[Spoilers for Season 2 Episode 1, “Switch,” follow.]
“Better Call Saul” is a show that tends not to feature explosions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t emotional fireworks. Viewers saw as much in last night’s season premiere when Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) not only kissed, but spent the night together for the first time.
Or… was it their first time? Rhea Seehorn knows about as much we do, but she’s spent an awful lot of time thinking about it. The actress, who previously starred on comedies like “Whitney” and “Franklin and Bash,” made a serious impression in Season 1 as Jimmy’s one loyal confidante and maybe something more. And in Season 2, her role seems even more pivotal because now the stakes are even higher for the pair of them.
Indiewire spoke with Seehorn via phone, and was blown away by how many members of the crew — from staff writers to editors — that she mentioned by name as instrumental to the process of creating what she called “a three-dimensional relationship.” But she also shared what it’s like to work with Odenkirk and the rest of the team, what she does to make sure she’s found the show’s very specific tone, and whether or not that kiss was Kim and Jimmy’s first. An edited transcript follows.
When you first came to the show, how much were you told about your relationship with Jimmy at that point?
Very little. Bob and I were told that they had a 10 year-plus-ish relationship [and] started in the mailroom together. Obviously, we started to draw our own conclusions from there. Normally starting as an intern in a mailroom, you tend to be straight out of college and both of these guys were in their 30s — I’ve got the math somewhere in one of my notebooks — [but] some big change in life drives you to be in a mailroom together, and then there’s this history and then we now know that she got plucked to be put through law school and put on this fast career trajectory while he did not, but they remained extremely close confidants. And then we were both told what form that takes, or has taken. We don’t know yet, but there is a deep intimacy and a love that has probably had a lot of different forms. And what labels it has taken over the years we’re still exploring.
That’s kind of what we started with, and then you have these clues along the way, like, the infamous robot sex slave phone call, where I ask him about that voice. A lot of people were tweeting me about that. They just sort of get these clues. But we have this chemistry that you only get when you’ve known somebody that long; where nothing is really at face value, and there’s a lot that’s unspoken between them, and a real ease to their sense of humor with each other and their candidness with each other
How much of that comes from the writing, versus the natural chemistry you have with each other?
The writing is– I can’t express how great the writing is on this. It’s all on the page. We’re not ad-libbing. We’re not improving. There’s discussion about it and then the directors are amazing and fantastic and Bob’s an extremely generous actor who, as you saw, is doing tour de force performances here with barely a moment to breathe. But he’ll always be the first one to call any of us if he has a scene with you and say, “Do you want to rehearse this? Do you want to come to set? I have an hour on Saturday.” It’s a true collaboration to make this relationship authentic, and I think Bob’s passion about wanting to tell this story the absolute best he can — and my passion being the same — lends to that. To bring these people to life, and to make this three dimensional, you have 150-plus people who want the exact same thing in our crew — writers, executive producers, props, costumes. Everyone is there for the same purpose and then suddenly the ship has sailed and you’re able to create this very three-dimensional relationship. I think it’s everything, I really do.
In terms of escalating that with this season, when did you find out that would be happening?
When I got the first script, which I got a couple of days before we headed out to Albuquerque for Season 2. I had no idea. [laughs] I knew that this staff of writers and Vince and Peter, they don’t write any fat. There’s no fat on those scenes. There’s never like a little line that’s just thrown away and means nothing. There’s not a chair on set that means nothing. Everything is meticulously crafted, and it’s the same with our characters. And I knew that they were specifically impassioned by writing this three-dimensional woman, Kim, who’s not ancillary and has her own trajectory, who is an important part of the storytelling. So I knew she would be factored in and used in the best possible way. The fact that so much of it would be illustrated and on camera and that we would explore the relationship between her and Jimmy in this way — I didn’t know any of that, but it was a thrill to take this ride all through Season 2.
What did you do when you got to that key scene? Did you, say, immediately call Bob and go, “Oh my gosh?”
I did text him and say “Well, how about that.” [laughs] Because it was sort of like I didn’t know. There’s so much unspoken between them and, oh, we’re going to illustrate it in this very illustrative way. And at first, you get scared, going like, “Is this part of their appeal? The unspoken, the unknown?” And then you turn the page and you realize, not in Tom Schnauz’s hands — the writer of Episode 1 and the director — and not in Peter Gould’s hands and Vince Gilligan’s hands. You could just rest and go, it’s not going to be some sentimental pat thing. It is still a complex relationship and maybe ripping off the band-aid so we’re not all going, “Is it or isn’t it?” or “Will it or won’t it?” That’s not really the question. Their larger sense of relationship and how to love people with your masks off totally — that’s the mystery of them and that’s the big question and that’s what more important.
And you even saw it in how we shot Episode 1. It’s not even as much about the kiss as it is about the look before the kiss — the negotiated agreement that these two make with each other; that we will either revisit a way we’ve been before or start something new but in a different way. Whatever it is they’re deciding in that moment, that’s the authenticity of the way they love each other that I love and I hope the audience responds to. I was thrilled. You get freaked out at first and then you go, “No, no, no.” It’s going to be different from anything I’ve thought before because of the way they handled it.
In your head, is that their first kiss?
You know, there’s a question about that. I called Bob because we’re being asked about that, and I… I think it’s still being discovered and you see a lot more discovery — onions peeling about their relationship over the course of Season 2 and their individual back stories. But in my head? It’s not totally new physicality, but it is being revisited in a new way — if that makes sense?
