From the executive producers of Better Call Saul and The Office comes Lucky Hank, starring Bob Odenkirk and Mireille Enos. Meet Professor Hank Devereaux (Odenkirk), the English department chairman at an underfunded college in a ho-hum town where mediocrity prevails. Life’s been throwing him some curveballs lately with his wife Lily’s (Enos) new career goals, constant chaos at work, and the return of his estranged father. With that, Hank spirals into a midlife meltdown taking everyone with him. In this interview with amc.com we speak with Diedrich Bader about the joys of working with seasoned actors, exploring the complexities of male friendship through Tony and Hank, and finding his mind palace through gardening.
Q: Tony has some of the best one-liners in the show—right from Episode 1! What was it that initially drew you to this project? Was it the scripts, the showrunners, or maybe you were a fan of the novel?
A: I was a fan of the novel. I come from an academic family, and I'm actually the only kid in my family without a Ph.D., so I know these characters really well. My sister, who just retired from Duke, was the one who turned me onto it. So, I was a fan of the book, but I also had always wanted to work with Paul Lieberstein, who's a friend of mine — he's just a good guy. And I'd heard of Aaron and heard that he was a good guy too!
The thing that I was really looking for was something where I could use my comedy chops, but also play scenes for real-sies. That was one of the things that I really loved about doing Better Things was that it goes by the rhythm of life, and you don't have to hit your jokes. You just have to mean them. I was looking for something that would be a challenge but was also fun and would use my strengths, so it was hard to find! Most comedies try to maintain a farcical structure naturally and just be funny all the way through, so you have to mean what you're saying, of course, but you're also supposed to keep it as light as possible. In other words, not really dive into what's happening in a situation. Frankly, after 36 years of telling other people's jokes, I got a little tired of it. So that's what I was looking for and when this came across my desk and I was like, "Oh my God, this is perfect!" Then I caught COVID. [Laughs] I auditioned for this when I had COVID, like in the heart of COVID times, so I can’t actually remember my audition! When I got the part, I was like, "Oh no, what do I do now? Because I can't remember what I did!" So, I had to watch the tapes of myself. This is the only time I've ever done that!
I'm glad that there were tapes for you to watch because under the haze of COVID, it must have been delirious for you!
I literally had no memory of acting, honest to God. I'm not exaggerating. I was right in the heart of COVID, my fever and the cough. My voice was hoarse because of coughing so much. It's funny to watch the video now. I had a full-on beard. It was insane! Of course, I jumped at the chance to work with Bob [Odenkirk]. I've been a fan of his since Mr. Show, so for a very long time. And, you know, he's proven himself as not only an incredible actor but as somebody who really has a draw — he's going to have an audience! All of that made it attractive.
Q: Tony and Hank’s friendship has been fun to watch for your banter and humor, but in Episode 6 when you get into the fight at the conference you got to play a different part of their relationship. I especially love the way the characters make up in Episode 7. What was it like working with Bob to flesh out this well-rounded friendship?
A: Well, Bob insisted that everybody go out to dinner all the time when we were in Vancouver, plus we would also go for walks together as a cast. And a lot of times it would just be me showing up! So, Bob and I ended up being really close. We had dinner together almost every night the entire shoot. So, by the time we got to Episodes 5 and 6, because we shot that as a block, we were good friends.
We talked a lot about the scene in the bar. I think when you don't have somebody else in your life, a significant other or partner or spouse, your best friend means the world to you. Hank has people in his life, but Tony really has nobody but Hank, and I think he feels genuinely betrayed. I think he’s disappointed and then a little upset at himself for investing so much in this friendship, and Hank hasn't really been contributing as much as Tony. That's a difficult realization in any relationship, but especially if it's your primary relationship… it's a very difficult realization. Clawing your way back from that is hard and that's what Episode 7 is about. I mean, Tony brings back the chainsaw that he borrowed.
I loved that he just put it on the bed!
