What has been the big challenge in formulating Better Call Saul? And can you clarify how much of the show will be a prequel and whether we might see scenes that take place after the events of Breaking Bad? Are we going to hop around in time a little?
Peter Gould is a wonderful writer and producer and director who worked on Breaking Bad with me from the first season, and he created the character of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). He and I have been turning that over in our heads quite a bit. We think, by and large, this show will be a prequel, but the wonderful thing about the fractured chronology we employed on Breaking Bad for many years is the audience will not be thrown by us jumping around in time. So it’s possible that we may indeed do that, and we’ll see the past and perhaps the future. Nothing is written in stone yet, we’re still figuring it out, but the thing we realize is tricky with the character is that Saul Goodman is very comfortable in his own skin. He seems to be a character who is pretty happy with himself, especially when we first meet him. He seems to be a pretty happy-go-lucky guy, and that makes him everything that Walter White is not. And that also makes for tricky drama. When I say drama, even in a comedy, you want drama, you want tension and conflict, and a character that at heart seems at peace with himself is intrinsically undramatic. [Laughs] So we’ve been thinking about how to address that issue.
Could some of the action be set in the Breaking Bad era as well?
It could. That’s why I love the possibilities of the show so much. Anything is possible, and I can’t make any promises that we will indeed see that kind of stuff, but I can tell you from a writer’s point of view, it’s very freeing and emboldening to have those opportunities available to you.
How many characters from Breaking Bad might pop up or even have an extended role?
The character that springs to mind would be Mike (Jonathan Banks). That would be a great deal of fun. I would say the sky’s the limit, at least theoretically speaking. Realistically speaking, we’ve got a whole lot of actors, and the world is now well-aware of their wonderful talents and abilities, and therefore Breaking Bad has probably made it tougher for Peter and I to get some of these folks pinned down for another TV show. They’re off making big movies and doing Broadway plays and whatnot, and that’s exactly the way it should be. That is a high-class problem that we will have to contend with as we go forward with Better Call Saul, if we do indeed want to touch base with some of these characters… Better Call Saul could be The Love Boat of its generation, where instead of Milton Berle showing up in a sailor’s cap, hopefully it could be Aaron Paul, also in a sailor’s cap. [Laughs]
How much of this is a subconscious desire to extend the amazing experience that you all had on Breaking Bad?
Oh, I think you’re right, and I don’t think that desire is subconscious. I reluctantly came to the realization several years ago that we needed to end Breaking Bad before the audience lost interest. We needed to end it at the height of its interest in the audience, and I feel we accomplished that. I feel very lucky for having it work out that way. And it’s not even subconscious on my part — I want to keep the party going on some level. I’ve always loved the character Saul Goodman, I’ve always felt like there’s a whole world of story possibilities contained within him and the world that he inhabits, and I would just love to see some version of this world continue. By its very design, Better Call Saul has to be a different kind of show, and we’re not looking to simply keep Breaking Bad going by having a spin-off series. It has to stand on its own two legs as its own series, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. It will be Saul Goodman’s world, it won’t be Walter White’s, and it will have a different feel, even though there will be some overlap on the Venn Diagram that exists between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. But it will have to succeed on its own terms as its own show. If it doesn’t, it won’t be satisfying, and satisfaction is the key word. We want to satisfy.
2013 also saw the filming of your acting debut on Community. Was creating Breaking Bad just a way of getting you closer to your true desire, to be in front of the camera?
Well, my true desire was opera singing. But this is a stepping stone towards that, absolutely.
How did the role come about?
This was a wonderful bolt from the blue. I wasn’t even remotely thinking about acting in any capacity, and then my agent called me with a request that had been forwarded from Dan Harmon at Community. Dan wanted to see if I’d be interested in appearing in an episode. I was just charmed. There was no way I was going to say no to it. Even though, I have to say, I was nervous as hell. And this is payback on a lot of levels for me. As a director, you want to make your actors as comfortable as possible, you want to communicate with them as effectively as possible, but having said that, I remember back on all the times where I knew in my heart I wasn’t giving Bryan Cranston or Aaron Paul or any of the actors exactly what they needed. I was just looking at my watch thinking, “God, we need to shoot this.” I was not as supportive sometimes as I could have or should have been. This was karmic payback for that. Having said that, though, everyone on Community was wonderful. The whole crew and the cast could not have been more enthusiastic or supportive, and I did not want to waste the crew’s time by not knowing my lines. That was one of my big phobias, as well as just basically sucking and embarrassing myself. That’s always a concern when I leave the house every day.
You play a gold-digger and you exacerbate a fight between Annie and Abed. What else can we expect from your character?
There’s a certain element to this that I don’t want to give away. But I will take a bit of a risk here and add: My character tends to employ the phrase “Yee-haw” a lot.
You’re developing the drama Battle Creek with David Shore. What has that experience been like, and where are you guys in the process?
I feel lucky to be working with him. Battle Creek is a pilot script I wrote for CBS 11 years ago, and for various reasons it didn’t go. But now it has been resurrected and I can’t wait to see what he does with it. Boy, if there’s anyone I would want running a show with my name on it, it would be David. This is a gentleman who took this great idea for House and made it a reality and ran that show beautifully for eight years. He really created something special with that. There’s no reason to think he can’t do that again here for CBS and take this little idea I had over a decade ago and really run with it and make it his own.
And the show is about two detectives with opposing philosophies and personalities who are paired together?
The small town of Battle Creek, Michigan, has a police department that tries very hard but is financially a bit stretched, and the local detective winds up working with an FBI agent out of the Detroit field office who is perfect. He is a handsome, wonderful guy who men all want to have a beer with and women all want to be with. This guy is just fantastic in every regard, and our local detective is insanely jealous of him, and nonetheless has to work with him. That’s sort of the engine of it all.
Is there a movie that you’re looking to direct?
I’m always looking for a movie. Some days I’m not even sure why, because TV has been so good to me that there’s no reason not to stick with TV 100 percent for the rest of my career. But I love movies, and I’ve never directed a movie before. I would love to direct a movie at least one time before I’m done.
As you look at 2014 and beyond, who is the one person that you’re dying to work with?
I’ve always wanted to work with Clint Eastwood. I’ve just been so impressed by him my whole life. I’m at a point where I can’t really drop everything, because I’ve got too many folks expecting things that I’ve promised, but if I was ever to drop everything to go work for someone, that would be the guy.