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

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor