Michael Mando, who plays Nacho Varga on AMC's Better Call Saul, discusses how Nacho's father drove his actions in Season 6, the special bond between Mike and Nacho, and how Nacho finally got to live on his own terms.
Things didn't look great for Nacho at the end of Season 5. At what point did you know how this would all turn out for Nacho?
At the end of Season 5 when he declared his cards and proved his loyalty to Mike. I knew that the whole show was going to break bad and being that one character trying to break good was going to put me in an extremely difficult situation.
Once it was clear he would meet his fate in this episode, what was that conversation like?
I received the call from [executive producers] Peter [Gould], Vince [Gilligan], and Melissa [Bernstein] that winter before we began shooting. I was still in Montreal. They told me it was going to be larger than life and that it will break the internet [Laughs]. It was a sweet call; a lot of nice words were said. Nacho had grown into a dream role, and I was excited to meet that challenge.
Before we get to those final moments, let’s talk about what led to them. What's going on in Nacho's head as he's trying to flee Mexico? Does he already know his fate? And if so, what’s driving him to keep going at that point?
Once he is at the gas station he essentially won. He’s finally free. But instead of walking into the sunset he turns around and calls for his father. The subtext of that call is, "I love you, come with me." It is during that conversation that he decides he will walk back through the fire and sacrifice his life in exchange for his father. He gives up his freedom to save the man who raised him.
In Episode 2, you were in that crazy hotel shootout with the Cousins. What is it like being a part of those kinds of big action set pieces?
Action movies, here I come! [Laughs]. It's been a blessing. Working with Vince [who directed Episode 2] was a dream of mine. He is a genius in every sense of the word. He thinks in cinematic moments, and I've learned a tremendous amount working with him and I'd love to do it again soon.
While on the run, Nacho takes refuge in an abandoned oil tanker. How real was that? Were you rolling around in sludge all day? Was it disgusting?
I got to do all my own stunts except two. I did not jump out of the building, and I wasn't in the car during the crash in Episode 2. It was just amazing to do all the rest. The writers told me it was going to be a tour de force performance this season: physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Nacho goes through the ultimate journey. I loved being fully immersed in it all.
Better Call stars reflect on what the show means to them:
There's a moment in Episode 3 where Nacho's washing himself off and the mechanic hands him a rag. To me, that small kindness sort of symbolizes what you’re saying about how Nacho is trying to do good in a bad world. Does Nacho recognize that moment?
Yes, that's a wonderful observation. Sometimes in life when you're trying to do the right thing, the whole world can feel against you. Sadly, money, power and greed can buy a lot of people. But then you have these moments when people pop up like angels and you suddenly recognize the thing that you're trying to save, the decency in each other. To see that beauty in flashes makes the journey worthwhile.
I imagine the phone call with Nacho's father had to be very tough to play because of the emotion of it. Nacho's keeping his emotions in check but we know what he must be going through. How did you play that final goodbye?
A: The glory and the tragedy of Nacho is that his father will never know how much he loves him [and] all the things Nacho has gone through to keep him safe. That’s the restraint you’re referring to. Though he is flawed, in his most difficult moments, he remains committed to doing the right thing in the best way he can.
Given how everything has gone down, how does Nacho feel about Mike and the relationship that’s grown over the course of the show?
A: Real recognizes real. Nacho and Mike are cut from a similar cloth. They both have virtue. They seek morality. They value innocent lives. Towards the end, Nacho transcends his relationships and essentially takes his own path. Whereas Mike compromises his beliefs, Nacho goes all in.
After being a pawn between these two rival organizations, Nacho steals the shard of glass and decides that if he’s going out, he's going to do things his way. Do you think he thought he'd fight his way out of his situation in the desert or was it just about taking control of his own life in that moment?
The ancient Egyptians had a saying where they'd weigh someone's heart against the weight of a feather. If the heart is lighter than a feather, then the person ascends to heaven. In that moment, Nacho is crystal clear about his decision, he is more confident than ever. He is there to do one thing: sacrifice his life to assure his father’s safety. The glass is about taking matters into his own hands to guarantee [that outcome]. And so, in that moment, he embodies true love and the ultimate sacrifice for something good.
Nacho dies by his own hand. As tragic as that is, do you think it's triumphant for Nacho?
Like Peter Gould said in an interview: “Nacho transcends himself”. He transcends evil and basically stands up for something bigger. He was offered the highest position in the cartel but turned it down. Though it’s tragic like Romeo and Juliet, for example, it’s also otherworldly.
What will you take from the experience of this show now that it's ending?
I like the idea of transcendence – that we can better ourselves, that we can change, and become the people we've always wanted to be. Like Nacho learns, we won't find this person that we are looking for in others. It's not for other people to confirm that what is within us, but it is for us to find it within ourselves.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+. For more, read our Season 6 interviews with Executive Producer Peter Gould and Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy McGill.
Better Call stars tease what to expect in the final season: