A Revealing Chat With the Creators of 'Better Call Saul', Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould: "We are the first fans of this story"

by Gabriel Lerman April 8, 2017
Writer-producers Vince Gillingan and Peter Gould and actors Bob Odenkirk,Jonathan Banks and Michael McKean

Better Call Saul creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan and actors Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks and Michael McKean.

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Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould created Breaking Bad, winner of the 2014 Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Drama, with star Bryan Cranston awarded the Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama after three nominations. They are also the brains and the hearts behind Better Call Saul, the prequel which made Bob Odenkirk a two-time nominee. Days before the show’s return to AMC for its third season, we had the chance to chat with both writers-producers and learn from them some insights, views ... and a couple of secrets.

One of the main themes not only in Better Call Saul, but also in Breaking Bad, is that not only do people go from good to bad, but they are also in a constant conflict between themselves.  Why is this so important to you guys? 

Vince Gilligan: We do, we go sort of mono-maniacal in terms of the morality of the shows.  Certainly Breaking Bad, when we did that show, it seemed unique in terms of the way to tell a television story, that a character should change over the course of the series.  And while I would always like to believe that people change for the better, we know from experience that that’s not always the case and it’s more potentially dramatic to watch a character change for the worst.

Peter Gould:  I think that drama is generally about conflict between characters and conflict between a character and his or her environment, but we are also fascinated by characters who are in conflict with themselves.  And with the idea that people in general are not just one thing. People in general have many voices inside them and their own sense of morality. Often times we talk ourselves into things that may or may not be the right thing to do.  And I think what is fascinating to us about serialized television is that we get a chance to examine a lot of characters.  So in Better Call Saul certainly the main theme is the evolution of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman.  But because we are a television show, we can also look more deeply into other characters like Rhea Seehorn’s character Kim, who is not just a righteous lawyer, but she is also fascinated by Jimmy’s predilection for being a con artist.

When you guys did Breaking Bad, you didn’t have any limits.  But here, you have an end that must be the beginning of Breaking Bad.  And also, you have a lot of fans that are watching your show because they like Breaking Bad, but you must do something different, and at the same time, give them enough reason to keep watching.  So how much conditioning do you feel in writing this show?

VG: There are limits that are self-imposed that are built into Better Call Saul in the storytelling because we know where this guy is going to wind up.  Having said that, I realize now looking on both shows and looking back on the first show in hindsight, there were quite a lot of limits built into Breaking Bad as well as we had a character who 20 minutes into the first episode, is learning he was dying of cancer.  We tend to find that putting limits on our storytelling is not so much constricting as creatively inspiring. So knowing that Jimmy McGill is going to become Saul Goodman, what we don’t know is how he is going to become Saul Goodman, and we don’t know how long it’s going to take.  And I am not being coy when I say that, we truly don’t.  And we have inched forward every season so far, and Jimmy McGill has inched forward and progressed or digressed, toward becoming Saul Goodman, but I can tell you for sure that it’s a much longer road than we thought it would be at the beginning of this process.  At the beginning of it all, we thought Jimmy McGill would become Saul Goodman by the middle of the first season.  And then it dawned on us how much we love Jimmy McGill and  that we were telling the story of a tragedy.

Something that is fascinating about Better Call Saul is that you also jump the whole Breaking Bad story and go forward to the moment when Saul Goodman had to escape when he is working at Cinnabon.  Is perhaps a door to another show?

VG:  It’s certainly the door to another potential story.  It may well be the story that could be told in this one television series. Peter and I consider us and our fellow writers the first fans of this story.  And as such, I would love to see more of what is going on in the future, in this dreary black and white existence that has this character that used to be known as Saul Goodman and now goes by the name Gene.  I want to see what happens to him next and I wouldn’t necessarily assume that it would be told in an entirely different television series, but I don’t see why it couldn’t fit into this one.  And I am not, I am making no promises that we will continue with that story, but it sure looks like it would disappoint a lot of folks, me included, if it didn’t.

 

Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks in a scene from season 3 of the AMC series Better Call Saul

Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks are back to that famous fast food joint in season 3 of Better Call Saul.

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How long have you been waiting for the return of Gus?

VG: I am proud of us that we have been very self-disciplined not to just put Gus in back in Season One, because we love him.

PG: Gus Fring is such a fascinating character and we love Giancarlo Esposito, and I think looking back on it, that would have been one way for us to go with season one of Better Call Saul, but we wanted very much to establish Better Call Saul as its own TV show with its own story, so we had to be kind of self-disciplined about bringing in Breaking Bad characters.  Having said that, it is wonderful to have Giancarlo back because he creates one of the most remarkable characters that I have ever seen. Giancarlo had a lot of questions for us when we first had the thought of bringing him back for season three. We had a long talk with him and he asked a lot of very searching, intelligent questions. I think he wanted to make sure that there was more to say about his character, because one of the things about Gus Fring is that he is so mysterious,  and he plays his cards so close to the vest that we always walk a very fine line with him, because in some ways, you don’t want to know absolutely everything about Gus Fring or to fill in all the gaps.  Some of the mysteries about his character are interesting to preserve.

Do you think we will ever see Walter White or Jesse on Better Call Saul crossing the street in the background?  How tempting is it to bring back those main characters from Breaking Bad?

VG:  Very tempting. 

PG:  There’s nothing I would like better than to have Walter White or Jesse Pinkman on the show.  Partially because we love those characters and it would be an event for everybody.  This past season, Bryan Cranston visited the set of Better Call Saul. He hadn’t been back since the end of Breaking Bad and it was really meaningful for all of us. I can’t imagine having him back in costume as Walter White, it would be incredible.  But having said that, we want to make it work within the story of the show. If we have a scene where Walter White is crossing the street in the background, it’s a pretty good bet that most people watching the TV aren’t going to be paying attention to whatever is happening in the foreground. The truth is it would be a real shame if we went to the end of the series without seeing Walter White and Jesse Pinkman again.  And Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston are two of the most wonderful guys in the business. We would have to work with their schedules, because rightly so, they are incredibly popular actors who are working a lot.  But we still have high hopes that we will find a way to do it before we are through...