Tina Parker, who plays Francesca on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses reprising her role from Breaking Bad, how this version of the character is different and why Francesca and Jimmy make a great pair.
Q: When Better Call Saul was first announced, did you hope this opportunity would eventually present itself?
A: Absolutely. Breaking Bad was such a magical time in my career, as far as TV projects that I’ve done in the past. They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, and it’s definitely an enchanting place. [Laughs] I had such a great time on that show with all of those guys, so I was hopeful, but I knew that it would be when the time was right and not to get my hopes up too high. When it was announced, everybody was like, “Are you on it?!” and I was like, “I don’t know! They’ll bring me back when they want to bring me back.” I was really happy to get the opportunity this season.
Q: What was your reaction when you got the call this season?
A: My first reaction was, “Holy crap!” — which is a nicer word than what I actually used. [Laughs] What’s cool is that it’s Francesca at an earlier part in her life, so she’s totally different from the Francesca we know from Breaking Bad. [She’s] starting out with positivity and energy. She’s so sweet. It’s fun to delve into that, and I really didn’t know what they were going to do with her until I got the scripts.
Q: How did playing this version of your character change your approach?
A: For me as an actor, everything’s got to be rooted in some kind of reality. I know where she ends up, so you have to at least begin in a place where you could end up at the place we already know. I took it script by script. I looked at what she was doing in the scene, what she wanted in that scene and tried not to get too sassy – that old Francesca sass from Breaking Bad. Since it is a lot of the same folks from Breaking Bad, the scripts are so detailed and amazing, and they give you the moves you need to make as an actor. You just have to let the script do the heavy lifting and trust the words. It was a lot of fun to explore.
A: Well, something ain’t right! She knows that. She obviously has some kind of simpatico with Jimmy because he seems to really like her and it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have a lot of credits on her resume. He seems to really be soft-balling up some questions for her to do well. With Kim, however, maybe [Francesca’s] thinking she’s a little competitive: “Is she competitive with me? I don’t quite get what her vibe is except that she’s a little stiff, so we’ll see how this works out. But, hopefully, I’ll just be working for him.” I think that’s what’s going on in her mind.
Q: Jimmy seems sold on Francesca from the very beginning. What do you think he sees in her?
A: First and foremost, he just needs somebody. That commercial is about to air, and he’s about to be hit with a deluge of calls. She’s the first person there, so she’s lucky that she’s early. Secondly, I think there’s that moment right when they first meet and he asks her opinion on the wall and if the line is straight. She’s honest and says it doesn’t look right, and I think he says, “Huh. This gal will tell me what it is.” For some reason, that moment always sticks out to me as to why he’s sure she’ll be honest with him, and it could be good.
Q: On the flip side, what does Francesca think of Jimmy? Why do you think these two are a good match for each other?
A: What’s fun about it is we’re both not quite our Breaking Bad people yet. He seems kind of goofy, he likes to crack jokes and he seems like he’d probably be a fun boss, like maybe we’d go have happy hour or something. There’s something about him that seems kind of fun, so maybe this will be an OK place to transition. Anything’s better than the MVD, right? I feel like it’s a step up from that, and he seems like a lot of fun to work for.
Q: What was the dynamic like between you and Bob since both of you are portraying very different versions of your characters? Was it familiar or challenging?
A: It always comes back to the scripts. The dynamic between Francesca and Jimmy at this point is he’s lovable and goofy and trying his best to be good, and she’s just starting out. Bob and I can vibe off of each other and sometimes things would happen in the room, and we would improv off of each other. I didn’t feel I had to go home and do a lot of heavy homework, trying to figure out the chart to get to where she’s going to go. You just trust the text to do the lifting. It’s great working with Bob. He’s a comedic genius. We had a lot of fun playing around with that stuff.
Q: What has the role of Francesca meant to you? Do you get recognized in public by Breaking Bad super fans?
A: I actually don’t get recognized that much. I usually get recognized in bars when people have had a few drinks, which is hilarious to me. It’s strange because lately, in the last four weeks, I’ve been recognized more than ever. I was like, “Are they running a marathon? What’s going on?” It’s been amazing. It has opened doors for my career as far as acting. I think I’ve definitely gotten in the room on some auditions because that’s on my resume and gotten some jobs because some of the folks who worked on that show went on to direct other things. It was just such an amazing experience. One of the great things about going back this season is it’s like a family reunion. It’s just such a great vibe and everybody’s supportive of the work that’s happening, and they want the work to succeed. It’s like no other set I’ve been on, frankly. I’ve had great experiences on other sets, don’t get me wrong, but this is something unique and a really great group of people.
Q: What are you most excited about fans seeing this season?
A: I think people are going to be surprised that Francesca’s so sweet and started in such a pure place before she’s asking Walt for $20,000 outside of a broken glass window. It’s a very different lady, and I think it will be fun to see where she goes. As we worked through the season, I was like, “Man. How are we going to get from that to this?” So, I’m curious to see where she goes. There are so many Easter eggs all the way through, and they’ve been so great at picking specific moments to pepper them in. I think the fans are really going to have a great time this season.
Read a Q&A with Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy McGill.
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