HFPA in Conversation: Bob Odenkirk, From Comedy to Saul Goodman

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros September 19, 2018
Actor and director Bob Odenkirk. Golden Globe nominee

armando gallo/hfpa

Before Bob Odenkirk was known as Saul Goodman, the beloved shady lawyer from Breaking Bad, he was a comedy writer from Naperville, a suburb of Chicago.“I'm from a family of seven kids, and we entertained each other at the dinner table and there was a lot of storytelling.  All my brothers and sisters are funny people and they have good senses of humor,” Odenkirk told HFPA journalist Brent Simon.

But life wasn’t always funny on the west side of Chicago. “My father was an alcoholic and my mother was and is extremely Catholic, a great lady who's worked incredibly hard her whole life and just did a great job with raising seven kids pretty much on her own. She also has a great sense of humor.”

In junior high, a few of his teachers encouraged him to do sketches.“They got laughs and that's where it all began for me.  But I didn't consider being an actor or writer or comedian at all until I'd done it for many years.  I had written those sketches in school, carried on writing comedy at home, making little cassette tape comedy shows.  Then I went to a couple colleges including Marquette in Milwaukee where I had a radio show, and then the Southern Illinois University.  Three years of doing a comedy radio show it kind of hit me that this is what a professional comedy writer does.”

His first big writing job was on Saturday Night Live. That was followed by shows like Get a Life, The Ben Stiller Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Mr. Show.Mr. Show is a great example of everything about my comic sensibility, which was a crazy mix of a principled and you could say almost ethical, ethically aware and concerned, but also kind of angry and anarchic or kind of anti-establishment.  I think it’s good for comedy to be pushing back against the conventions of society and pointing out hypocrisy and being a little pissed.”

At the same time, he was acting in different TV shows and movies.  In the 2000s, the Golden Globe and Emmy nominated Odenkirk took another challenge: he directed movies - Melvin Goes to Dinner, Let’s Go to Prison and The Brothers Solomon. “I would love to direct again.  I think I learned some real humility and respect for directing though in doing those three movies.  Directing is the most fun you can have, you're the storyteller.  You have a lot of responsibility, but you're choosing what's in that frame, and you're telling everyone what's important to pay attention to.”

In 2009 his life changed.  He was cast on Breaking Bad as the soon-to-be-famous schemer and dreamer Saul Goodman. When the show ended, Odenkirk’s Saul got his own series, Better Call Saul. At the moment he is writing his memoir, a process that made him reflect on his life. He is regretting one thing over anything else. “It’s depressing when I look at my career. Where are the women who I didn't collaborate with?”

Listen to the podcast and learn what is the Midwest attitude towards success; how his mother responded to a joke involving the Catholic church and a football; why he regrets his time on Saturday Night Live; why The Ben Stiller Show gave him confidence; why he wishes he had been born later; why cultural conversation is sometimes more important than ratings; why he was surprised when he got a role on Breaking Bad; what he said to Vince Gilligan when he suggested writing a show based on Saul’s character; why he thinks there are four iterations of Saul Goodman, and why he would like to reshoot The Brothers Solomon.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.