Better Call Saul, a certified successful spin-off prequel to colossal series Breaking Bad, has itself become a cult favourite and multiple award winner. Now streaming exclusively on STAN, season four takes us further into the world of Jimmy McGill before becoming Saul Goodman; dodgy lawyer of Walter White. Creator, writer, director and former The X-Files contributor, Vince Gilligan, has never looked back since unleashing Breaking Bad into pop culture summits. Now he is handing over complete reigns to long time collaborator Peter Gould to their co-creation Saul. Talking with these two gentlemen was a delight.
Is it better to binge-watch Better Call Saul or view individually?
VG – In the eye of the beholder but I’m no binge-watcher of anything.
PG – I’ll go agnostic here (laughs). Anyway people want to watch is fine with me, we are grateful they enjoy. Hopefully watch with both eyes, not driving heavy machinery or making a sandwich (laughs). It is truly the golden age of television, none of us take for granted viewer’s interest.
How did you two first meet?
PG – Job interview before Breaking Bad was even picked up as a go. I was so lucky to be accepted as a potential executive on Breaking Bad, getting an early look at it in a high security locked office situation watching it by myself then chosen to work with Vince on Season 1.
VG – The rest is history because Peter turned out to be an incredible writer/producer. We created Better Call Saul together, however he has taken over now as I step back just walking to the mail box collecting cheques. My life is very good while Peter soars (laughs).
How do you both decide which episodes to direct yourselves?
VG – Matter of availability. When running a television show, you’re usually only available to direct the finale because you’re frantic in the writer’s room confirming enough scripts to fill a season. We both love to direct, but script’s priority. I do see other showrunners directing more, not us.
Did you pitch the Saul pilot to the studio or did they approach you?
PG – They had heard us joking around about a spin-off, they wanted to know more through a phone call around the end of Breaking Bad. At that point, it was a half hour comedy. The good news was they were interested while Vince and I would walk around The Burbank Studios with a beer buying flashlights (laughs), or something. More we talked, more excited by the ideas. But didn’t gel completely until a writer’s room began the process and we changed it up.
VG – Pitching from a comedy to what it became – dark and grim (laughs).
Did you expect Saul would be accepted so well after Breaking Bad?
VG – Speaking for both of us, I was scared out of my mind, we were nervous. I had a strong feeling I needed to continue working when BB ended as it was such an outlandish surprising hit. We had no idea it was going to resonate nationally, let alone internationally. Really in the beginning, my thoughts were a season or two is it. Peter had created the Saul character so defined in Breaking Bad, we always joked what a good back story he must have and that became a reality, now it’s loved by cast, crew and audiences alike. I did not know how good Saul could be, I am so proud of Peter in charge.
How far can you go, will it keep running or is there an end in sight?
PG – Saul is a different beast to Breaking Bad, something in common is a story flow with beginning, middle, end. Where exactly it ends, not sure. My dream is to end satisfyingly like Vince did on Breaking Bad, sticking to landing correctly. However many episodes is the right number to get to that, that’s what we should do. Overstaying welcome not an option. Rather leave our audience with too few, not too many.
How sad was it to let Chuck (Michael McKean) go?
VG – Very sad (pause), I was really lucky to work with Michael on The X-Files playing a character Morris Fletcher. Looking back at it, he was a prehistoric Saul Goodman (laughs) not a lawyer but a rascal man in black working for Area 51. Peter and I are huge fans for the decade back before This is Spinal Tap on Laverne and Shirley. Then fortunately we work with this legend, he visits the writer’s room, grabs a guitar singing songs to the scribes. We wanted to keep Chuck on the show forever but a certain point in the story came. It had to be done, we were upset.
Do you purposely move the story slow for character development?
VG – The pace feels right.
PG – We don’t think about it as slow, just keeping true to characters. Our question always is, what would Jimmy or Mike (Jonathan Banks) or whoever do next. Envision it as if we were the character. Often they don’t do what a person should do (laughs), we need to understand their decisions that takes us in unexpected directions. Rewards are many, slow burning.
VG – Pace of the show and Breaking Bad before it may be a result of not wanting to miss a plot beat detail. When my desire is not to miss an opportunity of twists, it becomes deliberate not breakneck.
Do any of your tremendous cast suggest ideas or character arcs?
VG – Peter and the writer’s room are across it all, not to say opinions or contributions are not welcome. Bob Odenkirk (Saul) himself is a wonderful writer, if you interview him Shane, I bet even-money he’ll say: ‘Well, I’m a writer.’ He’s always been wonderfully respectful of our process trusting the work of thousands of hours put into the scripts. Not much in the way of improvisation happens, they all stick to prose.
BETTER CALL SAUL: SEASON FOUR
NOW STREAMING ON STAN
Shane A. Bassett