Michael Mando, who plays Nacho Varga on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses Nacho’s darkening journey, being stuck between Gus and the Salamancas, and what he makes of Lalo.
A: Nacho’s objective is to get out of the cartel and assure his father’s safety. I don’t think there’s a concept of winning for him until that goal is achieved. As far as suspicion is concerned, Nacho’s speculations are enhanced when Gus breaks character and bolts to rescue Hector. There’s a red flag there.
Q: What is Nacho feeling when he tells his father that he’s now safe? Is he upset that his father doesn’t really let him off the hook?
A: His father is unwilling to forgive him, it hurts Nacho but he understands. He still loves his father of course, but is upset at himself.
Q: In Episode 2, it becomes clear how much danger Nacho is in with Gus. How does Nacho interpret Gus’s message via Arturo?
A: Nacho is disappointed in the way the situation is interpreted. They have a common enemy for similar reasons, but instead of acknowledging that, Gus chooses to do to Nacho what Hector has done to him. A funny anecdote about that scene, Nacho’s reactions to the murder were shot much later, and the other actors weren’t there because of scheduling. Our wonderful stunt coordinator Al Gotto and writer, producer Thomas Schnauz helped me get back into Nacho’s mind state on a whole other set, months later.
Q: In Episode 3, Nacho is shot as part of an elaborate cover-up. What does he think about the extreme measures required? In his mind, does he face death either way?
A: [Executive Producer] Vince Gilligan told me that for Nacho it’s like that scene in Star Wars where the garbage compactor is closing in on both sides – death can feel inevitable. The fact that he’s still willing to go through it, however, is hopeful.
Q: In Episode 4, Nacho is put in an even tougher spot at the motel. Why do you think he goes in to help the Cousins?
A: You’re right, getting in deeper is the opposite of what he’s trying to do. But he’s made that promise to saving his father and there’s no backing out. He needs to make sure the operation is successful because it’s one step closer to their safety.
Q: In your mind, has Nacho never been this directly involved in bloodshed before?
A: This is most likely the first time he’s killed someone and seen such carnage. What challenges him morally is that it’s manufactured by Gus. The dichotomy of it is that in order to save an innocent person and get clean, he is being asked to take the lives of other people and get deeper.
Q: What was it like being in the center of such a major set piece?
A: It was amazing. Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan are really bringing Nacho’s story to fruition. It’s an absolute blast to go on this emotional and psychological roller coaster – it’s enriching for the character and a joy to play.
Q: In Episode 8, we see how much Nacho’s life has changed. What can you say about his new lifestyle?
A: A whole year has passed. Nacho is sitting in Hector’s seat and Domingo is sitting where Tuco used to be. However, as far as his personal ambitions are concerned, we quickly learn that it’s all a front. When we peel off the layers and get to the safe, we learn that his objective is the same: save his father and get out of the game.
Q: What does it say about Nacho that he has the Canadian IDs for himself and his father?
A: The IDs represent a new life with his father, which is his real focus, everything else is secondary. Yes, he’s been through the fire, but it’s deepened his conviction.
Q: What does Nacho make of Lalo when he first meets him? Does he feel his appearance is anything but a threat?
A: Everything that Lalo says in that scene has the appearance of friendliness, but everything that he does has an undertone of threat. Lalo doesn’t give a heads up, he doesn’t call anybody, he shoves his way into the power seat and shields himself with the Salamanca name. That behavior calls to mind Hector. Nacho now has to find a way to adapt and change the strategy he’s been working on for the past year.
Q: How do you think Nacho has been dealing with Gus in the intervening time? How long can he keep playing a double agent?
A: He’s been doing a great job of both running the Salamanca business and pleasing Gus – I believe it’s what that first scene establishes. But Lalo’s unexpected arrival changes the equation; it makes Nacho even more of an asset to Gus and kicks in the double agent thing into a whole new gear. Basically the more useful he becomes to Gus, the more challenging it will be to get out.
Q: What has been your favorite part of Nacho’s darkening journey this season?
A: The iconoclastic nature of the role is my favorite part. To me, it’s a story of redemption. It’s an unlikely character driven by love – to be a part of that journey as he fights his way out is rewarding. I believe in second chances, I hope he finds a way out.
Read a Q&A with Lavell Crawford, who plays Huell Babineaux.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays 9/8c. For the latest news and exclusives, sign up for the Insiders Club.Read More