Bob Odenkirk interview: Better recall Saul

Bob Odenkirk, aka the hit drama’s Saul Goodman, tells Sarah Hughes about new show ‘Fargo’ and  returning to the role that changed his life

When I tell people I’m interviewing Bob Odenkirk everyone makes the same joke. “Oh wow,” they say. “So you’re going to call Saul?” Yep, that’s right, I reply the first, fifth and fifteenth time, I really am. After all, who better to call? It’s not my friends’ fault that they can’t resist the gag. For millions of Breaking Bad fans, left bereft by the end of the drug-dealing saga last year after five astonishing seasons, Bob Odenkirk is Saul Goodman, the slimy, fast-talking lawyer who stole any number of scenes and has now earned his own spin-off series – named, you guessed it, Better Call Saul. Though before that – shock, horror – comes a non-Saul TV role, in Fargo, the small-screen spin-off of the Coen Brothers’ Minnesota-set crime drama, which kicks off tonight.

The real Odenkirk is far from slimy; he’s funny, laid-back and down-to-earth, traits possibly attributable to the fact that success has come late in life. He was 48 when he was cast in Breaking Bad, having previously enjoyed a varied three decades as a comedy writer, actor and producer, which included a stint writing for Saturday Night Live and appearing in his own HBO sketch show, Mr Show.

However, to most TV viewers, he was the guy who popped up everywhere from The Larry Sanders Show to Entourage, to the chorus of “wait ... where do I know him from?” Saul was a career transformation and one that Odenkirk remains slightly baffled by. “Vince Gilligan [the creator of Breaking Bad] really went out on a limb for me,” he says. “I always knew I liked acting and performing but I considered myself a writer first.”

As it was, when Gilligan first contacted him, he thought it was a mistake. “It sounds really stupid but part of me really thought they must have the wrong guy. I couldn’t quite get rid of the idea that I’d show up and they’d say ‘not you, we were thinking of a different Bob Odenkirk – the one who was at the Royal Shakespeare academy’.”

Filming on Better Call Saul begins at the end of May and the actor is as much in the dark as the rest of us as to how the new story will unfold – or so he claims.  “I talked to Vince and was told a very complex and incredibly involving story that took about half an hour for him to explain. It was utterly gripping and then at the end he said ‘Of course none of that is in the show’,” he says, laughing. “I was all ‘wait put that in, it’s awesome.”

What we do know is that the show will be a prequel detailing how Saul made it to his gloriously gaudy office in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Odenkirk says it will be lighter in tone if only because “things couldn’t have been more desperately bad and scary than they were in Breaking Bad… but really I’ve kept myself out of the decision-making – as far as the story goes I’m just planning to act my pants off, that’s really my only plan.”

That plan has served him very well in recent years: Odenkirk has also been making inroads on the big screen with juicy roles in Alexander Payne’s haunting Nebraska and superior teen movie The Spectacular Now. And now comes Fargo, for which he swapped the parched landscape of New Mexico for filming in the snowy wastes of Calgary, Canada. Amid a starry cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, Odenkirk plays Bill Oswalt, a seemingly incompetent provincial deputy sheriff who finds his patch beset by murder and violence. It is, he admits, something of a palate cleanser. 

“Part of the appeal was certainly that Bill is the polar opposite of Saul Goodman,” he admits. “He hasn’t got a plan. He’s very innocent, possibly the most innocent person in the whole show, and that was a lot of fun to play. I needed something different before I returned to the comb-over.”

As a writer himself – he will publish his first book, a collection of comic essays called A Load of Hooey, in October – Odenkirk clearly picks his projects for the scripts and Fargo’s is a humdinger, filled with well-drawn characters and, like the film, wringing humour from the collision of quaint, small-town characters and grisly happenings. “Well, jeez, do you think this could be, like, an organised crime thing, you know, a hit or the like?’ says Oswalt’s likeable deputy Molly on finding a local businessman with a knife through his head in the first episode.

“When I read Fargo the thing that appealed was that there was a lot of cleverness,” says Odenkirk. “It’s not just a remake of the film but [showrunner] Noah [Hawley] understands what made the movie so entertaining.”

As new scripts start flowing in, he feels the important thing that Breaking Bad did was make him a viable prospect financially. “I was seen for roles all the time before Saul – Alex Payne saw me for a couple of things before Nebraska, we’ve known each other for years – but [Breaking Bad’s] success allowed the front office to consider me seriously – because now they knew who I was.”

One has to wonder what it must be like to land such a career-defining role at a stage in life when you are pretty certain who you are. Odenkirk laughs. “I absolutely think that if I was a young actor and had this opportunity ahead of me it would just have been unbelievably and romantically huge and even more frightening… but I’m married, I have two kids who are nearly grown and so I can keep things in perspective. Saul will probably last longer than most of the projects I’ve done but I don’t let it define me in any way.”

You believe him. There are few actors out there who seem entirely comfortable in their skin, but Bob Odenkirk is one of them.

‘Fargo’ starts tonight on Channel 4 at 9pm

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas