Dean Norris, who reprises his role as Hank Schrader on Better Call Saul, talks about revisiting his character, Breaking Bad‘s impact on his career and why he won’t try to predict what happens in Season 6.
Q: Had you been hoping Hank would be brought back to Better Call Saul?
A: I certainly was hoping. I know that Peter [Gould] talked to me several years ago about getting on the show, so I thought we were coming around [to] that time, in terms of the plot of the show. It was exciting to finally get the call.
Q: How did it finally come about? What was it like when you got the call?
A: I got a message saying that Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan wanted to set up a phone call with me, and I was like, “Well, I know what that’s about.” So they called and we were chitchatting a bit about Breaking Bad for about 10 minutes or so, and then they’re like, “Oh, by the way, here’s why we’re calling, we’d like you to come back and do a couple episodes.”
And I said of course. [But] I didn’t want it to be gimmicky. I told Peter that a long time ago actually. I said I didn’t want to just come back as a gimmicky thing, and Vince chimed in and said, “Hey, we’re really confident that it makes sense at this point and it’s a cool couple episodes for you and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think that was the case.” So I said, “OK, if you guys think that, I’m in.” Peter actually said something cool. He said it would be kind of nice to have Hank play just a little role in the development of who Saul became, and that was kind of fun to me.
Q: How does it feel to be back with so many familiar faces from Breaking Bad?
A: It was fantastic of course. Much of the crew is the same, so it was kind of like going back to an old family reunion. Of course, Max Arciniega [Domingo “Krazy-8” Molina] was in the scene with me and that goes back to the beginning of Breaking Bad, more than a decade ago. And of course my buddy, Steven Michael Quezada [Steven Gomez], who I’ve been friends with ever since. I’ve seen him a lot over the years, but it was fun to be Batman and Robin again, you know? I just had such a great time and visited some old friends in Albuquerque when I was there. It was all just a whole lot of fun.
Q: What’s been your favorite part about watching this back story to Breaking Bad unfold?
A: I don’t know what my favorite part is. The whole show I find just to be fantastic. That’s a tough gig to do a prequel. It’s one thing to do something afterwards, but to do a show where everyone actually knows where it’s going to end up and still make it interesting, I find it very fascinating.
Q: Did it take much effort to get back into this character after several years of not playing him? Was there anything that helped you key back into Hank’s mindset?
A: The character’s always just been right there on the page for me. When I first read the scripts, I was like, “Oh, they completely have captured Hank’s essence again in the dialogue they gave me,” so it was just allowing myself to just be in the dialogue and to be in the script. And of course the costumes are always nice. The costumes always helped me, so whenever I get on my orange shirt and they give me my badge back, you kind of start feeling it.
It was such a joy because I used to love to read every single Breaking Bad script and just be like, “Oh, I can’t wait to do that scene, oh, I can’t wait to say those words.” And, sure enough, I got these scripts and it was the exact same thing. They wrote him exactly as he is and who he is. It was just finding the truth in those words and that was kind of the key to getting back.
Q: How is Hank different at this time than when we knew him in Breaking Bad?
A: The fun part — and I talked about this with Vince and Peter as well — is we get to see Hank in his pre-PTSD stage. The latter half of Breaking Bad, he was pretty depressed, pretty shaken by the things that were going down, so it was fun to see the early Hank back. He’s got his swag back. He’s got his macho-ness back. He’s got his flippant attitude back. But that’s kind of what made him a good DEA agent to begin with. He has kind of a bullheadedness about him. He was a more fun character early on, so I told Vince it’s great that the fans can get to see Hank back again when he was exuberant and happy and excited for his job, as opposed to really kind of dogged and depressed as he was at the end [of Breaking Bad].
Q: Does seeing him chase down Gus‘s men give the viewer some insight into just how long he’s been hunting down this drug ring?
A: Yeah, and that again goes to his perseverance as a character, which is one of the things I loved about Hank. He started early and he wasn’t going to give up.
Q: Does knowing the character’s eventual fate on Breaking Bad change anything about the way you play him?
A: No, absolutely not, because he obviously wouldn’t know how things turned out for him, so that shouldn’t have any kind of shade in terms of how I would approach the character. That’s something he wouldn’t know.
Q: Now that you’ve had some distance from it, how significant has Breaking Bad been in your overall career?
A: Well, I think for everybody who’s ever touched that show, from actors to writers to directors, it’s just been a huge, huge moment in all our lives. Certainly in mine, in fact more now than ever, even more now than when we were doing the show. Every year more people watch the show. Every year another group of young kids gets old enough to watch the show, another group of college kids. So it seems it’s continuing to grow…to be a part of an iconic show like that, it just defines hugely your career and puts you in a position to do a lot of other great work. From a professional point of view, it allows me to get offered all kinds of jobs and stuff and kind of puts you on the map as an actor.
Q: Any predictions for where Vince and Peter might take the sixth and final season?
A: No, I…never visited the writers’ room during Breaking Bad in six years. Because those guys, Vince and Peter, are such geniuses and all their writers are so smart that I felt that I never had an insight into where something should go. So I never bothered to go into the room and say, hey guys, maybe we should try this, because I assume they probably would have gone through whatever my suggestion was eight days ago and decided it was ridiculous. So I have no predictions. And I could never predict where Breaking Bad was going to go. Literally, every turn in that show kind of took me by surprise. So I don’t have any predictions and I allow myself to be in there as an audience member, to be in their hands and take the ride. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Read a Q&A with Michael Mando, who plays Nacho Varga on Better Call Saul.
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