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Better Call Saul Q&A — Mark Margolis (Hector Salamanca)

Mark Margolis, who plays Hector Salamanca on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses why Hector and Gus hate each other so much, whether Hector questions Nacho’s loyalty, and reuniting with so many familiar faces from Breaking Bad.

Q: Did not having to keep your role a secret make shooting this season easier than shooting last season?

A: It was such a major secret that they wouldn’t even let me go to the hotel that I usually go to on Breaking Bad. But when they put me in the downtown Hyatt where they were hiding me, everyone at the Hyatt said to me, “Are you here for Better Call Saul?!” So, it was a waste of time to hide me!

Q: How, if at all, has Hector changed between Season 2 and Season 3?

A: There’s a great bitterness this year. Episode 4 was filled with all kinds of bitterness with regards to dealing with the head of the cartel, Steven Bauer’s Don Eladio, and his great regard for Gus Fring as opposed to me, who is now becoming second fiddle. Gus is able to shrink wrap money because he bought that machine at Bed Bath & Beyond or whatever and Don Eladio is very impressed.

Q: In Episode 4, Hector is far from amused by Don Eladio’s jokes. Do you think Hector’s ego is a liability?

A: It may be a liability, but a big piece of this bitterness, jealousy and anger is coming out of the fact that Gus Fring is the last person in the world that I want to be held up against. I don’t like him at all.

Q: Is Hector’s ego the root of his jealousy/rivalry with Gus? Is there some other reason for the tension between the men?

A: On the simplest level, it’s because the head guy now has a favorite. It’s like a teacher who has a favorite student, and I’ve fallen by the wayside. This is the one guy in the world that I really don’t like, and he doesn’t like me. What is between them is my killing of his buddy [Max on Breaking Bad]. …I think that’s why he hates me as opposed to anybody else. When we had the meeting before I killed his friend, there was nothing coming at me that was animosity. … There was nothing particularly heavy going on between me and him. Just walking up and shooting this guy in the head was incredibly traumatic for him. On some level, it was like coming up and shooting someone’s mother or father in front of them. That hate carries on forever. I know that and don’t give a sh– about it, but I’ve got this enemy who’s trying to one-up me.

Q: When Gus agrees to be Hector’s mule, does Hector think he’s won in that moment?

A: I think. I don’t know that I’ve gotten what I wanted, but on some level, I have. Mostly, I go out of there thinking I put this guy in his place. I told him who I am and my position and his position and told him that I’m the cartel, and he’s going to work for me and I don’t give a shit if you go to Bolsa or Don Eladio. I’m the oldest guy there. … At the end, it seemed to be exactly what Gus wanted me to do. He threw a ball of tin foil in a can like a basketball and had a great smile on his face like he pulled it off. I think Gus thinks he’s done something to get me worked up. I don’t know that he’s smiling because he thinks he’s the key man. On the other hand, I don’t see why he would want me to come there because it almost blows his cover as the wholesome, helpful businessman in the community.

Q: Nacho is moving up in the ranks in Tuco’s absence. In Episode 6, is telling Nacho they have to use his father’s shop a test of Nacho’s loyalty?

A:I find him not ballsy enough, but it’s not because I don’t trust him. I just don’t find him ballsy. … I don’t believe it’s a test of his loyalty because if I questioned his loyalty for a moment, I would just have him killed. Hector doesn’t screw around. The reason Mike hates me is because I had a good Samaritan killed who just helped out, a guy that was untying my truck driver. And then I later killed my truck driver. I really think I need another method for getting my stuff across the border and somebody who is completely out of the whole cycle of that, an upholster who gets materials from Mexico, is perfect for me.

Q: In Episode 6, we get a first glimpse into Hector’s deteriorating health — another step closer to Breaking Bad. Did you expect that to come up so soon? 

A: It’s a hard situation. I’m not a doctor, but I asked some of the medics working on the show and these heart seizures are not what would have put him in the wheelchair. A stroke is a different thing altogether. A heart attack shouldn’t lead to being only able to move one finger or almost paralyzed and not being able to talk. It’s a stroke that usually does what we’ve ultimately seen of myself in a wheelchair. So I’m not sure [if the two are related]. I hope they’re not getting rid of me! [Laughs]

Q: This season, you’re getting to work with even more folks from Breaking Bad again. What’s it been like to see and work with these familiar faces?

A: The guy who really turns me on in this show is Jonathan Banks. I got to do two scenes with him in the beginning of last year and I had never worked with him on Breaking Bad. We never crossed paths. That was the big thrill. Giancarlo Esposito and I were in a play back in the early ’80s in New York City directed by John Malkovich; a big hit called Balm in Gilead. So, I go all the way back with him. Later, Sidney Lumet had a series on TV called 100 Centre Street and in one of the episodes, he played an artist who did giant paintings of nude children, and I was his lawyer representing him. We run into each other over the years, so it’s always sweet to see him. He’s a very healthy, holistic guy. I used to be cynical, but I wish I was as healthy and holistic as him. Steven Bauer and I go all the way back to 1983 with Scarface. He’s an interesting character, and I enjoy him whenever I see him. I’ve been in a couple of things with him over the years.

Q: You told us before that you’re not a native Spanish speaker. Have those scenes in Spanish become more comfortable the longer you play Hector?

A: I was proud of myself in that scene at the swimming pool because I go crazy whenever they hand me a load of Spanish. It’s like asking me to climb Mount Everest. I work on it with tutors, but in that scene, I had three people that were native speakers – Steven Bauer is a Cuban from Miami, Javier Grajeda grew up in a Mexican family in L.A., and even the lovely actor I show up with as my assistant is from Mexico City. The few little errors I make can always be corrected in ADR. We did in fact correct some things in a few places where I spoke too slowly or didn’t hit it quite right. We were going to put what they call an ear wig in my ear so that somebody could speak the Spanish to me, but that didn’t work out very well. I worked like crazy and got most of it down. [But] I don’t feel any more comfortable with it. It’s the most frightening thing in the world!

Read a Q&A with co-producer Ann Cherkis, who wrote Episode 6.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c. For the latest information and exclusives sign up for the Insiders Club.

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