He puts it on the bed because he's a guy. But my favorite part of it is that it didn't work! He loaned it to him knowing that it didn't work, and then offered it to him as a gift — like a make-up gift — knowing that it didn't work! To me, that moment in that scene was the moment where Tony actually forgives Hank. Because it's not like Hank really apologizes, but Hank's not going to change. He is what he is. There's something about the act of thinking that he's making a contribution by offering Tony a broken chainsaw! He's making amends. He's giving him essentially a piece of metal. There’s a moment where he kind of breaks a little bit and he's like, "Okay, I mean, Hank is what he is. I can't make him something that he's not. And we're either friends or we're not." I think the show explores — through Tony and Hank — the complexity of male relationships, especially middle-aged male relationships.
I think in your teens and certainly in your 20's and 30's it’s a time, at least with my friends, that all I did was joke around with them, compete against one another, play one game or another, and that was really the essence of our relationship. We would compete with one another and then we would bullsh-t and then we would talk about politics. It was only during COVID times when we were all in our 50's, we would meet in my driveway, and I would make coffee and we all got to this point where we were done with bullsh–tting. We just really wanted to talk about what happened in our lives. Talk about what happened in our friendships from different perspectives, talk about moments that happened throughout our friendships. A lot of my oldest friends live really close by so they'd just walk over to my driveway, and I would put out little lawn chairs. We would sit in the driveway because it was basically the only thing we could do. The reset that COVID gave us gave us was an opportunity to just cut through it all and talk about what we really needed to talk about. That was one of the things that I think we really get into in Episode 7. These guys are middle-aged and at some point, they’ve got to deal with the issues in their lives — and they'll be there for each other. That was something that I really, really appreciated. And that's why you go with really good writers, like Paul and Aaron. You know they're going to handle it well.
Yeah, it seems like a late-stage attempt at intimacy between friends. That intimacy just wasn't present, but there's an opportunity for that to finally be explored. That can be really, really daunting unless it is a really close friend, especially when you're talking about men. The show does a great job of exploring that in a way that I don't think that we've necessarily really seen.
Thank you. Thank you! I was hoping you would say that. It is rare in television to find new territory. We've done the bromances before, but they never really got to the heart of what those friendships are actually like. I've known most of my good friends since I was 14 years old and what's great about getting older is that, as I was alluding to earlier, we've gotten to the point where we’re like "all right, we just gotta get to it, like I don't know how much time I have left! I've gotta work through some stuff that happened to me.” So, we'll talk about it, really talk about it, and talk about it in a way that we can't talk about it with our wives or our girlfriends just because they’re coming from a totally different perspective. Men's intimacy with each other is a new frontier for television and it's kind of cool that this is the show that's going there. And it needs to have that emotional set-up to really pay off, you know?
Totally. The friendships that you all built both on and off set made for those authentic moments. Even if you were using words from a script, there's authenticity there that I think makes it spark.
Because the friendship is grounded and it's real. Also, especially by Episode 6, we had gotten to the point where we trusted each other as performers. It's different, but it’s a little like my relationship with Ryan Stiles on The Drew Carey Show. Once we both figured out that we just wanted it to be better, we would give each other notes because we knew it came from a place that was constructive and not competitive. There’s this shorthand that you get to pretty quickly when you trust each other as seasoned performers. If the fellow performer has their heart in the right place, you can go to a territory of real trust and it's beautiful because you can discover things as a team!
