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No spoilers! Actress Rhea Seehorn talks ‘Better Call Saul’

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In her role as attorney Kim Wexler on AMC’s “Better Call Saul,’”Rhea Seehorn is one of the best reasons to own a television. When she appears on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off her. 

A remarkably versatile actor, Seehorn has seen her character transformed from a committed key player in a multi-partner firm to one that sets up an independent practice next to the show’s protagonist, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) - the character we knew as the over-the-top con-artist/attorney Saul Goodman in AMC’s “Breaking Bad” - with whom Wexler has a relationship that goes far beyond splitting office space.

This prequel to “Breaking Bad” has proven to be as richly layered as its predecessor, each episode shot with an almost Hitchcock-like zeal for detail, foreshadowing and metaphor.

Rewarding obsessive fans of the original series with a similar approach to storytelling where nothing is considered trivial or minute, the series is steamrolling into its third season’s final episode, June 19 at 10:00 p.m.

This story is being written before that episode airs. While we were given access to one of the show’s stars, we were not allowed to preview the episode in advance. By the time this story appears, some of the questions raised will likely be answered, but as Rhea Seehorn states in the following interview, with “Better Call Saul,” when one question is answered, two more are introduced.

The focus for the show going into the season’s final episode relates to the characters’ relationship with money. Jimmy finally sees a sizable settlement from the long-gestating Sandpiper elder-fraud case, uncovered with assistance from his brother Chuck (played by Michael McKean).

Chuck McGill is a partner at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, a prestigious Albuquerque law firm where Kim Wexler was employed until her relationship with Jimmy led to a demotion, inspiring her to embrace the concept of an independent practice.

The show also gives us a closer look at Mike Ehrmantrout (played by Jonathan Banks), a pivotal figure in “Breaking Bad.” In the prequel, we get to see how this corrupt ex-Philadelphia cop became the right-hand man for restaurateur/philanthropist/drug raconteur/mobster Gustavo Fring (played by Giancarlo Esposito).

With “Better Call Saul,” the chemistry among the characters is almost as important as the writing. Although Mike’s interactions with Jimmy McGill have been scarce in season three, we know (from “Breaking Bad”) that their paths will intersect soon enough. Polar opposites in every way - with the exception of shared corruption - it is a delight to watch these characters interact.

Astonished (and secretly offended) that his younger ne’er-no-well sibling obtained a law degree through an online course, and somehow passed his bar exam, noted electrophobe Chuck McGill is determined that Jimmy is unfit to practice law in Albuquerque – or anywhere for that matter. In season three, we saw that brotherly tension come to a head when Jimmy purposely sabotaged some important documents relating to a huge case Chuck was working on for a large bank (Mesa Verde).

Having lost confidence in the elder McGill (and in Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill in general), that sabotage led to Mesa Verde hiring Kim Wexler to represent them. Kim suspects that Jimmy had something to do with this sudden change but prefers not to pursue the matter. Seehorn addresses that emotional and professional conflict in the following interview.

When Chuck and HHM prove that the original documents had been altered by Jimmy, he is banned from practicing law in New Mexico for 12 months. To raise some much-needed funds while waiting out the Sandpiper settlement, Jimmy schemes to unload some prepaid TV ad time by producing commercials for anyone willing to pony up the dough. The results are tragically hilarious as we watch him gradually transform from Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman (as in ‘S’all good, man) – the slick and sleazy character we know and love from “Breaking Bad.”

The seeds for Jimmy’s transformation into Saul Goodman sprouted in season two’s “Inflatable,” when he was inspired by the sight of one of those giant garish floating sky-dancer balloons frequently used to draw attention to businesses.

Despite a cushy position at Davis & Main – another high-end Albuquerque firm - Jimmy has never been able to mold himself into what others expect. He’s his own man and must do things his own way. In one of the series’ most hilarious sequences, we see him morph into a human version of one of those gaudy inflatables, leading to his welcome termination and his own short-lived indie practice housed in the same building with Kim.

A fact that we cannot escape relating to the character of Kim Wexler is that we know that she was not part of “Breaking Bad.” At some point, she will not be part of Jimmy/Saul’s day-to-day story. For viewers who have fallen for her character over three seasons, it’s a little disturbing to think about anything bad happening to Kim Wexler.

But that’s exactly what happens during the closing scene of the episode leading into the season finale. Overworked and emotionally and physically spent, her car leaves the road and smashes into a pile of rocks. It’s brutal to see Kim stagger from the car, battered and airbag-burned, as legal documents float around her like vultures.

In “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” characters typically do not leave the series without suffering a gruesome fate. On “Saul,” we see occasional flash-forwards of the Jimmy/Saul character in the days following “Breaking Bad.” He’s a little older, exhausted and managing a Cinnabon franchise in an Omaha shopping mall food court. Nervously looking over his shoulder to make sure he isn’t about to be popped, he’s alone and terrified.

As the time frame for “Better Call Saul” creeps ever so close to that of “Breaking Bad,” Seehorn is naturally tight-lipped about her character’s future. Here’s hoping one of those future scenes will find Gene (the post-“Breaking Bad” alias of Jimmy/Saul) icing a tray of cinnamon buns only to have the camera pull back to reveal Kim quietly enjoying one of them at a nearby table.

The Maine Edge caught up with Rhea Seehorn last week to talk about the present and future of “Better Call Saul.”

Seehorn:  First, let me tell you that I love Maine. I was there a while ago and I sadly can’t even tell you which city I was in. It was a bit of a road trip to help a friend pack up his parent’s house. We were way outside of city lines and I don’t even know what county I was in but I loved it there.

TME: Season three of “Better Call Saul” has been a wild ride. Kim is usually the only character on the show who tries to do the right thing. At this point, she’s taken on more work than anyone could handle, and at the end of the latest episode, she’s involved in a terrifying car accident after apparently dozing at the wheel. As a member of the cast, how do you see this season compared with the previous two? 

Seehorn: (laughing) Sadly, all of the characters on the show think they are trying to do the right thing. It’s just that they are sadly mistaken on what the right thing really is.

For me, I feel that this season has been about consequences of the actions that got put into motion in season two. For Kim, there is a very specific way that plays out. That’s both the physical exhaustion and also the emotional toll on her of keeping this Mesa Verde case because it’s ill-gotten gains. You saw at the end of season two that she chooses to protect Jimmy and not help Chuck in proving that Jimmy has made this switch and illegally got the case back from Chuck. She doesn’t recuse herself from the case. You could still protect Jimmy and say “I’m not going to represent you guys, you need to find someone else” and not take the check. Kim is choosing the take the check and that is her wrestling with good and bad not being the same as legal and illegal. I think that is very difficult for Kim.

We don’t know where she came from but you saw someone in seasons one and two who had a pretty desperate need to clearly define legal and illegal and making sure you don’t color outside of lines. That’s kind of falling apart and I think the whole season for me has been about what it looks like when someone that tightly coiled, who has so much trouble living in the grey areas of life, unravels.

Yes, what you saw in last Monday’s episode, I think it was sleep deprivation and the emotional toll of being in a constantly heightened state of conflict. We have such amazing fans and the people who’ve reached out to me, it pains them to see that scene, not just because they love the character but they completely understand it. The way it was edited by Skip McDonald, this idea of literally losing time and psychologically, not understanding how you ended up where you are, is so disturbing.

TME: Everything that we see on the show means something. As fans of “Breaking Bad,” we’ve been trained to analyze what we see on “Better Call Saul.” This question is related to the crash. Can you confirm that you are definitely going to be in the show for season four next year? 

Seehorn: (laughing) I’m not allowed to say anything about that!

TME: (laughs) How about some kind of signal that only I would understand?

Seehorn: OK. If I am going to be on the show during season four, I will wink at you with my left eye. Ready? (pause)

TME: It might be wishful thinking but I believe I sensed a wink! When you were cast in the series, were you aware of just how devoted the audience was for “Breaking Bad” and that that adulation would likely continue with the new series?

Seehorn: Yes, I was aware of the avid fans of “Breaking Bad” – I was one of them. If anything, I think my trepidation and anxiety was that the opposite effect could happen. When you love a show so much and do a sequel or a prequel or write a second book or a second album, or a spinoff, people can be very protective of the source material. But I think that (show creators) Vince (Gilligan) and Peter (Gould) did such a good job of making these origin stories of Jimmy and also Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), they instantly kind of made it its own thing. The tone is just slightly different. It’s its own thing and I think that was a really smart move.

The writing on this show is just so wonderful. We’re constantly discovering new layers to these characters. The writers assume the intelligence of their audience when they write. I felt that when I watched “Breaking Bad” and that’s how I feel when I’m performing and watching “Better Call Saul.”

Like you just said, you feel as an audience member that they trust you with these subtle clues. They trust that we understand the characters thought processes without them saying something. They trust that we are interested in great storytelling enough to understand that one question will be answered but two will be raised. The fans have more than met us halfway with every single episode and it’s been such a pleasure to do storytelling on that level and to have receivers who are that smart.  

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 09:22

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