Patrick Fabian, who plays Howard Hamlin on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses finally standing up to Chuck after the “ultimate betrayal,” why Howard is so hard on Kim and drinking (fake) 35-year-old scotch.
Q: Howard was originally seen as the bad guy, and has since waffled back and forth. What’s it been like for you navigating those swings in fan reaction?
A: In the very first episode, our hero of the show – Jimmy McGill – refers to me as Darth Vader. When the guy we tuned in to watch calls someone a name, we intrinsically believe it. That reveal in Episode 9 of Season 1 was so great because people were like, “Oh! He’s been struggling, too. Chuck is the guy behind this all.” … Then, in Season 2, they were liking Howard a little bit and then I send Kim to doc review and everybody gets on my case about that. Now that we’re in 3, we see the McGill brothers are really at each other’s throats. They’re like this black hole vortex that is drawing everyone in the universe. I think you’re finding Howard’s patience is running out and things are coming to a breaking point. It’s funny because now there are two camps – people who don’t want to trust me because I seem like the guy who’s just out to save his business. And then there are other people who totally understand that point of view of trying to save his business and being drawn down by these weights and albatrosses that are the McGill brothers.
Q: Howard’s first appearance this season was him running a Ferris Bueller-like backyard obstacle course in a Hamlindigo Blue suit. How difficult was it to shoot that?
A: It was a totally fun run. I think Cary Grant used to talk about how he never wanted his suit to buckle when he walked, which is what gave him that gliding ability. Howard has the same affinity for his clothes, so he’s forced to sneak… and in the run, I just didn’t want my suit to buckle. The run came off very funny because of it. I was trying to be Howard Undercover, which is maybe a spin-off they’ll do later on. The vaulting over the wall was really fun. Vince didn’t want to exhaust me, so he only wanted to do a couple of takes, but of course being the ego-driven actor, I was like, “No problem man! I can do this all day!” But after a couple of takes of jumping over the wall, I was like, “Did you get it?!” It’s not just me jumping over the wall. How would Howard get over the wall? He doesn’t want to scoff his shoes or rip his suit, so it becomes a little bit more frantic and exhausting. It was rewarding to go over the wall because I was thinking of it as this serious thing, and it wasn’t until he yelled “cut” that I looked back and I saw everyone with their hands over their mouth, suppressing their laughter. At that point, I was like, “Oh, this may not be coming off the way I think it’s coming off.” The fan reaction was very fun and someone made a meme of me. As an actor, I guess now I can die.
Q: This season, even more than others, we’ve been able to see the real bond between Chuck and Howard. How would you describe how their relationship has evolved through the years?
A: I think Howard has as much fondness for Chuck as anybody. He does owe him, and he knows that. He’s a direct link to his father. Chuck and Howard share a similar worldview of manners and how one behaves, both personally and with the law. We bond over old scotch. The only reason I imagine we gave up cigars is because they’re no longer in style. Two men bonding over an old scotch to celebrate our victories and salve our wounds strikes me as “standing around the fire.” This is what men do. It’s sort of a very English way. Our emotions are played close to the vest and there are structural rules we’re allowed to operate in, which is why we’re both so chafed in Jimmy’s behavior. He’s literally the bull in the china shop, and we’ve set up a nice china shop and don’t like it. Howard has shown a real concern for Chuck as well. There’s a balancing act. He has to worry about the business, but he’s also worried about Chuck’s health. The fact is, I’ve accommodated his condition, and it’s not revealed whether Howard believes in it or not. I think there’s great affection for Chuck, and it’s clouded Howard’s judgment and has made him do things he ordinarily wouldn’t do.
Q: At almost every step along the way during Chuck’s vendetta, Howard has mentioned the idea that maybe Jimmy’s not worth it. Why do you think he stands by Chuck even so?
A: There’s this freeway that Chuck is hurdling down, and I keep saying to him, “Take a left here instead. Let’s pull over to the side of the road.” I use varying tactics to try to do that. I try to appeal to his sense of dignity or to his sense of ego. The idea of saying to somebody, “Forget your brother. He’s not worth it” and then immediately appealing to Chuck’s vanity, which we’ve seen on display ample times, by comparing him to great lawyers… at that point, Howard has tried every trick in the book to avoid every car crash that’s coming. I think Howard senses a car crash and wants to be able to say he did everything he could to try to help.
A: I love working with Rhea Seehorn. We’re great friends off-screen, so it’s delicious fun to be able to confront one another. It really didn’t hit me at first, to tell you the truth, until we were there. Even though I read the script and knew what was going on, it wasn’t until I was suited up and the cameras were rolling and she stood up from behind that desk. It was a mixture of being proud and appalled that she was about to ask me questions. “How dare she? I made her. I offered her the keys to the kingdom.” I think Howard always suspected there would be a “W” on the wall at some point. I feel Howard only got nailed once or twice, but when she talked about the nepotism, that was a really fun moment. The fans were very excited to see Kim nail me to the wall.
