Julie Ann Emery, who plays Betsy Kettleman on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses reprising her fan-favorite role in a new short film, why she’ll never tire of singing “Bingo,” and her new role on AMC’s Preacher.
Q: What was your reaction when you first got the call that you’d be reprising your role as Mrs. Kettleman?
A: I was thrilled. Obviously, any chance that I get to crawl back into Betsy Kettleman’s head, I will leap at joyfully. I knew there was a desire on the part of Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] to bring the Kettlemans back. I just didn’t know when or how that might possibly happen. It was such a magical moment Jeremy Shamos [who plays Craig Kettleman] and I had developing the Kettlemans. [Betsy] was unlike anything I’d ever known, so I always told them I would move Heaven and Earth and leap at the chance to play Betsy again.
Q: Did this snapshot into Betsy’s new life change the way you think about the character at all?
A: I spent time talking with Vince and Peter about what happens to Betsy after Season 1. They were always obsessed, rightfully, with her reaction to Jimmy. For me, it was always about how she’s feeding her kids. She’s a stay-at-home mom and they just took all of her money and put her husband in jail. I’d always been obsessed about how she’s carrying on. That really did stay with me for two years. When I read the short, I knew it was going to be funny, but what was surprising is that it was kind of heartbreaking. We didn’t discover that until Jeremy Shamos and I were sitting on opposite sides of the road, looking at each other. That hit both of us out of the blue. I didn’t realize that the Kettlemans could be sad. [Laughs] Betsy is so determined that everything is OK all the time. That little creep of sadness was just a completely different dimension of her.
Q: What was it like shooting in such an unglamorous location?
A: Coming down that hill was challenging because the dirt was pretty loose, so there were shots where one of us stumbled or I was grabbing Jo Jo to keep her from falling down. That was physically challenging. The rest of the challenge of it adds to the absurdity of the moment, which I love. I don’t ever mind some sort of challenge that adds to what’s going on. There was a red Solo cup that I kicked out of the way to put the blanket down, and that stuff is all nice character moments.
Q: As you said, it’s a fun piece, but also kind of heartbreaking. What’s going through her mind when Craig comes out of the truck?
A: I feel like she has seen him, but the kids probably haven’t because I think she would shield them from that. This was her fun version of an attempt to remedy that. Vince used to tell Jeremy and I that Mr. Kettleman didn’t know how to put on his socks before he met Mrs. Kettleman. I don’t think Betsy functions very well without him either, and that was a surprise that came from our little short. There was something in that turn and looking at him where a whole new dimension comes to Betsy. That was a real surprise on the day.
Q: I imagine you had to sing “Bingo” a lot. Did that song ever wear on you?
A: [Laughs] It didn’t wear on me, but I think it wore on the crew! For me, there was a lot behind it, so it was like singing “Bingo” but trying to say a three-page monologue to Mr. Kettleman. I think the crew was pretty sick of “Bingo” by the end of the day, but “Bingo” is the Kettleman’s theme song. We have to sing it and sing it with pride. The kids got a little tired of singing it. At the top of it, Betsy is determined that this is going to be like any other family outing.
Q: Why do you think Mrs. Kettleman was, and remains , such a fan-favorite character?
A: I think there are two dimensions to the fan reaction to Betsy. I think, in some ways, she’s a character you love to hate for some people. But some people really do love the Kettlemans and Betsy. I think part of that is we haven’t really seen a woman quite like her on screen. When you jump off a cliff with a character like that, I feel like the fan reaction is always going to be strong one way or another. Betsy certainly attracts it from both ends, but even some of the fans who hate Betsy still talk to me on Twitter about the Kettlemans. I was really blown away by the response to Betsy. I thought, at best, she might be annoying but people really hooked into her. She has a real belief that she can speak her world better than anyone I’ve ever met. Maybe there’s a desire in all of us to be able to say something and run with that all the way to the end of the Earth.
Q: Do you think seeing this new version of her might change the minds of those who love to hate her?
A: I would hope so. Heartbreak is heartbreak even if it’s someone that annoys you. There was something about the short that brought a real three-dimensional aspect to the Kettlemans. Maybe they will relate to her more. I don’t know. Can anyone relate to Betsy? I found ways to relate, but that’s my job. [Laughs] She’ll do anything for her family. She’s not very motivated by doing anything for herself. She really does see herself as part of a clan.
Q: Does this renew any hope that we might see her again on Better Call Saul?
A: I think there’s a lot of life in the Kettlemans, but whether or not they fit into the story of Jimmy McGill becoming Saul Goodman is up to the writers. I know there’s been a desire there for us to come back. That’s out of my hands, but I’d jump at the chance, for sure. I’ve never played anyone like her.
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see from you in your new role on Preacher?
A: I actually think Better Call Saul fans and Preacher fans have a lot in common, whether they know it or not. Preacher has a very dark sense of humor and Better Call Saul can have a dark sense of humor. Preacher has a lot more action, but I do think there’s a similarity there. Sam Catlin, our showrunner, came up in the writers room on Breaking Bad, so he’s worked in that world. The writing and acting are very strong on the shows. I’m excited for them to see a different side of my work. Featherstone pushes my skills to their limits, and I’ve never had that before in a role where I’m being stretched in all directions. So, I’m excited to see if I pulled it off. [Laughs] Also, Preacher this season is like Season 1 on crack. The pace is really amped up, Season 2 picks up where the comics pick up, and there’s an energy shift that I think the fans want. It’s a definite thrill ride. It’s crazy.
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