Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler on AMC's Better Call Saul, discusses directing her first episode of television, finally getting a scene between Kim and Mike and why Jimmy and Kim are throwing caution to the wind in their ongoing pursuit of Howard.
How did directing this episode come about? Was it something you’ve wanted to do?
I thought for a long time that I wanted to try directing and I did get to direct two shorts on various hiatuses of our seasons. I've always been, even when I was doing theater, very interested in understanding all the cogs in the wheel, to understand other people's jobs. It just helps me, as a performer but also as a human. But I did start thinking I'd like to try directing… but I honestly felt like this show is so technically and artistically and physically challenging that I wasn't sure if I should be throwing my hat in that ring. But I talked to [showrunner and executive producer Peter Gould] and I went ahead and told him I want to throw my hat in the ring. I continued to be mentored by a number of directors during hiatuses and stuff and then they came and offered me a slot. I was scared, but the good news about having to step up to this level of a show is the ace team that you have behind you. It's like I was surrounded by people that are masters at their craft in every single department.
Once you got the script, what was your reaction to directing this particular episode? Which scenes were you most excited for?
I wanted to make sure that I visually found the right way into all of the scenes. I knew that I would be the first person introducing Crossroads [Motel] back into this world and to revisit Wendy for the first time. Then, also I was going home with Gus in a way – we've been to his house, but not really through his house and into his bedroom – and then that tunnel scene! And then the two characters that I think we always wondered if they'd crossed paths, Mike and Kim, meeting. So all of those I knew I really wanted to think about the visuals of these scenes and technically think about them.
Then beyond that, I needed to know my stuff very well because, when I got the script, I realized it was also a very heavy Kim episode as a performer. I asked for the script as early as I could possibly get it.. so that I could get my stuff sorted out as an actor. … I knew there were challenges and I had those conversations early as far as what am I doing when I'm on camera, what are we going to do about that? There are options. There's having a team of people, which is the route I went, that understand not just the show but your particular language when you're talking about the character and for me that was my [assistant director] Angie Meyer and my producing director Michael Morris and my [director of photography] Paul Donachie. All three of them were in video village the whole time and they understood what I was trying to get out of my own performance so that they could be another set of eyes on me.
Let’s stick with your performance for bit. Kim's really been in command this season. What do you attribute that to?
Well, there's a lot of things going on. Unfortunately, the tipping point of her looking at things in a Machiavellian way has gone towards the darker side. She's gotten into the business of deeming people deserving and undeserving, and that's a dangerous business to be in, especially if you're going to practice law. I think she honestly feels that taking down some wealthy people who've been handed everything a couple of notches in order to be a do-gooder in the end and help a lot of needy people is completely fine, and she's unconcerned with the ethics of it right now. As Kim has always been when she decides an objective, she is a dog with a bone. She is tireless, and we've seen that put to good use. Now we're seeing it be her own trapping because she's definitely going down this path that's quite unethical.
The part that gets more complex with Jimmy is there's a part of Kim that's aware that together they enjoy doing these things. He’s been in a funk and has lost himself, and he does liven up when he feels like he doesn't have to hide that part of himself and they're enjoying these things together. I think she does think this is some couples activity that's good for them! And she thinks it will help Jimmy, which is a strange thing to say, but I don't think either of them look at what they're doing and at all think, "Oh my gosh, I wonder if I'm ruining the other person right now." Jimmy was on the precipice of wondering that at the end of Season 5 and Kim's response to that was not only "no" but also she can't stand people telling her what she can and cannot do or what she should or should not be or feel. And I think that's another piece of this as well. She's the one making her own choices.
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In Episode 4, however, Kim starts to feel a little rattled when she feels like she’s being followed, but Jimmy gives her a little pep talk. It’s almost like they take turns convincing each other to keep moving forward in their plan.
