Jonathan Banks, who plays Mike Ehrmantraut on AMC’s Better Call Saul discusses what’s driving Mike’s reckless behavior, why he’s turning the fake job at Madrigal into a real one, and what it was like shooting the Season 2 of the Employee Training series.
Q: Things are pretty good for Mike at the beginning of the season. Were you happy for Mike to finally get out of that parking booth for good?
A: When it’s really hot in Albuquerque, you’re in the shade down under the passageway that goes overhead. It was always nice and cool with a breeze. In the winter, our prop masters Trina [Siopy] would put a heater in there. There were many times where it was quite nice to be in the booth. [Laughs] But I am glad to be out of it.
Q: Why do you think Mike insists on making his fake job at Madrigal a real one?
A: Mike realizes there’s more money to be had here. He doesn’t go there to be a good security consultant. He goes because he knows there’s money to be had.
Q: His actions draw the attention of Lydia, who calls him in. What does Mike think of Lydia at this point? Do you think Mike is purposefully trying to get Gus‘s attention?
A: I don’t think he gives a damn about drawing their attention. He’s figuring out how to make more money. A long time ago, from the moment his son was dead, Mike was prepared to die. He needs to secure his granddaughter and daughter-in-law’s future and that’s what’s going on. Lydia is a snake and it’s one that you better be very careful of. He has his back covered because when she throws out Gus as a threat, we know how Mike is backing his self up.
Q: Why do you think Mike rejects Jimmy‘s Hummel heist in Episode 3? What is it about that scam that doesn’t speak to Mike?
A: Right off the top of my head, there’s not enough money in that scam. It is bush league and rinky dink. But maybe equally to that is the awareness. Mike’s Achilles heel is his concern for other people at times – and maybe people that he shouldn’t be concerned about. He knows what’s just happened with Jimmy’s brother. Is Mike aware of risk? Yeah, it’s not worth it, but in my opinion it’s: “Jimmy, what are you doing, man?”
Q: In Episode 4, we see a friendly meal between Mike and Anita. Is this the closest Mike gets to dating? How would you describe the relationship between those two?
A: It’s unwritten at this point what Mike’s past is, but Mike had a son so that means — oh my God, dare we say it? — there was a woman involved! Who was that woman? I’ll let the audience decide how bad Mike has been burned in the past or how bad he burned somebody. Mike is not completely closed off to hooking up with somebody. I think it’s more about both of those characters testing the waters.
Q: When Mike hears Stacey admit she stopped thinking about Matty in group therapy, what does that do to Mike? Is his anger directed at her or himself?
A: That’s a weakness for Mike. The very moment she says that, Mike shuts down. He goes, “No. Don’t you ever forget about my son.” He believes everything he says, for sure, but [it’s] not the right moment and place. Ultimately, Mike blames no one but himself. Mike has to believe that her life has to go on. He’s not a troglodyte. He knows that her life will have to go on. It’s just that hearing it is hard.
Q: Mike then unloads on Henry and the whole group. We don’t often see Mike lose control, so what does that outburst mean? What might it mean for his relationship with Kaylee and Stacey?
A: He’s not out of control. If you take a look at the environment at that session he’s in, it would make anybody go out and blow their brains out. [Laughs]. It’s drab, it’s dark, it’s worn, it’s musty. Mike is a believer that when horrible things happen in your life, you don’t put Band-aids on it. There are wounds. They’re there. You move on out of pure survival. You move on for whatever your reasons for survival. In Mike’s case, survival is his granddaughter and what he owes his daughter-in-law because he took their father and their husband. Does he lose his cool? By Mike’s standards, maybe, but he also runs the risk of losing his granddaughter. He has to back off. Is it a regret that he said some of the things he did? Yes. But does he believe what he said? Yes.
Q: Mike still seems to be smarting from that session when Gus demands a meeting. Do you think his behavior toward Gus in that moment is reckless? Does he even care what happens to him?
A: That’s the operative word. Does he care? No, he doesn’t care. “You know what? Don’t try to strong-arm me. Don’t try to bully me.” It’s Mike’s “f–k you” attitude. Anything they can do is nothing compared to what Mike does to himself. It doesn’t matter. He’s not afraid. There comes a point where it just doesn’t matter.
Q: Do you believe this is the official beginning of Mike surrendering to doing the work of a cartel kingpin?
A: He’s going to work for him because of the money. Here comes the money. Let’s quit messing around. Let’s do this. It’s that simple.
Q: You’re starring in this season’s Employee Training videos. What was it like making those?
A: As far as the shooting of them goes – I went into the hospital the next day to get my knee replaced and it was a full replacement. The doctor told me it would be six weeks before I even begin to smile and he was right. So, here I am shooting this and at the same time I’m going, “They’re going to rip my knee out.” And they did. There’s no knee. It’s a device in my leg. Does it work? I walked up steps for the first time in the last five or six years. So was my mind wandering? A little bit. But I’m always up for a laugh. I was into it and laughing and having a good time. And [Season 1] won an Emmy — that’s great! Let me tell you something: I’m grateful [that] I’ve been nominated since 1988, but I’ve never won. And I love animated Mike. I have my bobblehead right behind me here. [Laughs]
Read a Q&A with David Costabile, who plays Gale Boetticher.
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