Patrick Fabian, who plays Howard Hamlin on Better Call Saul, talks about Howard’s evolution since Chuck’s death, why he offered Jimmy that job and how he knew that Jimmy was the one who lobbed bowling balls at his Jag.
A: He really took it in and I think Howard was able to grow from Chuck’s death in a way that — I won’t say Jimmy hasn’t — but, in terms of having the event happen, I think Howard has taken the best that he could out of it, for self-reflection, for his place in the world, for his responsibility to those actions. I think it’s allowed him to become a better person, a more whole person, and I think what we’ve seen recently with him reaching out to Jimmy is a sense of, maybe not amends, but certainly a willingness to take life on life’s terms and take it one day at a time and to move on from past transgressions.
In [Episode 405] last season, there’s that scene in the bathroom with Jimmy in the men’s room at the courthouse and Howard is a wreck. His tie’s askew. He’s a mess. He’s sort of a shell of a man but, in that moment though, he does say to Jimmy, I’ve got a number of a guy, and I give it to him. This guy helped me. Howard’s clearly in the midst of therapy of some sort. The fact that he’s doing that, willing to look broken and reach out to Jimmy to say you should try this too, speaks volumes. And now you see him this year. He’s got a pep in his step. He’s looking good. He’s tip top. His sh– is together. And Jimmy, one could argue, has taken completely different lessons from what has gone on with Chuck. And I think we’re going to see for both of them how that plays out in a good or bad way for them.
Q: What does Howard think when he finds out Jimmy has changed his name to Saul Goodman?
A: When I saw the scene as it was filmed and as it came out, I was struck by, “Oh, I’ve seen that expression before on my face, only it’s my father’s face.” Literally, I’ve seen that with my dad growing up when I’ve come up with a great idea and you see that — I think bemused is the best description possible [for that face]. Howard is not off put by it. He’s not surprised. He’s heard obviously that Jimmy has changed his name, but I’m not sure he really knew what that was going to manifest itself as. I think Howard’s always had a paternal feeling towards Jimmy — if you remember all the way back when…he was celebrating passing the bar and I had to tell him he wasn’t going to have a job here [Episode 108]. That was a tough time and a really fun non-verbal scene that we got to shoot. I think Howard’s always felt bad about that. It’s sort of like watching your son become a teenager and decide that he’s just going to wear a hoodie sweatshirt or wear different colored socks because that’s cool, right? Howard’s like, oh, okay he’s going through that phase. My job is to not criticize and he’ll work it out.
Q: Why does he offer him a job after all this time? Why doesn’t the name change send Howard running for the hills?
A: I think because what Howard’s always recognized about Jimmy was — he says as much — he’s Charlie Hustle. He goes for what he wants. It’s unorthodox, but Howard in the end, being a businessman, understands that Howard is not that. Howard could try to play at that game, but it’s not his strong suit. It’s not his toolbox. It’s kind of like when I had Chuck in the firm. Chuck also was a totally different tool, but Howard recognized he needed him and so therefore Jimmy occupies a similar space, a completely different tool. Howard says HHM is back, we’re leaner, we’re ready to roll, and I need a scrappy street fighter. Howard can’t put that on. Jimmy has it in spades and if that means he’s going to wear the most ugly suits in the world, I think Howard’s willing to put up with it.
Q: Howard seems a little emotional when he makes the offer. What do you think is going through his head in that scene?
A: Oh, I think Howard thinks he’s made a connection with Jimmy in a way that he hasn’t. I think, through his therapy, he’s been told to open up his heart and see things how they are and listen to people and have empathy, but I think also the writing and the writers have set Howard up because one can go to yoga and embrace namaste without putting it on a vanity plate, and I think that’s Howard to a T. So he’s doing all the motions and all the things that he thinks that he recognizes in people who have made progress.
Q: The bowling balls on his car, the prostitutes at lunch — when do you think Howard figured out Jimmy was behind these things?
A: From the word go, from the [first] bowling ball, I think he suspects. Because really, logically, what enemies have Howard created and, if he did create those enemies, who would be so coarse and so deliberately malicious? And to attack my Jaguar speaks volumes of the attack, right? And so there’s only a handful of people you can really go to. Howard’s not dumb. He’s very sharp and he understands the world, and unfortunately he understands what Jimmy is about as well — but I think he’s going to give him the benefit of the doubt for a long time.
The people who have been watching this show understand we’ve gone through some things with Howard. We thought he was the awful person, then we saw he was standing up for Chuck and then we watched him behave badly with Kim and we didn’t like him but, through it all, I think Howard has been one to learn from experience, grow from experience and possibly be the only one who has some sort of real moral center about what’s going on in all this chaos. With every step that Kim and Jimmy make and every decision that they make, one could argue easily that Howard has made the only “good choices” as this story unfolds. Whether you like that or not is up to the audience, but I think you can make that argument.
Q: Do you think Howard debated choosing to confront Jimmy about these incidents? What makes him finally do so?
A: You know what? As much as he has namaste on his plate, at some point you can’t affront me like that. Howard has apologized. He’s confessed he thinks he helped Chuck kill himself. He’s offered a job to Jimmy. He’s really bent over backwards, I would say. Enough! I think at some point Howard makes the decision that’s enough — and at that point it is enough because Howard has to have some pride and some spine as well. You just can’t walk over him like that.
Q: Jimmy lashes out at Howard when he tries to talk to him about damaging his car and embarrassing him in the restaurant. What is it about Howard, or what he says, that makes Jimmy snap?
A: I can’t speak for Jimmy or for Bob [Odenkirk], but I would say, if we’re doing armchair psychology, we’re getting a little too close to the bone. I think Jimmy’s seeing who he’s become and maybe not liking it. There’s a lot of things I think he has that are tortured that make him become Saul Goodman fully and I think having somebody act decently to him and extend this olive branch of human kindness — it’s too late down the road for Saul. He doesn’t recognize it and, if he does recognize it, it makes him angry instead of making him want to say thank you. Instead, he turns his back on all those things and I think you see him behaving with Kim like that too.
Q: How do you feel going into the sixth and final season?
A: As one would expect, it’s been such a beautiful ride, a sort of life-changing thing in all respects. I love playing with these people. These characters have been so fun, and it’s been nice to be a part of a show that’s been embraced both critically and with people as well, and, as an actor, that’s really fun. I really love playing Howard and the fact that we got to go ahead and tell the tale the whole way I think is amazing, and these writers, headed up by Peter Gould, have surprised me along the way each and every time.
I don’t know how it’s going to end. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Howard or to anybody, so I’m excited about doing it. I think it’s kind of nice that we already know upfront that it’s the end, so there’s none of that nonsense of well, we’re in the middle of Season 6, will there be a Season 7? I think it helps the audience know that we’re done and I think it’s going to propel interest. And we’ve been really lucky that the product that we put out and the show and the tale that we’ve been telling so far — I’m proud of the quality. I’d rather not overstay our welcome and I think I can speak for the creative team when it comes to that as well. Nobody wants somebody to go, “Well, they stayed a season too long.” It’s nice to wrap all of this up in a nice way, to say, “Wow, what a cool thing.”
Read a Q&A with Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Gustavo Fring on Better Call Saul.
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