Right. In that moment, it is literally the best representation of how far Kim can compartmentalize things. She is so shocked that he would label their behavior as "wicked." It astounds me as a person how much she has decided not to believe that what they're doing is wrong. She has, in my opinion, lost her way in this endeavor. But you are right that there are times all along the series and now in a heightened way that they do light each other's match. When somebody is smoldering, the other person ignites it or helps them compartmentalize it, and in that moment when they're sitting on the bed, Kim is feeling her conscience. She doesn't even realize that, but it's coming in the form of thinking you're being followed because they believe their actions are happening in a vacuum, that there are no consequences for what they're doing. And the world is telling her otherwise and Jimmy's saying, "Ignore that. Ignore that feeling. Ignore that itch." And she's thrilled to do so.
What do you think emboldens Kim to finally confront the guys who are following her?
Kim thinks that she has crossed her Ts and dotted her Is. She has thought through every possibility, she thinks, and so if this is something about somebody trying to build a case against Jimmy, which she later asks Suzanne, or if this is somebody that is following her and wanting to say that they're doing something wrong, her ego is eclipsing her common sense in this moment. But she also has this part of her that when she's faced with something, she puts on a mask. She puts on armor and she puts on a mask and she goes at it full force and she's not about to pussyfoot around, wondering if someone's following her. She is very direct in that. I think the confidence is coming from that she thinks this is about somebody trying to catch her or Jimmy in doing something wrong, and she legitimately thinks that she has covered all her bases.
As you mentioned before, in this episode we get the momentous first meeting between Kim and Mike, who informs Kim that Lalo is likely still alive. What does that revelation do to her — especially hearing that Mike told her because she’s “made of sterner stuff”?
That moment, and her reaction, is one of those gems that they write into a scene and allow the actors to play where it is not pinpointed. It is purposefully left to interpretation and I like it that way. I think in that moment Kim is unsure if she feels that is a compliment or an insult at this moment in her life. And I mean to either of them. Is that a compliment or an insult to Jimmy or Kim? And I think that moment has a lot of interpretations on what goes on in her mind from there. I think she's shaken to her core that Lalo is alive and that the possibility that he is going to come for them is high enough that this faction of men, who are also from some nefarious job, are following her and Jimmy, and the possibility of danger is very high.
And yet you see her do the math and realize that Mike must have been the guy in the desert, and so I think there's a small sliver of her that feels like this guy seems to have Jimmy's safety in the forefront of his mind. He got him out of trouble. She doesn't understand what the whole relationship is, but he's now trying to keep Lalo from coming after her. He told her he's not there to bust her for anything. She understands he's not legitimate like the FBI or police, but he seems to be trying to catch Lalo and keep Lalo from coming anywhere near them, and that's unfortunately about as good of a guarantee as she's going to get right now. But I think she's completely shaken in that moment. The obvious answer is they should stop what they're doing right now, and they don't.
This was obviously the first scene you and Jonathan Banks have done together. What was it like, both as an actor and as a director to go toe-to-toe with him?
It was so great! He's just incredibly, incredibly talented but so is the rest of my cast. It's not like you can show up and bring your B game one day. You've got to bring it! Jonathan and I have wanted to do a scene together for a long time. We've prodded the writers good-naturedly for many seasons because we really like each other in real life and we also respect each other's work and the character that each other has made. I think we thought there's a lot of very interesting possibilities that would happen if these two characters met because they both have their own code of ethics that they staunchly protect and they both are walking very slippery slopes.
Mike is aware that his is honor among thieves. He's aware that he is a criminal who has a code. Kim is not there yet. So it's interesting watching them look at each other and think about that. Kim's not aware, but as a viewer it's interesting seeing those two sides. They also both play their cards very, very close to the chest. In this scene, Mike is very personally trying to act more approachable and softer and trying to be like "I'm just a casual guy sitting at a diner booth" so that he doesn't put Kim off. But you see her – she takes a second to even let him in and I don't think she totally lets her guard down at all. But playing with those dynamics of these two people that normally don't really let anybody in. It was fun watching these two people and figuring out what their dynamics would be together.
That sequence following Gus from his home to the safe house was really cool, but I also loved that it served to reinforce just how meticulous Gus is as a character. How did you bring that sequence to life?
