these guys who is on bus stop bench ads and backs of rear buses and on billboards. And he’s like Saul. I mean, he’s just making money. He actually franchises himself around the country. The guy who runs it, he starts offices in different cities. He doesn’t actually do law there, but he gets somebody local to appear as the character. That’s a character. It’s…interesting. (Laughs)
BE: Love the business mullet, by the way. I heard that was all you, that you came up with Saul’s hairstyle.
BO: Mm-hmm. As soon as Vince told me what he did, I said, “I already know what his hair is like.” It was on the first phone call. I go, “I want to have a mullet,” because Saul thinks of himself as young, you know, and a mullet is a way to have long hair, young hair, but still be clean on the sides so he can go to court. And a comb over, you know, because he’s not young. You know, he’s just telling himself he is.
BE: I have heard that it’s said you are kind of the Larry to Walt and Jesse’s Moe and Curly.
BO: Wow! That’s a funny parallel.
BE: Can you see it?
BO: Um…who’s Curly?
BE: Curly would be Jesse, I guess.
BO: Then, yeah, I do see it. Yeah. Larry tried to negotiate between Curly and Moe a little. He tried to explain things and make headway with those two idiots. And then Curly just annoyed Moe. And then Moe tried to get jobs done; he tried to lead and he found it hard to do. By the way, how great are The Three Stooges?
BE: The Stooges are awesome.
BO: I heard that AMC ran a marathon, and that the shorts were refurbished…? Anyway, I heard it was great.
BE: I saw as much as I could get away with without letting my four-year-old daughter see them. Not quite yet.
BO: Yeah, my kids finally saw the Stooges and year and a half ago, and they are nine and eleven. They loved them.
BE: I’ve got volume one of the shorts ready to roll, whenever I feel that she’s up to the challenge.
BO: Well, if you have two kids, that becomes the danger because you don’t want them playing Stooges and hitting each other.
BE: Well, my daughter goes over to a sitter’s house with two other little girls, so I just have visions of “The Three Stooges: the Next Generation” kicking in.
BO: (Laughs) Yeah, you have to wait. You have to wait until she can understand that that’s a joke. That’s what we had to do, too, because my son…if we showed it to him when he was six, he would have acted it out.
BE: Okay, I’ve got a couple of non-“Breaking Bad” questions for you.
BE: I was curious about your directorial stuff. I’ve seen and enjoyed “Melvin Goes to Dinner,” but then you did “Let's Go to Prison” and “The Brothers Solomon,” which are decidedly different styles of films. Do you have a preference as far as the type films that you direct, or do you just enjoy the challenge of directing, period?
BO: I enjoyed the challenge of directing, period. And now I just want to make the kind of movies that I like. And I think “Melvin” is the closest to what I’d like to make. But I enjoyed making the other films. I especially think “Let’s Go to Prison” was…I feel like I directed it well. But honestly, the kind of films…I wrote a movie last year, and it’s closer to “Melvin” than anything.
BE: Is it the “Unkillable Servant of Justice”?
BO: Oh no, no, no, no. No, it’s another movie, another script. It’s just out there now. It just went out. But it’s closest to “Melvin”. But I think from now on, with directing, I’m just going to direct things that are sort of more in that tone. Kind of a realist, low-concept comedy. Yeah. It’s just I get it and I understand how to make a feature out of it. The other stuff…I don’t know that I’m that good at handling the broader comedy as a feature.
BE: I interviewed Dana Gould the other day…
BO: Oh, really?
BE: …and I know you directed his stand-up special.
BO: Yeah. I love that special.
BE: Yeah, so do I .
BO: I love it! Man, I’m glad you like it.
BE: He said that Andy Dick was on the Paul Provenza “Green Room” thing that he just did.
BO: Oh, yeah?
BE: Yeah, he said that at first when he found out that Andy was going to be there, he was really concerned and was, like, “Oh, God, Andy, he’s such a trial.” But he said that within a couple of minutes he realized that he was looking at the old Andy. And immediately he cot on the phone to call people and tell them, “Old Andy is back, Old Andy is back!”
BO: I’m sorry to hear that.
BE: No, no, he meant “Old Andy” as in “Andy before all of his issues.”
BO: Oh, pre-issues. (Hesitates) Really? When did he do this interview? It was recent…? Because Andy got that leg cuff, you know, and I thought maybe he slipped back.
BE: No, no. My understanding is that he is still very much on the wagon.
BO: Well, I am thrilled. I love Andy. He’s a very funny guy and I love him and I want him to do really well. And in order for that to happen, he has to not get fucked up. So that’s great. That’s good to hear. He’s such a funny guy. Isn’t Andy hilarious?
BE: He is. I interviewed him for his web series, “House Arrest,” which is very funny…and which you were on, if memory serves.
BE: Okay, I thought so. You do a lot of guest appearances with fellow alumni of the series you’ve been on. Is that something where everybody just feels comfortable calling everybody else up?
BO: Yeah. You just call your friends. Yeah, I love my friends. I’ve got a lot of good ones.
BE: Do you have a favorite of those appearances?
BO: Do you mean just like fun, guest stuff?
BO: I loved being on “Tim and Eric.” I always have fun. I love that show. That is so funny. Isn’t it great? Do you guys write about it?
BE: We have, actually. In fact, one of our guys lives in Pittsburgh, and he went to one of the stage shows.
BO: You know, the new season starts up soon. I can’t wait to see the new season. I mean, I’ve seen some of it, but…you know what I mean.
BE: Do you have a favorite bit from the show that you’ve done?
BO: No, but every time I have a blast. You know they had me do all of the cinco commercials. Those are fun. Those are fun to do. The outlandish products. What was the thing I did…I just did one. Oh, God, it was so stupid. It was so dumb. Oh, right: it’s a chair you sit in to watch your friends sleep. (Laughs)
BE: Okay, I’ve got two more, but they’re both quick.
BO: Okay, shoot.
BE: First off, do you have a favorite sketch from your days on “Saturday Night Live” sketch that didn’t necessarily go over well or maybe didn’t even make it to air that you still hold in high regard?
BO: Um…I wrote a sketch for Steve Martin about an OB guy who tries to get the baby, who sues to keep the baby because he knows so much more about babies than these idiot parents. And it was really good, but it had the misfortune of being the first sketch that Steve did on the dress rehearsal of an episode the day that Gilda Radner passed away, which was just one of the saddest things ever at that show. People loved her. I didn’t know her but you know, she was the sweetest lady. And so Steve was all torn up and the audience was not really in the mood for what was happening, so it kind of ate it. But I think it was a really good sketch, it just didn’t have a chance. So it’s so funny you bring that up. I never thought about that.
BE: And then when it comes to you and David Cross, is there still a chance for another show with the two of you together?
BO: Oh, yeah, we’re going to do something together. Absolutely. There is no question. We started writing a live show two weeks ago when he was here. We want to do another live show. Maybe in a year or a year and a half. My kids are older now so I can leave, so we can do a live tour. It’ll be really fun, yeah.
BE: All right, Bob, it’s been good talking with you. Enjoy the rest of your pizza.BO: All right, Will, I’ll see you again!