Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the co-creators and executive producers of AMC’s Better Call Saul, discuss the return of Gus Fring, why Mike is as nervous as he’s ever been, and how Chuck has “declared open war” on Jimmy.
Q: Gus Fring is back! At what point did you know it was time to bring him into this world?
Vince Gilligan: In hindsight, I wonder why it took us so long! [Laughs] I think it was inevitable that Gus Fring returned into the fold because as Better Call Saul has progressed, we have come to realize that it’s a bit of a two-hander. It’s certainly a show about Jimmy McGill and his eventual transformation into Saul Goodman, but the other side of the show is the story of Mike Ehrmantraut. If you’re going to tell the story of Mike transforming from more or less a law-abiding citizen into the coldblooded assassin he’s eventually going to become, it stands to reason that at a certain point we have to introduce Gustavo Fring, his employer. I’m proud that we had enough self-discipline to hold off for as long as we did. It took a bit of forbearance and discipline to wait this long.
Q: How is this version of Gus different from what we’ve seen in Breaking Bad? How does his presence change/impact the types of stories you are telling?
Peter Gould: Better Call Saul just has a different tone than Breaking Bad. Just seeing Gustavo Fring in that context changes the way we see him. So much of the story of Better Call Saul is the pre-history of Saul Goodman and Mike, and those two characters take huge moral turns as the show goes on. Gustavo’s Fring’s change is much more subtle and when we meet him, he will be very recognizable to the folks who have watched Breaking Bad. Having said that, he does not have some of the accoutrements that he has on Breaking Bad and we’re going to explore some of how he built his empire and especially how he navigated the cartel politics involved.
VG: We’re going to learn a lot about him and yet we’re going to retain a lot of mystery about him, too, because he is nothing if not a mysterious character. One thing that’s very similar between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is that Gustavo Fring is definitely a character to be reckoned with and taken very seriously. That remains constant and true.
Q: You guys have said that the Jimmy-to-Saul transition has happened slower than you initially expected. Where does he stand on that continuum as Season 3 begins?
PG: I think as we went through the first two seasons… how we get from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman started to seem like a bigger and bigger puzzle. There were times in the writers’ room where we kind of threw up our hands and said, “How does this guy that we like so much and who has a core decency become the guy in the crazy suit who advocates murder for business purposes?” That’s been a struggle through all three years. I think, for us, some of the clouds started to part in Season 3 and we started to get a sense of what Jimmy’s responding to and what it is inside him that freezes and causes him to become the much more cold-hearted asshole who is Saul Goodman. [Laughs] In terms of the continuum, it’s not a thermometer. You can’t always quite see how high the mercury is, but there are some decisive moments in Season 3 where we can see that this man is changing before our eyes. You will meet Saul Goodman this season, but probably not in the way that folks are expecting.
Q: Last season ended with Chuck out-conning Jimmy. What can you say about the impact that Chuck’s choice has on this season as well as the relationship between the brothers?
PG: Chuck shows himself to be every bit the con man that Jimmy is, but one of the things that we’ve always avoided with Jimmy is what we call a “heartstrings con.” A heartstrings con is when instead of playing on your mark’s greed, you’re playing on their humanity and sense of empathy. It’s the con where people talk about sick children who never existed. Chuck hasn’t just conned Jimmy; he’s used a heartstrings con. He’s used Jimmy’s empathy and, frankly, Jimmy’s love for Chuck against him and I think that is about as much of a violation of brotherly good feelings that I can think of. Of course, it’s totally legal, but it is wrong, and I think it’s safe to say that Jimmy is not going to react well to this.
VG: I think it’s safe to say that Chuck has declared open war on his brother. Jimmy doesn’t know it yet, but war has been declared, and it’s going to get ugly.
Q: In another cliff-hanger, Mike was left wondering who had eyes on him in the desert. How would you describe what he’s up against this season?
VG: I think Mike is as freaked out as we have ever seen him. He’s as confused, bewildered, rattled and maybe flat-out nervous and scared as we’ve ever seen him and probably ever will see him. It takes an awful lot to rattle an old fella like Mike, and this unknown person or persons have managed to do that. Just as Mike doesn’t rattle easily, he does not change course or give up easily. I think it goes without saying that he will, by hook or by crook, get to the bottom of this mystery.
Q: Jimmy’s antics have put a lot of strain on his relationship with Kim, yet she still stands by him. What is the driving force behind her loyalty to Jimmy and the strong bond they have?
PG: Kim is not a simple person. She is every bit as complicated as Jimmy. She loves Jimmy and she’s fascinated by him and she enjoys his rogue-ish side. In fact, we’ve seen her con people along with him and that’s entwined within the romance of their relationship. She is also deeply committed to her work. These two characters have such different styles and approaches to life. Kim is so doggedly committed to getting ahead the right way and Jimmy, for the life of him, can’t help but see the shortest distance between two points. You really wonder which one of them is going to bend to make this work or if neither one of them bends, is it going to work?
VG: It’s like The Way We Were with Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand. [Laughs] Two people who love each other but for various reasons, they can’t be together – or will they be together? We don’t know the future. Kim never appears in Breaking Bad, but what does that mean? It could mean any number of things, and I think folks need to stay tuned because she does appear to be, in a very real sense, maybe the most important person in his life and maybe the love of his life.
Q: Vince, you’ve directed the first two episodes of Season 3 and Peter directed the finale. What new things do you learn each time you step behind the camera to bring your words to life?
VG: I feel very lucky every time I get to step behind the camera. … The more I direct, the more I become aware of my shortcomings and knowledge and experience. It gets more humbling, not less. You’d think the more you do something, the easier it’ll get, but it gets harder. You know just a little bit more every time and you realize the possibilities and pitfalls at hand.
PG: One of the things I get out of it is a wonderful, intoxicating feeling of how devoted the cast and crew is to the show. We’re so lucky with our collaborators. Also, getting to work one-on-one with the actors and getting to talk to them about the characters. We get to talk the big picture, but we don’t necessarily get to talk about what’s going on in each individual moment and that is fascinating. I have to second what Vince said – it’s exhausting… It makes me appreciate the wonderful directors who direct the episodes that we don’t.
Q: What are you most looking forward to fans seeing in this third season of Better Call Saul?
VG: I think this is our best season yet – and I don’t always say that. I’m just so impressed with the work everybody’s doing, and I really, truly think this is our most exciting, deep, rich and complex season yet. As evidence of that, I was watching the sound mix for one of our episodes in the first half of our new season and after it was over, I felt shell-shocked. I turned to Peter and said, “I feel like I just watched the 63rd episode of Breaking Bad.” We have not set out to make it feel like Breaking Bad because we still very much intend for Better call Saul to be its own series, but nonetheless there is more crossover in Season 3 than ever. In a sense, I feel like the audience is getting two shows for the price of one. They’re getting the best of both worlds, and I can’t wait for people to see these 10 episodes.
PG: I’m excited that the audience is going to see sides of these characters that they didn’t know existed – and that we didn’t know. There were aspects of these characters that surprised us. There are things that our characters do this season that were a complete surprise to us in the writers’ room, but that felt right. I’m guessing that if they surprised us, there’s a good chance they’re going to surprise the audience, and I just hope they love it the way we do.
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