The way I construct a scene when I'm rehearsing is different than what happens on a set! A lot of times when you're working with actors that are either just looking out for themselves or not listening at all, you have to rely on what you’ve discovered by yourself. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing. You're bringing nothing to the table. I learned that really early on. Especially in television, there's no time, so if you have come unprepared and you're not willing to work with me, I still have to perform for camera. You know, we can't just go, "Oh well, we'll come back to it tomorrow." I still have to perform and whatever I do is going to last forever, so I need to concentrate, and I need to be prepared. So, I have a performance ready to go. If you're not bringing anything, that's fine. I mean, it's not preferred! But if you really haven't done any work, it's okay. I'll be all right and the scene hopefully will still work. But the idea that we can do it together and really work as a team together with open minds and open hearts just trying to make the piece itself bigger — bigger than the two of us — it's what's so exciting about acting! And I rediscovered that doing this show. I was getting tired, just tired of not being truthful, so it was a beautiful thing to rediscover through the show and something that really just excited me again. I know we're not talking about Episode 5 specifically, but the dinner table scenes in Episode 5 were everything I was looking forward to when I was an arts student studying acting. Every take was different, everybody had their own thing, the script was really good. This show has reinvigorated my belief in the craft and in working. In your late 50's, that's a nice thing.
Q: It's great that bring up the dinner scene in Episode 5 because that leads to my next question. The show has such an amazing ensemble cast and I think that dinner in Episode 5 was such a perfect setting for everyone to mingle and let their characters let loose a bit. Can you talk a little bit about shooting those dinner scenes?
A: So, that house is a location and not in studio. That's important because that means we can't go back to our trailers. A lot of the times when you shoot in studio, you go in, you do your bit, you shoot a couple takes, and then you go back to your trailers. It's just natural. They're long days. Well, for this one, because the trailers were so far away, we didn't go back to our trailers! We all hung out together, and between set-ups nobody went anywhere. We just sat at the table and let that reality sink in. At this point we had been together on location for quite some time. We knew each other all very well and these are really seasoned performers, so we can chat, read, sit in silence and not worry about anything. It's easier for the crew because they were able to line up with the actual actors, not the stand-ins, and then we got to do take, after take, after take.
It just felt like we had put together something that was really special and unique. I know that's a redundancy. But for all of us, because there's a lot of seasoned pros in there, we knew it was something completely different for us. Cedric is incredible in that scene and his monologue is just beautiful, perfectly structured. His voice of course is incredibly beautiful, but it's also well-grounded. It was a pleasure to watch. I'm just delighted to be a part of it!
Q: In Ep 1 Hank talks about “the misery business” always outperforming the “happiness business,” and it’s a concept that stuck with me. How do you disrupt “the misery business?” What are the little day to day things that bring you joy?
A: I like gardening because it's both practical and a mind palace. During the winter, I like to read seed catalogs and just imagine different parts of the garden. I reconstruct what might come back next year, what I'm sure is going to fail, what's already established, and then a unifying aesthetic or theme to that particular part of the garden — and then imagine it all in my mind. Then there's the practical thing of planting, weeding, and supporting and fertilizing it. I found in my life that there's a lot of rejection. I get rejected far more than I get accepted. You know, an actor's life. For a long time, I took those rejections far too seriously. It was too impactful in my life. I would get bitter, I would drink about it, I would ruminate on them, and I wouldn't let them go. And I find that in the garden, if I get a rejection, which happens all the time, I sit in the garden and I allow myself to really be upset about it and just think it over. One of the things I was trying to do before, which was wrong, was push it away. I've learned that anytime you push something away, it just gets stronger, and it always stays in front of you. You can't push things to the side. You're just pushing it ahead of you and eventually you're going to have to go through it. So just go through it when you're there and go, "Damn, I didn't get it." So, I'll sit there and look at the garden, and before I know it, there's something that I need to do. I'll get up and I'll start doing it. Then about a half hour, 40 minutes later, I forgot all about the rejection.
It's meditative in a way.
That's exactly what it is. It relaxes your brain because it's just about beauty and work. So, it helps. That's why my Instagram is all flowers in my garden. I'm trying to give people an opportunity—this may sound vain—but to go to the page and give them something they can meditate on. Because if you look at the flowers, they're all flowers that I have selected for you to think about. It is a very joyful thing! A garden is a lovesome thing, as the old quote says. It's very true.
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