Vince Gilligan Interview: ‘Better Call Saul,’ Backstories, and Bob Odenkirk

Vince Gilligan Better Call Saul Season 1 Interview
Bob Odenkirk, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan (Photo by Jacob Lewis / AMC)

At the 2015 Television Critics Association winter press event, AMC’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul creator Vince Gilligan was a much sought-after interview. Breaking Bad finished its five season award-winning run in 2013 and the prequel Better Call Saul starring Bob Odenkirk is one of 2015’s most anticipated series. Fortunately, I was able to sit down with Gilligan along with a handful of other journalists to ask a few questions about the prequel premiering on February 8, 2015.

Interview with Vince Gilligan

How quickly will his name change from ‘Jimmy’ to Saul Goodman?

Vince Gilligan: “It really is a season about this person becoming who he’s going to become. Having sad that, I can’t promise to you that he’ll even become the person he’s going to become within the first season.

And the question is, we have so much fun – me and the writers, I’m talking about – meeting and getting to understand Jimmy and who he is down deep inside, who he is at heart, that we thought to ourselves, ‘Gee, I guess we’ve got to get renamed Saul Goodman. When are we going to do that?’ Really, these characters kind of tell you – and it was the same way on Breaking Bad – these characters kind of tell you where their head is at and they tell you what they need. And they tell you how to write the story if you listen closely enough. So this character, Jimmy, really is a character who is just as interesting to us before he becomes Saul. In fact, in some ways maybe even more so.”

Did you ever look at Bob Odenkirk when you were originally writing Saul and think that he had an interesting backstory?

Vince Gilligan: “No. Well, we thought theoretically he must have an interesting backstory.”

It’s interesting because Better Call Saul isn’t the show many people are going to expect it to be.

Vince Gilligan: “This show…I’m not even exaggerating when I say that we in the writers room were pleasantly surprised by it. When we sat down to do this, we knew we loved the character of Saul Goodman. We knew loved Bob Odenkirk, but we really didn’t know where the whole thing was going to go. So, it was really a voyage of discovery in the writers room. There were days when we said, ‘Oh, man, have we agreed to do…’ Actually, not agreed but have we been pushed to do a show about a guy who doesn’t necessarily warrant a TV show? We had some dark days of the soul in the early going and I’m very happy and relieved to say that now that we’re a season into it, yes this guy does carry it – this character and the actor, certainly. We weren’t worried about the actor but we were worried about the character. We never worried about Bob being able to carry it. And after a season now we’re very relieved and happy to be able to report that in my opinion the answer is yes.”

Where did you find the surreal tone and are you going to keep it or even increase it?

Vince Gilligan: “Well, I think there are moments of surreal-ness to the show but I think our best bet is to keep the character grounded and as recognizably human as possible. And so I think even in those more surreal moments, he is a real guy. I think there will always be an effort to ground the character and the story, and not just the character of Jimmy but all of the characters around him.”

Will there be a ‘case of the week’ element to the series?

Vince Gilligan: “There’s no rule that says there couldn’t be. We talked a lot about that. Should the show be episodic or should it be serialized? And as you’ll see as this season progresses, it’s a much more serialized show and not a case of the week show. But we could occasionally in the future have episodes that are a case of the week. Really, it sounds like an odd thing to say but the character kind of tells us what he needs and really the character of Walter White in Breaking Bad was the same. He told us where the show needed to go. This show works in a very similar fashion.”

Why was Saul the right character to focus on in a prequel?

Vince Gilligan: “Because we love Bob and we love Saul, and we love putting words in Saul’s mouth. It started off as simple as that. We loved writing the crazy dialogue that Saul produces volumes of. Having said that, it was really as simple as that at the beginning of it all and then it dawned on us – and it’s a very obvious question in hindsight – but we started to say to ourselves, ‘How deep do you build a show around this character?’ And that’s why it dawned on us that we really need to learn about who he was before he was Saul Goodman. We had to garner a much deeper understanding of who he really is.”