I mean, in the first season, you guys physically– Well, you don’t hold each other at arms’ length.
No, no, obviously not. He paints my toenails, you know, and I have people say, “That’s the sexiest thing I ever saw.” I love that. I love that they have a different kind of sexiness or romantic way about being with each other that kind of goes past whether or not you’ve had sex or not. It’s more than that and it’s a lot of different paths. But yeah, it’s not new behavior but it’s being revisited in a new way.
So, how much fun is it working with Bob?
He’s great. He is as funny and intelligent and quick-witted as anyone who’s a giant fan like I am would think he would be. But what he’s not is he’s not a clown on set. He’s not a cut-up. He’s quite cerebral and fiercely passionate about giving 110 percent to every scene, every line, every word that he puts into this or anything else he’s doing, but also incredibly generous at the same time. By that, I meant that when an actor says somebody is generous, it means that he’s generous with his time. Just time-wise, he has so little time to even breathe, but he takes that time and he shares it with you.
Bob gives his time and his energy and his passion in that way, and then in the scenes themselves he’s a very generous actor; as happy if not happier to be your supporting person, if the moment is yours, as he is to be the person in the spotlight himself — which is an amazing thing, for someone of his caliber to behave that way on set. The entire cast behaves that way. It’s pretty amazing.
The show has such a specific tone to it. Was it hard initially to figure out what that tone was?
It was — probably not for better actors. [laughs]
I don’t know, there might be people who are better at it. I knew I was coming into it, one, not having been on “Breaking Bad,” which also has a specific tone, and this lives in that world and yet is its own thing again. It has a slightly different tone but in that world, and you’re right, it’s incredibly specific from the way it’s shot to the beautiful post work that’s done. From Dave Porter with the music and Kelley [Dixon] and Skip [Macdonald] and Chris [McCaleb] with the editing, it’s very specific, and there’s times when you get dialogue for Kim where it’s like, “God, does this woman ever use contractions?” She doesn’t use them very often and right when you’re at that place when you want to ask, “Hey, it would be more conversational and flow more to say it this way,” you stop yourself and remind yourself of the gift of having writing this specific. It’s just slightly off of naturalism. It’s just slightly off of total realism. There is poetry in the way they speak and the way it’s shot by Arthur Albert.
For me, I read and reread and reread the scripts as much as I can and as much as physically possible I go to set and I watch the other scenes, just as a free master class, because that’s what it is — to watch Michael McKean and Jonathan Banks and Michael Mando and Patrick Fabian and Bob Odenkirk work. It’s like being asked to do an accent or sing a song — it’s easier to listen to a CD in your headphones all day than to have not heard it all day, so I like that. I like to listen to the tone as often as I can before I go on stage.
One of the things I find really interesting about Kim as a character is that she really represents this ethical push-pull that feels like the heart of the show. How much do you feel that when playing Kim?
That’s an astute observation. I think that all the characters are feeling that. You see some people wrestle with that — my character, even the Chuck character, Hamlin’s character. I found it crushing at the end of the season that we didn’t know that Hamlin wasn’t the villain, that Chuck was going to betray Jimmy like that. And you know, watching, he’s not perfect. He’s not a saint, but even though he’s not perfect, he’s not a saint, I thought unparalleled that he just took the beating constantly of Jimmy but all the while knowing that it was Chuck pulling those strings. I feel like all of them are struggling with that idea that, “What exactly are your ethics and morals?” — which is not easy. We all follow our ethics and morals on a good day, and then it’s like, “How do you behave when everything’s falling apart?” She’s struggling with where the line is for herself, too, and with things being turned upside down. Chuck is not the moral pillar of ethics that I thought he was and Hamlin is not the cartoon villain that Jimmy made him out to be, but he also kicks Kim to the curb as soon as she can’t hold onto the Kettleman case and hogs the television spotlight as soon as we get them back and you see more of that struggle in Season 2. It’s not just in reaction to what Jimmy’s going through, it’s also her own life. And it’s really intelligent work, with regard to what all the characters are going through, to not be comfortable sitting on one side of the fence or the other. You got to wrestle with all of it.
Yeah, the thing I find most interesting about escalating the Kim and Jimmy relationship this season is that it’s like anything, where when good news happens you keep waiting for the bad. In terms of that, how scared should we be?
We shouldn’t be scared because Vince and Peter make the show, you know? It’s going to be the best story it could possibly be, no matter what. That’s going to involve some ups and downs and some highs and some lows, but what I love is that I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen. I don’t see it as a foregone conclusion that none of these people exist during the “Breaking Bad” years. Because this incredible gift they gave the fans and themselves is that of this expanding timeline. We’ve already seen that they go past the “Breaking Bad” years, and we’re doing prequel years obviously, but it’s no longer this thing where it’s a countdown to five, six years and then “Breaking Bad” starts, you know? It could be during “Breaking Bad” years. You don’t know. They could do literally anything they wanted to. Like a “Rashomon”-like scene where Chuck does exist and lives in some weird hospital? I don’t know. We didn’t see Saul everywhere during “Breaking Bad.” We saw him during specific circumstances. So I feel excited that the cast could go anywhere. It would be a disservice to say that there was only one answer to this puzzle. I think there are a lot of different answers they could write up.
“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 10pm on AMC.
READ MORE: ‘Better Call Saul’ Creator Peter Gould on When He Knew Bob Odenkirk Was a Star