Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul, talks about Kim’s role in Jimmy’s transition to Saul, her ambivalence towards Mesa Verde and what really motivates her.
Q: Jimmy is changing his name to Saul Goodman. Why does Kim ultimately go along with it when she’s clearly uncomfortable with the idea?
A: Kim counsels Jimmy on things she thinks might blow up in his face or might be obstacles to getting the things he says he wants, but she tends to steer away from actually telling him what to do. You see her do that in her law practice as well, and I think part of that is born of Kim wanting that reciprocated; she would not at all want somebody to tell her what she should do or what’s the right thing for her. And so, while I think that there are some complications, and Kim does lay out to Jimmy some concrete issues with the things he’s talking about and where they could lead and basically tries to do a little risk assessment about it, at the end of the day Jimmy says it feels right, he just knows for sure this is the right thing that’s going to get him back on track. And I have to say I find it a noble quality that I think I could use more of in my life, that she has to step back and say let him have that experience. You can’t argue somebody’s feelings and you can’t argue things that haven’t happened yet. So that’s why I think she ultimately says, “OK, go ahead, jump off that cliff.”
Q: Kim encounters a very difficult man fighting to keep his home despite Mesa Verde wanting his land. He says some things that cut deep. How do his words affect her?
A: Well, you start with the premise that Kim doesn’t even want to be there. She’s in a very bad mood that she’s been dragged away from her pro bono clients, which we increasingly see is almost this elixir that she takes to feel better about herself for becoming basically a banking lawyer. She’s getting dragged away from that and has to go solve what she thinks are fairly simple problems, and then she gets there and finds out this man is a massive obstacle. So she’s coming there with a lot of irritation anyway, but then — Barry Corbin, playing Mr. Acker, did a brilliant job with the character as well — you see him get under her skin and, yes, there’s a lot of jabs, just stupid sexist jabs about her appearance and her competence that I think are irritating to Kim. But Kim does not lose her cool easily, and I’m sure he’s not the first person that has made some dumb comment like that to her. We [Seehorn, writer Ann Cherkis and director Michael Morris] had a lot of conversations about it what would actually set Kim off, and it really has to be more about what is he saying that pricks at her, more than these insults that she doesn’t really care that much about.
It’s the stuff where he starts to pick at that part of her conscience that is already bothering her, that she has become someone that just squashes the little man and doesn’t care what the collateral damage is of getting what you want. And we as the audience already know that Kim has been wrestling with this and constantly suppressing this bile that keeps coming up in her throat. She doesn’t feel so great about that and so it’s the truth in what Acker’s saying that gets at her and, unfortunately but very humanly, she reacts with anger and control — “I’m going to right this situation immediately.” To me, it felt very explosive. … Kim is actually mortified at that moment, to lose your cool in front of people, to yell at an elderly man who’s about to lose his home. And what she says is, “I didn’t solve anything.” She didn’t even fix the problem. So I think the whole thing is very rattling to her.
Q: The man is so difficult that Kim sends Jimmy over to represent him. Why is she willing to risk her reputation over this?
A: A need to believe that she can make all things right in the world and a very healthy-sized ego make her actually think that the risk assessment on this is appropriate, that she can pull this off. There’s a part of Kim that keeps aggressively wanting to see if she can just lightly put her finger on the scales of justice without it being completely corrupt. Can I make this situation end up where the deserving person wins, without actually doing something unethical or immoral or illegal? The answer is no, not for very long and not often. And she’s trying to do that here. So, yes, she’s aware that, if she got caught, it would risk her reputation, but Kim is dangerously caught up in this game of compartmentalizing and rationalizing. By the way, she could just quit Mesa Verde at this point, right? If you’re that disgusted by what they’re doing? But she wants that job. She wants that respect it’s giving her. She wants that money it’s giving her. She likes that she’s able to support herself and Jimmy and pull themselves up out of where they were and all this kind of thing, but at what cost? This is like companies that pay for their carbon footprint; I actually think she thinks she can make this right by serving the client and I’ll help you get a call center, but why can’t the call center just be like an acre over? And so, in her head, she can go to bed with that at night.
Q: She’s worked hard for Mesa Verde, yet she’s pulling away from them when they need her most. What is causing this response?
A: I don’t think it’s this full level of repulsion with herself just yet, but it’s definitely creeping in. … Very early on in other seasons, Kim had a very idealistic view of practicing law. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of her favorite movies. I do think Kim came to studying and then practicing law for some very ideological reasons. She’s constantly trying to figure out how to make things right in the world and how to help the deserving people get their just rewards and the wrong people not win. And we saw, in Seasons 1, 2 and 3, her have to face this idea that legal and illegal are not at all the same as moral and immoral or right and wrong. That has no place in practicing law. You’re not defending who’s a good person. And it isn’t about intention at all. It’s about the action.
So, I think she has been struggling with that for a long time and has now found her place, found herself. [She’s] pulling herself up by her own bootstraps, [she] got out of doc review, [she’s] practicing law on her own, she swings this huge client and, financially and reputation-wise, rises to the levels that she always wanted to reach. But to do what? To help somebody make a gazillion banks and squash people and take their land and take their houses. That’s her issue with Mesa Verde. It represents getting what you said you wanted and then realizing that that’s not exactly what you wanted. It’s not what she wants to be doing practicing law. The pro bono stuff is — and searching for a way to feel good about herself, which I think is an elusive thing for Kim.
Q: Season 5 picks up with Kim right where we left off in Season 4. She’s in shock having watched Jimmy fake out the board responsible for reinstating his license to practice law. What is going through her head in this moment?
A: A lot. Very complex moment. I choose to not completely iterate or itemize some of the thoughts that go through some of the more complex scenes they give me where I’m not speaking because I enjoy so much that the audience comes to it with their interpretation. But it is an extremely complex moment.
Q: In Season 5’s first episode, Kim’s client is considering trial over the deal she got him. Jimmy has an idea of how to get him to take it. She turns Jimmy down to his face and then uses it with the client anyway… why do you think that is? Is Jimmy a corrupting influence on Kim?
A: I’m fascinated by this question of intrinsic versus extrinsic qualities and properties of a person. We’re starting to ask ourselves, even when you see Gene in Omaha, who is Saul when he’s alone in a room? Does he take that mask off? Is there a Jimmy there, or is he Gene? And I really think it’s so intelligent how Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] from the beginning have woven these questions into the other characters. You’re certainly seeing it surface in my character now. That is to say, is he causing something in me? Is he an agent that causes a property in me that is not there anyway? Was it there before and she’s been suppressing it? Would Kim have become whoever she is if she never met him? And would Jimmy have become Saul if he never met Kim? And I think those are all really interesting questions. I don’t think it’s anything as simple as he’s a bad influence on her.
Read a Q&A with Dean Norris, who plays Hank Schrader on Better Call Saul.
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