Q: When Howard sees the scene Chuck made during his testimony in Episode 5, how does he process that? How does it change how he views Chuck?
A: Michael McKean is such a good actor. I have such a great time working with him. Working in scenes with him, I feel like a rookie playing at Wimbledon, and I get to come back and play and get a little bit better each time. He brings so much to the table. I don’t know another actor that could handle the role of Chuck and deliver it in such a way that makes us feel so many emotions. To watch him in that court room scene was just an honor. It was also heartbreaking. I sat next to Ann Cusack, and we were heartbroken watching that breakdown of his.
The moment the battery comes out, the jig is up. From Howard’s point of view, going to the doctor and the silver lining in our suits and the space blanket – all of this gets pushed into the category of nonsense. Howard’s clean with his decision-making: You’re in or you’re out. In that moment, all that we’ve been doing with Chuck is now out. If that’s the case, how am I going to help my friend? Clearly, I’m going to need to help him because I still need him in the firm, but if this is not the medical condition he says it is, what can we do?
Q: Howard and Kim have another go-round in Episode 8. Why does Howard keep sticking his nose in? Why does it bother him so much that she gives him a check to pay off her debt to him?
A: Howard operates in a world where manners matter. We’re at this restaurant, and it’s obvious that I see them. To ignore them would be an admission of embarrassment or shame, and that is not how you behave. So, instead of that, Howard goes over and he’s as gracious as he can be considering he lost Mesa Verde under circumstances that are less than honorable to his protégé who left his company. … If anything, it’s that wormy way of Howard wanting to take credit for something he has nothing to take credit for. He stands there and he eats crow right in front of them and then his reward is for him to go back and have her shove that money at me. I told her that her education was a gift, so it sets him off. We find ourselves at the valet, and it’s the first time we really see Howard under the pressure of all of these events and start to crack. Of course, he takes it out on her.
Q: In Episode 9, Howard finally breaks. What was it like to finally stand up to Chuck? Is this about more than the insurance rates?
A: I think Howard already knows the answer. There’s a one in a million shot that Chuck might be able to say something at the table that’s going to make them say, “We’re wrong. It’s the same rate. Don’t worry about it.” So, I think I’m giving Chuck one more chance to hit a grand slam and as soon as it becomes apparent that that is not happening, then plan B is coming up with an exit strategy. It’s not a plan B of shoving him out the door, but it really is advice about letting Jimmy go. “You know what? Let’s not fight this. You had a great run and now you have plenty of time and money to go do this other thing you said you always wanted.” It’s hard to say to someone, “You’re done.” It’s breaking up. It’s saying, “I don’t love you anymore.” In this respect, I do love him. It’s the last offering I have available.
Q: How shocked is Hamlin when Chuck sues him?
A: Howard has run out of giving chances. He’s been pushed into a corner and there’s no way out. [Chuck] suing him is just the foulest thing in the world. It’s the ultimate betrayal.
Q: Even though they don’t really intersect with your part of the story, what’s it been like to have more Breaking Bad actors on set this season?
A: It’s thrilling. It’s almost like we’re on two different shows. The linkage hasn’t happened quite yet, so when I watch the show like the fans, I’m always amazed. I love seeing Michael Mando, and Giancarlo brings such a presence to the show. Watching the Breaking Bad characters start to show up is such a thrill because we know where we’re going. We’re in slow motion, watching events we know are going to end up in certain places. Somebody pointed out in a scene a couple of episodes ago where everybody in it we know is already dead. It’s crazy to watch them alive and talking and doing their scheming. In Season 2, I mentioned to Jonathan Banks that I would really like to work with him and he said without hesitation, “Patrick, no you don’t.” [Laughs] And I thought, “Oh, right. Maybe the day I see Mike is not a good day.” This season feels like a tipping point as people start entering the story and the ball starts to roll faster.
Q: How much would you like to get your hands on a real 35-year-old Macallan?
A: I have never had a 35-year-old Macallan. Back in the day, I drank Maker’s Mark whiskey. That’s how classy I got. Those scotches smell so amazing and I believe the makers actually sent a bottle, but it never made it to the McKean or Fabian dressing room so I’ll have to talk to somebody in Props about that. It was iced tea [in the scene]. I don’t think it would have helped had it been the real thing.
Q: What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve splurged on?
A: I’ve got two small kids now so the most extravagant thing I buy is underwear without holes in them. That’s how sexy and classy it gets for me these days.
Read a Q&A with Laura Fraser, who plays Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.
Better Call Saul’s Season 3 finale airs Monday at 10/9c. For the latest information and exclusives sign up for the Insiders Club.Read More