Gennifer Hutchison, writer and co-executive producer of AMC’s Better Call Saul, talks about bringing back characters from Breaking Bad and the origin of “Squat Cobbler.”
Q: You’ve known Vince Gilligan since you worked on The X-Files, and you’re now an Emmy-nominated writer on Better Call Saul. Tell us a little about that journey from there to here.
A: My first job in L.A. was in the writers’ room on The X-Files, where I met Vince. I worked as his assistant and, after The X-Files ended, I bounced from show to show as a writer’s assistant or producer’s assistant. I ended up working for Matthew Weiner on Mad Men and it was wrapping up its first season. I found out about the Breaking Bad pilot and I reached out to Vince and basically said, “Please hire me.” [Laughs] That’s how I ended up on Breaking Bad and figured out I wanted to be a writer and how to move up in the ranks.
Q: As one of the Breaking Bad writers now writing for Better Call Saul, how do you decide which characters to carry over, and how to change them to fit Better Call Saul?
A: It’s about figuring out who makes sense in Saul’s world, specifically, but there’s definitely some inclination to bring everybody back! You don’t want the show to be Breaking Bad Lite. So there’s a lot of restraint required. This is also a couple of years before Breaking Bad and people change. Krazy-8, for example, is not the same Krazy-8 we meet in the Breaking Bad pilot. It’s a balance between what makes sense and our own desires to see our old friends.
Q: The Cousins are two who made the leap from Breaking Bad. What’s the trick to writing for characters who are so silent, yet so memorable on screen?
A: Those guys are cast really well. I have to give a lot of credit to Luis and Daniel [Moncada] for bringing so much intensity to their roles. If those guys weren’t so menacing in their presence on-screen, I don’t think it would work. It’s about knowing what they’re capable of doing and making sure the script is clear about where they are, what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
Q: Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul both have some scary characters. Who makes you the most uneasy?
A: I always thought that Gus was the scariest bad guy on Breaking Bad because he’s so smart and patient. On Better Call Saul, I think Chuck is pretty scary. He’s a guy who’s lying to himself about why he’s doing what he’s doing. The people who are closest to you are often the scariest. [Laughs]
Q: You wrote the famous “I am the one who knocks” line for Breaking Bad. What’s been the line you’re most proud of in Better Call Saul so far?
A: I feel like they really do care about each other. Kim loves Jimmy and understands who he is more than he even does. I think that’s why she’s worried. She understands his darker side, but also the good side in him. That’s what she wants to bring out. It’s this push and pull of, “I love and accept who you are, but I also know who you could be.” There’s that constant tension.
Q: How did you come up with “Squat Cobbler” in Episode 2? Can you ever eat pie again without laughing?
A: [Laughs] We knew we wanted Jimmy to have this story to tell and we knew it had to be something embarrassing and incriminating, but not illegal. I think I suggested the pie-sitting pretty early on, but more as a placeholder. We talked about other fetishes, but this ended up being perfect. Originally, we didn’t name it and when Bob [Odenkirk] read the script, he said we should give it a name. Everyone had a field day pitching crazy names. “Squat Cobbler” was an early front-runner, but I also loved the idea of playing with “Blue Ribbon Special.” Pie is so delicious that I can’t ever give it up, but this is definitely going to stick with me for a while.
Q: Have any of the cast members contributed to or altered the direction you’d imagined for their characters?
A: I think it’s more about interpretation. It’s the actor’s job to take what we’ve written and bring it to life, and different people bring different perspectives about what makes their character work. There’s usually a conversation between them and the director about where they’re going. We all work together on an interpretation and they sometimes offer something we hadn’t thought of. It’s really a collaborative process.
Q: Has there been a time where the storyline took a direction you weren’t anticipating?
A: In Season 1, we did not plan for Chuck to betray Jimmy. That was something that came much later in the story. After seeing the way Michael McKean played Chuck and the storyline we were developing, it all of a sudden made sense that Chuck would be the one, as opposed to Hamlin, who seems like the obvious villain. That was a surprise, but a really great one. It was a completely different trajectory. It did great things for both Chuck and Jimmy’s characters.
Read an interview with Daniel and Luis Moncada, who play The Cousins.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More