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Better Call Saul Q&A – Thomas Schnauz (Writer, Director & Executive Producer)

Thomas Schnauz, writer, director and executive producer for AMC’s Better Call Saul, talks about Chuck’s role in Jimmy’s transformation and the possibility of an all-Gene episode.

Q: Episode 7 ended with Jimmy seemingly unsure about Kim’s business proposal. But in Episode 8, it seems like he’s jumped right in. Do you think there was some hesitation to take this deal?

A: I think he had to take some time to evaluate what she was proposing because, on one hand, it hurt his feelings that she wouldn’t just join forces with him and start a partnership. Jimmy probably had to take some time to get over the fact that she didn’t want to form Wexler-McGill, but then he realizes that she’s absolutely right – he has to do his lawyering his way and she has to be the straight and narrow. He’s going to bend the rules and the best way to go forward is her proposal.

Q: In Episode 8, Hamlin is surprisingly decent to Kim when she quits and he even talks about his own past. How did you decide how much of his past to reveal? Does it make him less of the “bad guy”?

A: We don’t purposely hide Hamlin’s past. We felt we had a very good opportunity to tease a little bit of it. He refers to his dad, and I think this is the first episode where we know that the other “H” in HHM is his father. It was nice to show that he had some other dreams and the very strong hand of his father guided him into the role that he’s in now. He embraced it… He puts on the Hamlindigo Blue suit and he struts around like he’s the peacock of HHM. I think he had a dream similar to what Kim is now doing. It makes him a little wistful and he reflects on that. He’s genuinely happy for her, but of course he’s not going to let her steal any clients. He’s going to get down to business and do what he has to do to retain every dollar that pours into HHM.

Q: Along those lines, we don’t really see Chuck get energized in that fight to help Howard until he hears that Kim is going into business with Jimmy. Why does that set him off?

A: That’s Chuck’s deep psychology. Chuck feels, on some level, he knows the future that we’ve all seen on Breaking Bad. He knows how bad Jimmy McGill can become… I don’t even know if Chuck can imagine a person that despicable, but he knows that Jimmy can take the legal profession and really warp it into something that it shouldn’t be. The question we always ask is if this is Jimmy McGill’s future that he can’t avoid or if Chuck’s actions guide him into that direction.

Q: You’ve mentioned before that you personally think it’s Chuck’s actions that turn Jimmy into Saul Goodman. Now that Season 2 is almost over, do you still feel that way?

A: It’s evolving. Season 3 will make me think another thing. In the end, I’m going to feel it’s some kind of combination of Jimmy’s own actions and Chuck’s. I think things would have been very different if Chuck would have let Jimmy go forward on the Sandpiper case and didn’t pull all the crap he did in the episode “Pimento.” I think Jimmy would be a very different person if Chuck had stood by his side more.

Q: Chuck does indicate that Jimmy is doing Kim a disservice. Does he actually believe that or is it just a way to make Jimmy believe it isn’t a direct attack on him?

A: I think Chuck genuinely believes that Kim is a great lawyer, but we see the excitement she has about pulling these scams in the bar scenes so far. There’s gun powder there and Jimmy’s a flame. Something very bad can happen when you put Jimmy McGill into the mixture, and I think Chuck’s genuinely afraid for Kim.

Watch: Jimmy proposes going into business with Kim

Q: You actually wrote and directed Episode 7’s flashback sequence with “young Jimmy” for Season 1. Were you happy with how it fit into this season?

A: I was really heartbroken that, for time, the teaser had to go away from Episode 9 [last season]. Thankfully, we found a spot where it could work after Chuck tells the story to Kim about the missing money. We came up with that moment in the hopes that we could show the teaser back-to-back. Even though we see Jimmy steal the money, we don’t know how much of the missing money that Chuck talks about was money given away to guys like the con man. How much money did Jimmy’s dad just piss away rather than be the bad guy? Chuck has no proof.

Q: Episode 8 also features a big scene with the B-29 bomber. How did you guys come up with that as Jimmy’s idea for his epic commercial?

A: We were talking about the B-29 bomber on display in Albuquerque and we knew there was access to it, but the field didn’t look like an army base. Somebody from the crew thought about trying [to get] the one functioning B-29 bomber, “Fifi,” for the very short time period that we needed it. I thought, “How in the world are we ever going to get this?” Sure enough, our amazing crew and producers made some phone calls and got “Fifi” to the airport and we were able to shoot with it. It was just fantastic. I didn’t get to fly in it, but Vince Gilligan and a couple others on our team got to. That was very cool. [Laughs]

Q: This episode has several scenes with very little dialogue. Do you find those easier or harder to write?

A: In some ways, they’re easier to write. We have to write a little more visually and we lose sense of screen time. [Laughs] This episode was a struggle to cut to time. The teaser was not written the way [director] Larysa Kondracki shot it. She had this brilliant pitch to do a Touch of Evil-type opening where we’re following the truck in this grand [one-shot]. We love as much as possible to do silent and extended sequences. Our actors are so great that we’re just able to sit Jonathan Banks in a car and see so much on his face. We’re able to get away with not having to dub in dialogue that’s forced into a scene where there was none before. We believe the audience is very smart. It’s all there on the screen.

Q: Speaking of Jonathan Banks, you killed Mike off on Breaking Bad. What’s the best thing about being able to write for that character again?

A: Mike is like the coolest guy ever. So many people I talk to just love Mike so much and were pissed off at me personally when he died. [Laughs] Having Jonathan Banks back in this character and seeing how he becomes the guy that we fear and respect on Breaking Bad – every day that I get to do this job, I feel very lucky.

Q: You’ve mentioned wanting to see an all-Gene episode at some point. Is that something you’d want to get to sooner rather than later?

A: It just feels right, but we can certainly get to the end of the series and never do a Gene episode. There’s nothing set in stone right now, but it feels like it should happen. If not an all-Gene episode, then a majority-Gene episode. It’s sort of like how with Breaking Bad, a lot of people feel that the series finale was “Ozymandias.” [After that], there was some very much needed wrap-up to put a bow around the entire season and conclude every character. Part of me feels like there will be an ending and a wrap-up which could possibly be a Gene episode. We’ll see what happens.

Read an interview with Patrick Fabian, who plays Howard Hamlin.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.

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