Rhea Seehorn has popped up all over television this past year. She was in The Twilight Zone episode “Not All Men,” as a woman fighting off men gone mad in the wake of a meteor shower. She appeared in The Act as the cousin of Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette). And she played Michelle, the chief of staff and sidepiece of Hugh Laurie’s Tom James on Veep, which afforded her the opportunity to absorb a barrage of insults from Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Meyer.
But Seehorn is best known for her role as the almost-morally-centered Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul, which could result in her first Emmy nomination next month. During a brief break from production on season five of Saul, which returns in 2020, Seehorn talked via phone about the similarities and differences between that show and Veep, the finale of Better Call Saul season four, and, of course, Kim’s revelatory ponytail.
When you come back to Better Call Saul after working on other projects, to what extent does that inform your work? I’m thinking especially about Veep, because my sense was that their process is fairly different from Better Call Saul’s.
It is. What was extremely similar to Saul is the attention to the writing — very similar to what I’m used to on Saul. Veep does bounce back and forth between the comedy of the tragedy and the tragedy of the comedy — it tips towards comedy and [Saul] is tipped towards drama, but it is fun getting the extreme pleasure of being on two shows. Up till the last day that I was there, and I had the great pleasure of being able to be there on there very last day, I was like, “Wow, these people are still searching for that one last layer to unpeel from your character.” That was super cool because I know that that is unique to only a few shows. Better Call Saul does that as well.
But I’m guessing on Saul, you’re not necessarily doing a lot of improv.
That’s correct, we don’t do alternate [takes] like many, many comedies do — even sitcoms that I did live in front of the audience, you have your writers coming up and giving you alt jokes. On Veep, I felt like they were pushing themselves character-wise, language-wise. But you are correct that on our set, it’s a different thing. The individual episodic writer and individual episodic director is on the floor, and then [Saul co-creator] Peter Gould is weighing in constantly through tone meetings and conference calls, but not always on set. Changing a line would be a massive chain of questions and approvals that we wouldn’t have time for if we did too many of them.
We ask questions on our first draft. Primarily that’s when the actors can weigh in, but usually they’re more context questions. Very few times it’s actually text and language. We’re talking about an embarrassment of riches as far as I’m concerned, because writers that I discuss work with, both on Better Call Saul and Veep, these are people on top of the game.
At the end of Better Call Saul season four, Jimmy delivers his testimony to get his license back, which is really a scene that is as much about Kim as it is about him. What was it like shooting that? And how did Kim’s reactions to his testimony evolve?
It was challenging, but in a good way — the way an actor wants to be challenged. For the first time, she feels scammed by him and feels like the sucker, which is something she can’t stand, not from anyone, let alone him. Kim tries to control everything and be on top of everything for that very reason. It’s the pain of realizing that your emotions were wrong. That your intuition was wrong. That what you thought was real was wrong. And I think a lot of people could identify with that. It’s a very disorienting thing.
For better, for worse, she always knew that he came from being a con man. But for seasons now, he’s been actually the most loyal and honest person in her life. The people that were the pillars of the law were the ones that were lying. So it’s a tough moment. I would think that she would have a million questions, but he just walks out and you get that terrific ending of being speechless. Where do you even begin to ask somebody about what you just went through? And what do you say? As blunt and as strong as she is, I don’t think she deals with her own emotions very well. At all.
In her mind, there are boundaries to their cons. One of those rules would be that they are always honest with each other.
Yeah. As long as I can trust that we’re on the same page. It’s such a great scene, too, because he’s not maliciously laughing in her face. He always means well and, frankly, so does she, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best for them. For the relationship. He just didn’t know that this would hurt. And she’s not always capable of saying she’s hurt. She just swallows it.
I’m sure that there’s not a lot you can say about season five.
But can you tell me anything about Kim? We know she’s not in Breaking Bad, obviously, but we don’t know why. From an acting perspective, is she dealing with even more layers of morality in the upcoming season?
I can tell you that I am still surprised by the scripts. They are constantly evolving, these characters, mine included, and none of them ever feel stuck. When they grapple with something, it just feels like, Oh right, this thing that’s been bubbling is there. It’s like, How far can a character be stretched before something snaps? The scripts continue to be page-turners and nail-biters. It still makes my heart beat out of my chest because I’m just like, What is happening? What is she thinking? How do you process all of that?
One of the things that was the most fun with last season, because Jimmy became so distant, it felt like the audience became my greatest confidante. They’re with me when I stay silent in scenes and refuse to speak or hold back anger or compartmentalize one more kind of con. There’s just so many times where the only person in the figurative room that knows what is going on is the audience. I enjoy that quite a bit. Because, holy crap, those are smart viewers. They don’t have to be spoon-fed anything.
Can I assume that your ponytail is still going to be an emotional barometer next season?
I don’t actually …
Are you going to wear a Mohawk or something?
I am not allowed to talk about hair. We’re not allowed to do any photos. I feel bad — we run into fans when we’re shooting but we can’t be photographed in costume at all. But it’s funny that now, because of the ponytail, people will clock what’s going on if I were to post a photo of my hairdo. I can tell you that a lot of decision-making goes into my hairdo.
Well, I love that. A lot of times, people sadly tend to think, “Oh, makeup and hair is surface stuff,” but it’s such a rich part of character interpretation in this case.
Oh yeah, it’s all deeply thought out. It was important to us, like, certain women don’t change their hair or their makeup or their jewelry very often. They wear separates from Marshall’s until they can afford the suit. Even the bruising from Kim’s car accident that went on for episodes and episodes and episodes, it’s like, “In this scene, she’s going to the office, so she’ll put makeup on it. What does it look like if you put makeup on a bruise that’s four days old?”
Being immersed in production in Albuquerque, how does that affect you as a performer?
I miss my family greatly and they try to come see me and I try to come see them, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the immersion in the work when it’s this challenging is helpful. You feel what it is like to be a resident here, what it is like to see this every day. It’s both beautiful and isolating the way these desert landscapes are. The mercurial weather. And then, also the concentration level you’re afforded. I’m not supposed to do anything except make her a real person. Like, that’s my job 24/7. What a gift!
The setting feels like such a huge part of the show, too.
It’s a huge part! There’s a lot of things shooting there that pretend Albuquerque is something else, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Go, Albequerque! I’m happy for them to get all those dollars. But there is something very cool about shooting Albequerque for Albequerque. We’re not pretending it’s a different city. We’re taking in the fact that it is a very interesting place. It can feel like a landscape that never ends, and then the other days the suffocating heat feels more like a trap. It’s a really mysterious, odd, wonderful place.