Jonathan Banks, who plays Mike Ehrmantraut on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses why Gus throws Mike off guard, why he likes shooting scenes with no dialogue, and why Mike goes along with Gus’s instructions — for now.
A: It’s all gravy. I always just want to see what the next script is. I want to know, “now what are you going to do?” That really is my attitude and I look forward to it.
Q: Vince and Peter noted that as the season begins, Mike is as concerned as we’ve ever seen him. How would you characterize what is going through Mike’s head when he first realizes someone is out-spying him?
A: I think that is a feeling that Mike is not that used to. I do think that he’s been around long enough and he’s wise enough to know that you can always be taken off guard… Mike has been on the dark side for a long time, but I think the continuous feeling that he has upon meeting Gus is that he knows this is a formidable adversary and what to make of it is a question. Mike doesn’t get confused or thrown off guard very often, but this throws him off guard.
Q: Almost all of your scenes in Episode 1 have no dialogue. How do you find ways to convey so much without any words?
A: I do enjoy doing that. We work in a visual medium, and I love the camera because the camera tells everything. It does add to the character. I think Mike lives in a silent world much of the time, and I enjoyed portraying Mike in that way during the episode.
Q: How long did that incredible montage take to shoot? How hard was it to take that car apart piece by piece?
A: I think it was at least two days, as I recall. How long did it take? Two 12 to 14 hour days, so there you go. I enjoyed being there because it was the director Vince and the crew and myself, and it was good.
Q: Episode 2 featured the return of Gus Fring. Although it’s a huge moment for fans, Mike obviously doesn’t know anything about him yet. What does he make of him early on in the chase?
A: Well, it’s just that: What does he think? Who is this, and what is this? He figures it out relatively quickly – he’s washing his drug money through the restaurant. Mike’s no fool. [Laughs]
Q: In Episode 3, the men come face to face for the first time. What was it like shooting the momentous face-off? Was it any different working with Giancarlo Esposito again?
A: It was great. It was great to see Giancarlo back again. I really enjoy Giancarlo, and he’s the antithesis of Gus Fring. Nobody loves those big, wide shots more than I do. I love the vastness of it and I always think of David Lean when I think of grand landscapes. It was pretty easy to fall back into [the rhythm].
Q: Mike clearly isn’t pleased by Gus calling him off his vendetta with Hector. Why do you think Mike goes along with it?
A: Probably for his own self-preservation. If you do something that will put yourself in jeopardy, it’s a brash and foolish move – and Mike is not that.
Q: Mike started after Hector because his family was threatened. Does Mike worry about their safety as long as Hector keeps breathing?
A: It’s a great question, and Jonathan Banks can only tell you that he would never let it go so far that his family would be in jeopardy. He thinks this is a cure for the moment right now.
Q: With the “shoes on the power line” stunt, Mike once again shows his genius with low-tech solutions to problems. What do you appreciate most about the way Mike’s mind works?
A: I love the simplicity of it. I love simplicity in general anyway, but how good is that? [Laughs] I almost don’t know how to respond other than I love it! I love the simplicity. That comes from the writers room. Johnny had nothing to do with that.
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see from Mike’s journey this season?
A: Whether it was Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, it’s a slow burn and the stories come slowly as they unwind. I just think it’s great and – boy, let’s talk about arrogance – it’s fun to watch Mike. And there he is again. He’s back for you.
Q: What do you think it is that makes people relate to Mike so much?
A: The first word that comes to my mind is “stoic,” and the second word that comes to my mind is “flawed.” Maybe that’s not the right order, but Mike is horribly flawed. Because he’s older, he’s been flawed a long time, but he’s still getting through and has not given up when he wants to. He wants to, but he doesn’t, and that’s because of his granddaughter and his daughter-in-law.
Read a Q&A with Michael McKean, who plays Chuck McGill.
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