One of the best parts about directing on this show – and there were many – is getting to work with all these different department heads and designers that have amazing ideas. They want to help you realize whatever's in your head, but they also are coming to you with just incredible thoughts about the imagery and everything from the props to the costumes to Gus's house. Denise Pizzini, our production designer this year, along with Ian Scroggins, the art director, and Dins Danielsen and Ashley [Michelle Marsh], the set decorator, and then of course Mark [Hansen] in props, these people were coming to me with amazing ideas. “How nice is Gus's place? He's a very fastidious man, but is he showy? Does he have a super-lush bedroom or is it completely sparse?” We settled in this world of it's like a super, super nice hotel room, because he can't really live in his personal life anyway. He constantly has this dual life and how much could he ever just settle into, “Oh, I'm a guy who lives in a really nice house in the suburbs"? Everything is extremely orderly… and it's very nice, but it shouldn't look comfortable because it's not and there's nothing comfortable about this life of his. [There’s] not a big, sloppy sofa that he sits around on watching Netflix.
It was cool watching them design this closet and then I worked with Paul Donachie to figure out… what we wanted to say. He came up with shooting it from above and then we also have from behind where you see literally the split parts of Gus's life, his work shirts on one side and his casual, if you can call them that, clothes on the other side. You see that he's wearing a bulletproof vest for the first time. There's so much going on there. …. Then, I loved being at the bottom of the bed with him because for me the whole episode has moments where almost every single character is showing you their belly for just a second. They’re showing you the thing that worries them and is a little more vulnerable than what they're showing the world, even Gus. So having that intimate moment with him in his bedroom and him being irritated that he has to actually arm himself, that that's the position he's in right now because he's being hunted, and Gus has never had to wear a bulletproof vest and a gun on his ankle. I wanted that to be a really intimate moment. I wanted the moment with Howard talking about his marriage not going well to be intimate and real foil to Jimmy when he's running around outside. I wanted it to be real for a minute. I wanted Kim's moment after Mike leaves, or even the moment in the bed when she's like, "You think we're wicked?" I just wanted to pick at everybody's scabs a little bit.
And, of course you mentioned the Crossroads Motel and seeing Wendy again. How did you want to balance bringing those Breaking Bad aspects into this show but also having some fun and advancing Jimmy and Kim’s scheme?
Ann [Cherkis] wrote such a compact script. There's so much going on. And like I said, there's a lot of very vulnerable, big moments, very dramatic moments, but there's also a lot of fun in this one. And I wanted to embrace that because I do understand what the episode is coming off of. It's coming off of this just devastating Episode 3 that is such a gut punch and so beautifully done. When I read Episode 4, I could see [the writers] allowing there to be some fun here too, to see some of the lightness. So I wanted to have some fun with that. Getting to see Crossroads and getting to see Wendy, was so great – I just thought about those transitions and leaning into… those moments that feel kind of like a caper. In Kim and Jimmy's heads, they are compartmentalizing to the degree that they don't think they're doing anything wrong, but hen we let it butt up against these scenes that show the consequences. That includes scenes like Jimmy at the office in that lovely sequence where Oakley finally tells him even he thinks he's a piece of s–t and Kim thinking she's being followed and finding out she is. To me, they're not unrelated at all. They are showing that there are no actions in a bubble. Everything has consequences and to choose how you're going to sidestep them so that you can get what you want in this Machiavellian way, it doesn't ever end well. And so it was important to me to constantly juxtapose those.
And finally, you said that after the conversation with Mike, Kim and Jimmy should absolutely stop what there’re doing. Yet when she sees Jimmy’s had such a good day, Kim doesn’t even mention it to him. Why does she make that choice? Is she afraid that he might actually tell her to stop?
Yeah, I think it's all those. I think she sees that he's finally on the upswing. He's feeling good. He had a great day. He got a bunch of new clients. He's finally alive and has a light back in his eyes and feels good about the direction he's going and she doesn't want to crush that. She also doesn't want to be told to stop this. I think you're right– there's a huge part of her that's like he's going to have PTSD again if I tell him that Lalo's out there watching us. He's also going to be terrified for me. And then the third rail is her ego. I think she thinks she has it under control and that she can keep this car on the track.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+. For more on the final season, read our Q&As with Executive Producer Peter Gould , Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy McGill and Michael Mando, who plays Nacho Varga.
Better Call stars tease what to expect in the final season: