Tony Dalton, who plays Lalo on AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses introducing a new Salamanca, why his character full of contradictions, and being the guy who gives Hector his infamous bell.
Q: What was your exposure to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul prior to this role?
A: Everybody saw Breaking Bad. It’s one of the best series ever made. Saul is incredible and it’s way up there. It’s got great story telling, it’s got great character. The arc of the story and the characters is unbelievable. I was very aware of that. It’s very successful in Latin America. If I’m down here in Mexico, we get to watch it a lot. I did a couple of castings for Saul and they picked me, but I didn’t realize what I was doing. I knew it was Saul, but I didn’t know if it was just one part or a bigger one or what this was. I wanted to do it because I wanted to work with Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] and those kinds of people.
Q: What was the process for getting the role?
A: It was gradual. When I first read it, it was written that the character of Lalo had been mentioned the first time you see Saul in the desert because he’s terrified of this guy called Lalo. That gave me a little bit of an inkling that it would be a little more than just one episode. Once I got to the set and got to talking to everybody, I realized this would be a big deal. I was in it for the long run on this one.
Q: What was it like knowing you were going to play an important figure from the world of Breaking Bad, even though it was one the audience had never met?
A: It was unbelievable. When Saul mentions Lalo on Breaking Bad, never in my wildest dreams did I think they would be talking about me. This was seven or eight years ago when I saw them say Lalo and I never in my life thought that was me. That’s one of the great things about this career as an actor. You get these incredible surprises. You do your work and you get these opportunities out of the blue and get to work with these geniuses on these great series. It’s a blessing.
Q: How would you describe Lalo? Why do you think he’s come to Albuquerque now?
A: Lalo is one of the Salamancas. After Hector was indisposed by Nacho, there was an empty slot there for somebody to come in and put order. One of the differences we talked about in making this character is that instead of blatantly introducing another villain with dramatic music, we turned it on its head and made this guy very light and likable and very charming. Charming is a key word. He smiles all the time. He’s this guy who the family sends over to Albuquerque to check the business. He’s been around. He’s not scared. He just shows up and has a good time. At the beginning, it’s small potatoes. Right now, he’s a breath of fresh air. For the story, it’s having a new character that’s all smiles and is not in that seriousness. He comes in kind of like I did. [Laughs] Just all smiles.
Q: He clearly has no problem taking over Nacho’s operation. What does he think of Nacho?
A: He bullies his way into sitting in the chair and cooking in the kitchen and taking the money during the meetings, but he’s so charming. He says, “Don’t worry about me. You won’t even notice me,” but just by saying his last name, it means step aside. He’s obviously the boss. In Episode 9 when he visits Hector, that really drives it home that this guy is family and he’s up there. He’s the one who’s going to make all the choices. Everyone else is just an employee. I don’t think he’s got any suspicion [of Nacho] at all. I think the guy is a bit of a sociopath. He doesn’t connect with what is really happening around him. He gives everybody the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he is crazy and one of the bad guys, but he’s a guy that says, “Listen, if everything is fine, then everything will be fine.” I watched the episode of Breaking Bad when Saul is introduced in the desert. Saul is absolutely terrified of Lalo. We wanted to twist that around. If he’s so terrified, we wanted to make him so charming that it’s even more terrifying. When he does get serious, the sh– is going to hit the fan.
Q: In Episode 9, Lalo sees Hector again. What is his relationship like with his tío?
A: He’s family-oriented. Seeing his uncle like that really broke his heart. This guy is a bit of a sociopath, so a broken heart for him is different than for anybody else. When he’s there, he gives him a present, which is that bell. It’s so significant to the rest of the story. In the story, you realize this guy has been with them all the way and forever. He’s not just some guy that you don’t see. He was with them the whole time. He knows this gangster life. It’s just a part of him. It’s like when you see these people who are so bad, but they have this ease because this is what they have to do. He was always the kid because everybody was older than him and took him under their wings. He was like a brat.
Q: What does the story Lalo tells say to you about the people Hector and Lalo are? Are they both driven by the same kind of erratic violence?
A: Yeah. There’s this underlying thing with the Salamancas where they like to burn things and set things on fire. Having him talk to his uncle about these years and the fire that was done – it’s this loyalty to family before anybody else. It’s like “This guy was there and he was such an asshole. I’m glad you burned him and raped his wife. I wanted a souvenir from that.” That’s sick. That’s somebody who’s not right in the head, but for [Lalo], that’s a hero. I think one of the things that Lalo always thought was that he wasn’t a major player. He’s a fun kid to have around and, finally through the years, he gets to take this part in being more active in the Salamanca family. Yes, he’s a kid and not taking everything seriously, but he’s very efficient and knows what he’s doing.
Q: Tio’s bell is obviously infamous in Breaking Bad lore. What was your reaction when you learned the Lalo was the one who gave it to Hector?
A: That episode was directed by Vince. So, I had Vince directing me and telling me to give Hector the bell and it’s like, “What the hell? Where the hell am I? Is this really happening?” It’s unbelievable. The fact that he gives him that bell, it’s like a heads up for how important this Lalo guy is. This is the guy who gave Hector the bell. This is the guy who Saul is terrified of. I really am very fortunate to create a character that’s so full of contradictions.
Q: What does Lalo know about Gus? Do you think that’s the real reason Lalo is here?
A: When they send Lalo to take over, they told him what happened with Hector. He doesn’t know what to expect when he’s going to go see him, but he knows he’s indisposed and wants to make him feel good. He already knows what kind of business this is. We got this guy who we work with who’s the Chilean and he’s stirring up trouble. He’s sitting with Hector and trying to find out about this Chilean. Even at the end of the scene, he leaves the scene and he goes, “Same ol’ Hector. Wants to kill everybody.” Even from his wheelchair. Lalo is trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Q: What was your favorite part of the whole experience?
A: That scene with Hector was really something. I did another one with Gus Fring. Just sitting there at Los Pollos Hermanos and talking to Gus – I can’t believe it. The scene finished and I go up to Giancarlo Esposito like, “Can I get a picture with you?!” [Laughs] It’s like they let a fan act on the series! What can I say? It’s great. I talked to the producers and everyone’s so excited about what’s coming in the next season and how this is going to play out. Hearing them excited makes me even more excited.
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