Michael McKean, who plays Chuck McGill on AMC’s Better Call Saul, talks about rationalizing Chuck’s betrayal and what his “space suit” represents.
Q: Were you surprised to find out that Chuck had been pulling the strings in Season 1? Could you rationalize his betrayal of Jimmy?
A: When a man who has a great deal of power has his power taken away, he starts looking for ways to blame it on someone else. His affliction has kept him out of the loop and while he’s being kept out of the loop, he sees his brother — who he views as an incompetent lawyer— edging closer and closer to success. It’s too much for him and it’s a sense of wrongful entitlement that rubs him the wrong way. It’s Chuck’s workspace and Jimmy is not welcome, so he knows he did the right thing. Like me or hate me, but it’s just good business.
Q: Chuck can be difficult to like at times. How do you empathize with him?
A: No character who is viewed as being negative thinks he’s being negative, and Chuck doesn’t feel the need to justify anything, so I don’t. He doesn’t have to look for ways to feel better. He feels fine.
Q: What does his “space suit” represent?
A: Psychologically, it’s like Linus’s blanket or Dumbo’s feather. We don’t know how much good it’s actually doing. I don’t suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity and I’m glad I don’t because I have other problems [Laughs], but I think it does protect him to a certain extent. There are times when it helps him inch a little closer to the man he used to be and it puts him back into the arena where he shines. For the last two years, Chuck has been out of his comfort zone. It’s like being a ball player and being suspended. It drives him crazy to see everyone else easing into it.
Q: Was that really you playing the piano in Episode 2?
A: I’m not going to tell anyone the truth until we get to the end of the season. Ed Begley Jr. (Cliff Main) is actually a very good drummer, though, but they couldn’t work that in… Ed had to learn a little guitar. He felt the pressure, but come on, man. It’s nylon strings. How hard could it be? [Laughs]
Q: After Kim is demoted, what do you think actually motivates Chuck to help her out?
A: I think it’s very important for a person like Chuck to have people in his corner and to be able to use them to do his inside work. Kim is perfect in that way, or so Chuck thinks. There’s a scene with them together — the first time we’ve ever seen them alone — and he tells her some stuff about Jimmy that she might not know. She has such a great poker face, but it’s very important for Chuck to have her on his team and understand his point of view. I would never want to play poker with Rhea Seehorn!
Q: During the flashbacks in Episode 5, we see Chuck trying — and failing — to make Rebecca laugh like Jimmy can. What’s your take on the Chuck/Jimmy relationship dynamic, taking this new information into account?
A: Brothers are brothers. Whatever their individual characteristics are, they’re always in competition with each other in some way. Jimmy found making people laugh to be very easy. I think that was foreign to Chuck. He didn’t understand those rhythms. He was great at taking people apart in court or sitting at a business meeting and pointing out a clause that devastates an opponent. That’s his talent and he’s brilliant at it, but when it comes to being likable, it’s like a foreign language to him. We see that during anecdotal and flashback moments. It’s all pretty interesting. I know people who have every intention of being amusing and they’re not. We’ve all encountered them. [Laughs] Chuck thinks making people laugh is just part of the con.
Q: With Chuck’s intellect and Jimmy’s mouth, what would it be like if the two of them cleared the slate and teamed up?
A: Wow! [Laughs] I think that’s a real odd couple. I know too much about the animosity underneath to even speculate. If they could do that and if all bets were off, they’d be unstoppable. I know what’s bubbling under there, though.
Q: If you had to choose one of them to defend you, who would it be and why?
A: It would be Chuck because he knows the law. Jimmy knows people. That’s very helpful, but I think you’d want a guy who really knows the law backwards and forwards to nail it. That’s just me.
Read an interview with Raymond Cruz, who plays Tuco Salamanca.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More