Saul Goodman has consistently been the calm and collected comedian of Breaking Bad, but on Sunday’s episode, we finally saw him start to sweat. Bob Odenkirk, who plays Saul, let us in on his character’s newfound troubles. “He’s trying to keep all the danger at arm’s length and he’s starting to figure out that he’s not doing that too well. That’s a bummer I think, for poor Saul.” Odenkirk took time off working on a new movie script to talk to us about Saul’s schemes, how Mr. Show and SNL influenced his role, and his knowledge of the law.
On Sunday’s episode, Saul actually had to fight to sell his shady business ventures to Jesse and Walt. The money laundering can’t really be in their best interest, can it? Skylar isn’t convinced.
No, never. I think Saul was really happy when he met Walt because he’s kind of a white guy like him. Kind of a guy he could trust to behave and do things right and take orders. And what he’s finding out now is that anybody dealing in drugs, anybody doing those kind of nefarious behaviors, is going to get him embroiled in the dark side, which he doesn’t want to get near. He just wants other people to do it and then he wants to skim the money off the top. I think he’s just getting more involved than he wants to be in the whole thing.
He met his match in Walt.
Oh yeah: Walt’s smarter than Saul, but Saul’s a player. I mean, Saul doesn’t have too much on the line yet, he just wants to make a lot of money and Walt is pissing him off by having all these entanglements. He’s just thinking about how to play the situation all the time, you know?
Saul’s appearances on the show are almost little comedy sketches. Do you use your background in sketch comedy [writing for Late Night With Conan, SNL, and Mr. Show]?
Yeah, I mean it’s not a show about me, so I think that’s the job of a character actor — to pop in and do your thing and bring your flavor to the mix and then get out and let other people run with the ball. Does it help me to understand it? Yeah, I think it probably does, to keep him a little bit limited. He doesn’t have a lot to worry about, Saul. He’s just trying to make money and he doesn’t have to worry about the health and safety of his family.
Does Saul have a family? Or did you make up your own backstory for him?
No, we don’t know it, but my personal feeling is his family disowned him [laughs]. You know, whatever, he’s got a family back in Chicago or something and he doesn’t get along with them.
Have you helped out with the writing of the character?
I only write the extracurricular stuff: the websites, like bettercallsaul.com and stuff like that. But I don’t write any of the actual shows. There’s just too much going on there for me to know. The writers work so hard to construct these intricate webs. Mostly Vince Gilligan, but Peter Gould’s been the writer for Saul. I do have lots of fun improvising Saul on the website, but on the show, since we have to serve the plot, and the plot is so intricate, I follow the script.
How do you come up with the ideas for bettercallsaul.com?
I think of things that are funny! I think about things that make me laugh. You know, stupid stuff. And then I figure out a way to share it with the world. My friend Tom Gianas and I were talking today about a town that is only made up of hipsters. All they have on Main Street is bookstores. They have twelve bookstores. Twelve independent bookstores [laughs].
That’s pretty much Williamsburg, New York.
[Laughs.] Yes! They have coffee shops and bookstores and they have no supermarkets; they can’t get gas; they have no heating. [Laughs.] They’re in deep trouble because they have no necessities of life. So you know, it just comes off things I see that make me laugh and then just think of a way to have fun with that.
What’s it like being on a drama for the first time?
Well, it is a little weird for me. It’s different, something I’ve never done before. I get a lot of focus and energy from being in scenes and working with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. You kind of leech off them, you know? From the first script I got, I knew that I had to focus more than in my comedic roles. It demands that you think about it more and think about who the character is and how you play him and what you do and what you don’t do. You’re not as free to goof around. You have to know this guy. You can’t step out of it or fool around too much. The writers have thought long and hard about this guy and who he is and what he wants. You’ve got to stick to it, otherwise it won’t make sense. It’s a challenge, but a fun one.
Dean Norris told us about shadowing real DEA agents for role research. Did you hang out with any sleazy lawyers?
[Laughs.] No, I did not. I just used my own natural sleaziness. And my own knowledge of the law, which is probably about as much as Saul knows. Saul doesn’t necessarily know the law, with his illegal degree from some online university in Mexico [laughs]. But he knows the system. He knows the judges and he knows who to pay off; he knows how to bribe people. That might even be more important than knowing the law. But I think Saul and I are probably equals when it comes to the law.