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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea