COVER STORY: It’s backward August in Albuquerque, and the “Better Call Saul” aggregation is adequate to accept an calm shoot day. All summer, the assembly has been bedeviled by aberration lightning storms, causing capricious scheduling setbacks.
The high-altitude arid altitude is adamantine abundant to handle, with aerial temperatures that advance to dehydration; there’s additionally the casual bent paparazzo. Aside from alternation brilliant Bob Odenkirk, who’s in about every scene, the production’s medic ability be the busiest guy on set, consistently reminding anybody to alcohol baptize and administer sunscreen.
So today’s area shoot, admitting a bit cramped, has anybody animated — as, likely, will be “Breaking Bad” admirers aback they get to see it. It’s Loyola’s Booth — yes, that diner, area we see Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and the ever-so-charming Lydia (Laura Fraser) aboriginal meet.
Chris Buck for Variety
But there’s no Stevia in sight. “Better Call Saul,” which has been conceived by showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould as a prequel to “Breaking Bad,” is set in 2002 — afore the address of the bogus sweetener, and afore Saul Goodman became Saul Goodman. That was aloof a fabricated name, anyhow — so here, he’s Jimmy McGill.
All complex — from the creators to the casting to the arrangement and flat admiral — apperceive all too able-bodied they’re walking a tightrope. With “Breaking Bad” captivation a dainty abode in the TV pantheon, the burden is on for “Better Call Saul” to account its predecessor’s bequest and accomplish able-bodied for AMC.
Now, afterwards a difficult birth, Gould is accessible to appearance off the new baby, which will accessible with back-to-back episodes Feb. 8 and 9, afore clearing into its approved Monday slot.
“I anticipate I’m afraid in watching the episodes aloof how abundant I like Jimmy,” Gould says. “I consistently knew he’d be absorbing to watch. I didn’t apperceive how abundant it would aching aback he gets hurt.”
The stakes are absolutely aerial for “Saul,” but it’s account canonizing that “Breaking Bad” wasn’t an brief success. The appearance now hailed as one of TV’s greatest dramas was a apathetic body over the advance of bristles seasons that concluded in September 2013; aboriginal on, it was on the fence for face-lifting added than once. Despite the analytical hosannas, it wasn’t until the final division that the affairs soared to almanac ratings.
Given that agitation angle amid fans, it was assured that the stakeholders — Sony Pictures TV, AMC and “Breaking Bad” administrator Gilligan — would appetite to accumulate the abracadabra going.
“They aloof told me they were accomplishing (the spinoff), and I said, ‘Thank God,’ ” says Sony Pictures TV admiral Steve Mosko. “It’s been one of the greatest adventures of my career to be complex with ‘Breaking Bad’ — and now with ‘Better Call Saul.’ ”
Echoes AMC admiral Charlie Collier: “When Vince and Peter accept an idea, I’m an investor. Period.”
But the alley to accepting “Saul” to the awning wasn’t as bland as Saul Goodman’s affecting spiel. Showrunners Gilligan and Gould, forth with their star, grappled for a connected time with the concept, while Sony and AMC wrestled over the accord for the appearance as Netflix and others were cat-and-mouse aloof offstage to ambush on the property. And all complex struggled with aloof how abundant admiration “Saul” should pay to “Breaking Bad.”
Collier asserts that “Saul” isn’t the sixth division of “Bad” — but the catechism is, how abounding admirers are activity to tune in assured aloof that?
It all started as a joke, dating aback to the additional season. A one-note appearance the writers had befuddled in to breach a artifice botheration aback exploded in popularity. “Sometimes you appear up with characters, and you don’t apperceive how they’re activity to play,” says Gilligan. “But actual bound with Bob arena Saul Goodman, we saw all kinds of possibilities.”
The back-and-forth amid the producers and the amateur about a abeyant aftereffect connected throughout the run of “Breaking Bad.” “Whenever I’d see Vince and Peter, they’d say, ‘Do you anticipate there’s a appearance there?’ ” Odenkirk recalls. “And I’d say, ‘Don’t ask the actor. An amateur is aloof activity to say yes every time.’ ”
As “Breaking Bad” was ambagious down, the badinage angry to a austere chat of what a affairs featuring Odenkirk’s appearance ability be. Gould, the biographer who birthed Saul Goodman, was the accustomed best to booty the reins of the project. Gilligan and Gould bound got Sony’s sign-off, but they anon able that the abstraction that at aboriginal seemed so simple was annihilation but. Was it a ball or a drama? An hour or a half-hour? A prequel or a sequel? And added crucially, should they alike do the appearance at all? For every “Frasier,” there’s a “Joey” and an “AfterMASH.”
“The accessible accommodation would accept been for Vince and Peter to airing abroad afterwards ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” says Jamie Erlicht, Sony’s admiral of programming. “Truly they had baffled television. They had put on one of the best shows of all time. I apperceive they struggled with that, because how do you beat or according ‘Breaking Bad’?”
Chris Buck for Variety
That catechism advised heavily on the minds of Gilligan and Gould, who went for connected walks about the block alfresco their writers’ allowance in Burbank. “It took us a lot of talking afore I anticipate we both acquainted close abundant that this was article that was account accomplishing — that there was abundant adventure there, abundant appearance there to accomplish this account our time,” Gould says.
At first, they came up with a adaptation of “Saul” that was a half-hour comedy. “It would accept been: You never leave the guy’s office, and he’s affectionate of a crazy, bright lawyer,” Gilligan recalls. “And alike added crazy, bright characters appear into his office, so that he is ultimately the beeline man, and he solves their problems.”
That idea, though, anon adjourned out creatively. Ultimately the showrunners able they could abundance added actual in cogent the lawyer’s backstory from a affecting perspective. “It was hard-fought,” Gilligan says. “But it dawned on us, it absolutely is added about the guy who is activity to become Saul Goodman. He’s a striver, he’s an underdog, and he’s ballsy in his own absurd manner.”
But while the producers were addition out what the appearance was from a artistic standpoint, AMC and Sony Pictures TV were accepting a antagonism of their own. It’s no abstruse that there was astriction amid the two in the aboriginal canicule of “Breaking Bad,” aback the appearance seemed perpetually on the bubble. The cabler’s accord with Sony gave AMC the appropriate to an absolute negotiating window for any spinoffs to appear from “Breaking Bad,” a accepted basic of alternation pacts — and the companies had a aberration of assessment on the time anatomy for that window.
All this was demography abode starting in aboriginal 2013, aloof as the final division of “Breaking Bad” was heating up, and the creators were still disturbing with the abstraction for “Saul.” AMC appropriate the aggregation aftermath a pilot to advice them amount out if the ball architecture formed — which larboard some bristling on the flat side. The negotiations became protracted; meanwhile, the aerial success of “Breaking Bad” alone added the burden to get the accord done.
As AMC and Sony wrestled over dates and added accord points, Netflix, FX, WGN America and added players let it be accepted that they would aces up the appearance in a hot additional if AMC’s window anesthetized afterwards a deal. The blackmail of “Saul” landing abroad afterwards AMC’s five-season advance in “Bad” provided the final bit of coercion to allowance the deal. The adjustment for “Saul” was assuredly accepted in September 2013, a few weeks afore the “Bad” alternation afterpiece burst all expectations, with added than 10 amateur admirers and a flat beachcomber of analytical acclaim. (By June 2014, AMC would aces up a additional division of “Saul,” bringing the absolute adjustment to 23 episodes.)
Netflix didn’t appear abroad absolutely empty-handed, however, landing animate rights for “Saul” in all of its territories, although it will accept to delay until two weeks afore the alpha of the show’s additional division to accomplish the episodes accessible in the U.S. “It’s a big bet, but as safe a bet as we’ve anytime made,” says Netflix arch agreeable administrator Ted Sarandos.
Getting the accord done, though, accepted to be alone the aboriginal hurdle. Already Gilligan and Gould hunkered bottomward in the writers’ allowance to alpha breaking the episodes, they faced a greater challenge: crafting a aces almsman to the original.
While the angle for “Breaking Bad” has become allegorical — “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface,” or what Gilligan calls “the amateur dollar pitch” — the crack for “Better Call Saul” was abundant murkier. “It’s what makes a Saul Goodman,” Gould offers.
Odenkirk says he didn’t acquisition an acknowledgment to what the appearance was absolutely about until backward August, amid through production. “It’s a superhero origins story,” he explains. “The superhero is Saul, and his appropriate ability is his mouth, an active apperception and some stones. And instead of a cape, he has a chicken tie and blooming socks.”
Chris Buck for Variety
The Saul Goodman we accommodated in “Breaking Bad” is “truly adequate in his own skin,” Gilligan explains. “So how does that assignment badly for a capital character? Because the aspect of ball is absent article that you can’t absolutely obtain.”
Put addition way, how do you about-face a acknowledging appearance into a lead? How do you booty a amateur and about-face him into a beeline man? Gould was afflicted by one catechism in particular: “What is the botheration that actuality Saul Goodman solves?” Time for added walks about the block.
In “Breaking Bad,” division two, adventure eight, Saul accepted that his name was absolutely aloof a ball on words: “It’s all good, man.”
So in “Saul,” we accommodated Jimmy McGill as a disturbing advocate who’s yet to become the best affliction advocate in town. You can about aroma his agony through the awning as he chases for audience and his abutting paycheck, yammering all the way. He doesn’t alike accept an office; he drives about boondocks in a beat-up old car. And he’s beneath the spell of his earlier brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a far added able advocate at an flush close — admitting Chuck has his own issues: a yet-to-be-revealed action that keeps him homebound.
“Much of it was aggravating to amount out how abundant of Saul’s adventure we were activity to get into in division one,” Gould says. “And we fought through apparently appealing abundant every variation.”
Watching “Saul,” it’s accessible to see how the aftereffect about became a comedy. Afterwards the afire aplomb that comes to ascertain him afterwards in life, McGill gets himself into a lot of scrapes — you can’t advice but beam at him. “It’s not like he’s stupid, but he has aphotic spots that are acquired by his enthusiasms,” Odenkirk says. He ricochets from one aberration to the next. Adds Gould, “Jimmy follows his beatitude appropriate into the fizz saw.”
Gilligan admits that the antecedent accomplishment to ascertain the appearance as carrying a assertive allotment of ball vs. ball was misguided. “I was one of the aboriginal guys aggravating to put a arrangement to it,” he says. “But I was aloof affectionate of talking out of my ass. It absolutely is its own thing.”
No admiration bodies accept abnormally compared the appearance to “Nebraska,” “Fargo” and “The Rockford Files” on acid.
“The fun affair for (the creatives) was that the highwire act we played in ‘Breaking Bad’ of ball with a faculty of ball was now a highwire act of ball with a absolute faculty of drama,” Sony’s Erlicht says.
No one’s putting added burden on Gilligan than he’s putting on himself. “I do my best to not absorb too abundant time cerebration about that,” he says, of active up to the “Breaking Bad” legacy. “And I’m consistently so accurate aback I say that because I would never appetite it to apprehend like I don’t care. But the agitation is that I affliction too much. The alone affair we can control, and we’ve been animate our butts off to do aloof that, is putting on the best appearance we apperceive how to create. Because there’s so abundant accoutrements that comes with any appearance that comes from a apple of ‘Breaking Bad.’ ”
AMC and Sony, not surprisingly, say they are agog about the results. Execs at both companies saw their roles as accepting out of the writers’ way. “Vince and Peter accept becoming the appropriate not to get acceptable notes,” Erlicht says. Plus, he adds with a laugh: “They accept yet to accommodated a appearance they didn’t appetite to kill. So if we accept any note, it’s to try to accumulate Saul alive.”
During a appointment to the writers’ allowance in backward summer, the showrunners are disturbing to appear up with a brain-teaser for adventure seven, which has somehow appear in short. Gilligan gets balked as the agitation stalls. “This is what happens in the room,” he says. “We angle the aforementioned things over and over again.”
Then Odenkirk enters address a box of desserts, forth with a few account of his own — including a “during ‘Breaking Bad’ moment.” The writers in the allowance all nod in agreement. Says Gould, “I adulation the abstraction of active amid the raindrops during ‘Breaking Bad.’ ”
Rest assured, there are Easter eggs abounding — we’ll be visiting added than aloof Loyola’s. In the premiere adventure of “Saul,” from the aboriginal arena to the last, it’s bright the showrunners are activity to be giving the adherent some answers. “There are massively rewarding, angelic bits moments,” Odenkirk promises.
Adds Gilligan: “Like ‘Breaking Bad,’ … bodies who watch the appearance loosely, aloof array of bistro a ham sandwich or alert to the radio, will adore it. But the association who watch it absolutely anxiously and pay absorption to little capacity and nuances will get rewarded.”
Chris Buck for Variety
The showrunners additionally advisedly set out to accomplish “Saul” attending and feel altered in as abounding means as they could, from the cinematography to the administration to the blow of the show. “We fabricated some absolutely adventurous choices and we ashore with them, and I anticipate they were the appropriate choices,” Gould says. “But they’re absolutely not what anyone’s expecting.”
That translates to a appearance that takes its time to acknowledge its secrets — and in adverse to “Bad,” has a audible abatement in the abomination rate. “Maybe not every arena has to accept a killing or a maiming or a chase,” says Sony’s admiral of programming Zack Van Amburg. “Maybe we can aloof animate in some of the intricacies and the calm and quiet.”
But there will be a hitman: Mike Ehrmantraut is one of the few characters from “Breaking Bad” we’ve been affirmed to accommodated in Jimmy’s world. That was an accessible accommodation for the showrunners. “We both acquainted that there was a assertive abracadabra to these two actors in these two roles,” Gould says. “And I anticipate aloof instinctively, it acquainted like a acceptable match.” Not to acknowledgment that a advocate ability charge a clandestine detective at some point, from a artifice point of view.
Back in the diner, Banks, as Mike, is captivation cloister in one of the booths, over his accepted breakfast of coffee and eggs. Unlike his bombastic co-star, he doesn’t accept a distinct allotment of chat here, and yet his blackout speaks volumes. He shoots a few takes, again breach the aggregation up by hilariously oversalting his food. “Water for Jonathan, please!” calls out one of the crew.
Notably, we’ll get to see how the advocate and the adjudicator aboriginal accommodated — which goes about as able-bodied as can be accepted — which is to say, not able-bodied at all.
As with “Breaking Bad,” clandestineness is paramount. So aback it comes to discussing the plot, Banks is, naturally, aloof as aloof as the appearance he plays. “Yes, Mike is the aforementioned affectionate of guy as in ‘Breaking Bad,’ but you are activity to get a few insights into why he is the aforementioned affectionate of guy,” says the actor. “Mike still has his code. Mike has consistently had his code.”
As for “Breaking Bad” cameos, “Nothing’s off the table,” Gould says. Adds Gilligan: “The abundant affair about ambience the alternation six years in the accomplished is that absolutely the sky is the limit. Anybody’s fair game.”
Talking to Odenkirk on set afterwards a backward cafeteria break, he’s aural tired, for which he apologizes profusely. He’s disturbing with acclimation connected hours and allowance out his wife aback in Los Angeles, who’s ambidextrous with their two teenagers. “The appearance is alleged ‘Better Call Saul,’ and I ball Saul, so I can’t be too afraid (about the workload),” he concedes.
He’s able-bodied acquainted that the burden is on him to bear in what Gould calls “the acting Olympics” — he’s got connected scripts to acquire — admitting by all accounts, he added than delivers. Still, he can’t advice but be self-deprecating. “I consistently antic with my accompany that absolute actors who went to Julliard are activity to be like, ‘How did he get this job?’” he says.
A account ball biographer who accomplished band cachet with HBO’s “Mr. Show,” Odenkirk has had to acclimatize to dispatch into the spotlight and demography on the role of arch man. He does not covet the fame, the attention. “I advance a quiet life, I’ve got kids,” he says.
He’s quick to focus on the assignment of his castmates (“McKean’s accomplishing the greatest assignment of his career,” he raves) and the accomplishment of “Saul’s” creators. “I achievement that the appearance is the star. Vince and Peter’s autograph is the star. I’m not actuality asked to go out there with nothing, to sing and ball and put on a show. I’m arena a guy whose words, whose close demons, whose motivations and artifice are all scripted anxiously and anticipation out by the two bodies who created him.”
Jimmy couldn’t be added altered from Walt — which ultimately delights his creators. Gilligan admits, “I adulation Jimmy McGill in a way I never admired Walt” — who was, afterwards all, a sociopath. “It was boxy autograph for that character, because he was a actual aphotic individual,” he says. “If you accept to put yourself in this guy’s arch every day, it was a aphotic abode to be. I’d be active home at 11 o’clock at night, and I’d be like, ‘That son of a allegation aloof cut me off!’”
Says Gilligan: “I’d abundant rather accept a beer with Jimmy McGill.” Agrees Gould: “You’re abundant added acceptable to get out of it alive.”
For AMC, abundant is benumbed on the success of “Better Call Saul.” With “Mad Men” ambagious down, the cabler could use addition non-zombie hit in its stable. Collier is confident, though, that “Saul” will deliver.
“When bodies tune in for the aboriginal hour, they’re activity to see some artistic risk-taking, beautifully implemented by some of the best in the business,” he says. “The pace, the cinematography and the backbone Vince displays as a administrator is as accurate as annihilation you’ll see on AMC’s air, including some of the better blockbusters.”
Since the advertisement of the prequel, AMC has been doling out teasers to admirers on amusing media, who’ve been feverishly acquisitive them up. A baby blow with Mike, for example, got 24,000 brand on Facebook. Collier, though, is accurate to administer expectations: “I bethink vividly our barrage night for ‘Breaking Bad’ division one,” he says. “It bare to body its own momentum, and we’ll be alleviative ‘Better Call Saul’ with the aforementioned respect.”
In the aboriginal adventure of the new show, big brother Chuck says to Jimmy, “Wouldn’t you rather body your own identity? Why ride on addition else’s coattails?”
That’s a appealing acceptable description of the better hurdle for “Saul,” too.
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