Michael McKean, who plays Chuck McGill on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses how Chuck’s con against Jimmy turned out better than he planned, why Chuck has no regrets, and why he believes Chuck shouldn’t necessarily be painted as a villain.
Q: How does it feel to be back for Season 3? How, if at all, is this season different than the first two?
A: For the most part, it was the same gang and you become close to people as a family. There have been some changes, but they’ve always been good changes. We’ve had so many great people on this show.
A: It was a pretty clever way to bust this guy and to maybe start the machine that will be his undoing and hopefully, his re-exile. We all know that Jimmy is not going to go easily. We also know that Chuck is not going to give up, and I think that’s at the heart of our conflict in this coming season.
Q: In the Season 3 Premiere, Chuck and Jimmy are having a nice moment reminiscing about their childhood, but Chuck shuts it down. Why do you think Chuck is so quick to put the wall back up?
A: I think it’s familiar behavior. I know how Jimmy does this. I’ve seen him do this with other people. I’ve seen Mom get mad at him and have him put out that fire with the flick of his wrist. In a way, I think it’s written as an acknowledgement of that level of how two brothers can be. As far as Chuck’s reaction, it’s complicated.
Q: Why do you think Chuck is so obsessed with teaching Jimmy a lesson? Does he believe he’s the only one who can?
A: I don’t think Chuck thinks of himself as the hero. He’ll say, “You not only hurt me. You’re hurting other people.” He warns Kim, “This is what Jimmy does. He can be a lot of fun, he’s charming, but he will hurt you and he will hurt everyone around you.” That is something I believe for my own reasons. I’m not a doctor. I can’t cure him. I just know it’s like pouring good money after bad. But instead of money, the expenditure is emotional time and the wear and tear on your life when you have to do that.
Q: In Episode 2, Chuck’s even more elaborate con works exactly as intended when Jimmy barges into the house. Does Chuck feel vindicated in that moment?
A: I think he’s amazed that it went so well. [Laughs] If you look backwards at it, that was a really clever trick that probably shouldn’t have worked. It’s the imagination of it, and a certain amount of distress had to be gone through. He’s not faking this. Electrical pulses don’t feel good, and they make him ill, so he has to go to some lengths to set up this trick. It really shouldn’t work. It’s kind of an outlandish set of circumstances, but he thought it through and he’s delighted. At this point, there is a certain amount of “I can out-flim the flammer and get a leg up on this.”
Q: However happy Chuck might be that his plan worked flawlessly, do his feelings change at all when he is confronted with Jimmy’s violent, emotional reaction?
A: I don’t think he’s ready for it. He envisioned that Jimmy would sneak in, go for the desk and our private detective fellow will just stand up in the dark, turn on the light and say, “Motherf—ker! Guess what? You’re busted.”
Q: Does he have any regrets when he sees Jimmy’s reaction or does it just further prove his point?
A: All of those things, really. He’s taken aback, but he’s not thrown so much as he’s thinking, “Wow. This is maybe going to turn out even better.” I’m in no physical danger right now. I don’t think my brother would hit me or pull a knife, and I have two adult humans right there, five yards away. I’m catching the moment, that’s all.
Q: Do you think Chuck wanted to get Howard more involved in this, or was it a coincidence he happened to be there when Jimmy stormed in?
A: No, but it’s kind of perfect, though. It really is. Not only do I have this hired gun here, but I’ve got a colleague of ours and a person who knows the law, and you just tracked mud all over it. You could go to jail unless you do my bidding. It’s really just a power game.
Q: Fans instantly painted Chuck as a villain in Season 1. Season 2 probably didn’t help matters much. What have you found most interesting about people’s reactions to Chuck?
A: I’m either a minimalist or a revolutionary. I’m not sure which. I think that people should stop painting characters as anything until it’s proven – and the proof may not ever come. Some of the most interesting characters in literature and in movies and TV have been ones that you can’t quite figure out all the way… I think a villain who starts his morning looking in the mirror, wringing his hands and going, “How can I be evil today?” is not an interesting villain. An interesting villain is a person who you understand on some level, I think. If you’re portraying that guy, you certainly have to understand him as being as motivated as the protagonist. All that being said, I understand Chuck, emotionally. Sometimes it’s harder than others, but this was not that difficult. I understood every step of the way, and that’s because the writing is so good. It’s extraordinary writing. I’m very lucky.
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