In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Breaking Bad, Entertainment Weekly hosted “Breaking Bad: Saul’s Origin Story” at the ATX Television Festival. The festival, promoted as “TV Camp for Adults”, ran June 7-10 in Austin, Texas. Fans were treated to the episode of Breaking Bad, shown on the big screen at the Paramount Theater, in which the Saul Goodman character was introduced. Afterwards, Entertainment Weekly’s Sarah Rodman interviewed series creator Vince Gilligan and star Bob Odenkirk.
Rodman asked Odenkirk what he remembered best about the origin episode.
“I’d been writing pilots for several years and nothing was going anywhere,” Odenkirk recalled. “Then Vince gave me this chance. I certainly remember the scene with the phonetic Spanish and the grave.”
Breaking Bad with Saul
In the origin episode, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, in ski masks, kidnap Goodman and are threatening to shoot him as he stands next to an open grave in the desert. He speaks Spanish to them, thinking that might be their native language.
“Thank goodness there was someone there on the set to correct my pronunciation,” Odenkirk said.
Gilligan recalled: “After we saw the episode, we started joking around in the writers room about a Saul Goodman series. After a while, we began to take the joke more seriously. We wanted to keep the fans we had developed for Breaking Bad.”
Rodman asked if they ever considered making the spin-off a comedy.
Gilligan replied, “We sold the idea to Sony without really knowing what we were doing. We thought it was going to be a half-hour sitcom. Each week famous people would come in and have their legal problems solved by Saul. We then realized we knew nothing about doing half-hour comedy and we were sure we couldn’t do an entire hour of funny, so it morphed into what you see now.”
Rodman wondered if once they committed to the idea whether they had to go back and re-watch all the episodes of Breaking Bad.
Gilligan said, “We try to know our history of Breaking Bad so we could keep the storyline straight. There is a line when Saul says, ‘two wives ago.’ We are still figuring out how we’re going to work that in.”
Who is Saul
Odenkirk added, “On Breaking Bad you only saw Saul at work. My concept was that he played a lot of golf and hung out at strip clubs every night. He even thought a couple of the strippers liked him, although on another level he was smart enough to know they didn’t.”
Odenkirk continued, “I know people in show business like Saul. They have situational ethics. They move on from failure really quick. I build Saul on people like that I’ve met and worked around. But mostly I draw everything from the script. Saul is entertaining himself a lot as he speaks. He uses words as a mislead and a way of keeping the ball in the air.”
Rodman asked if Gilligan had any trepidations about doing an aftermath show.
Gilligan nodded. “Absolutely,” he said. “We were coming off something we didn’t think would be a hit and it turned out it was way beyond any conception we had. We didn’t want to leave a bad aftertaste in anyone’s mouth. I decided we had better keep working right after Breaking Bad ended. If I stopped, I knew I would seize up. So, it was good that we finished the last script of Breaking Bad and the next week we opened the writers’ room for Better Call Saul. I know it sounds silly now, but I could not be more proud of Better Call Saul.”
Rodman, Gilligan and Odenkirk discussed the casting of Better Call Saul.
Odenkirk mentioned that he’s been aware of Michael McKean who plays Saul’s older brother for a long time. “I listened to him and Harry Shearer on the Credibility Gap when I was in college. I was thrilled when we got him to do an episode of Mr. Show. He is so good as Chuck McGill. Working opposite people who are that good raises your game. You feed off their energy and power. He hasn’t been given all the roles to show how serious he could be. Working next to him made me better.”
Rodman invited questions from the audience.
One audience member asked, “I heard that if there was another spin-off it would be about Kim. Was that a joke? Don’t let it be a joke.” The questioner was referring to the character Kim Wexler, an attorney working with Saul, played by Rhea Seehorn.
Gilligan replied, “At a certain point, how many spin-offs does the universe support?”
Odenkirk tried to lift the fan’s spirits. “The Jimmy and Kim relationship this fourth season is going to knock you out. The only person left for Jimmy to care about is Kim. It’s just so well written. There are some scenes between Kim and Jimmy that are just another level of writing. Outside of character, those moments are what a real couple needs to have every year.”
Another fan asked: “What was the most important thing on Breaking Bad?”
Gilligan replied, “Comfortable shoes. I don’t have a lot of confidence. I would be so excited about something and pitch it to people and they’d not be moved. But don’t let people do that to you. Remember that William Goldman quote.”
Gilligan reference was to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride screenwriter William Goldman’s observation about Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.”
Odenkirk added: “I’ve gotten so much out of this experience.” He paused. “It’s hard for me to talk about it.” The crowd realized he was choking up and they applauded.
As he got his composure back, he added, “When I was running Mr Show I’d tell people to always work with people better than you. If you’re the best person in the room, get out of the room. It might feel good, but you’re not learning anything. You’ve got to be putting it all up and getting results. Don’t sit in the corner. Get out and interact.”
(Photos by author)