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‘Better Call Saul’: The Cast of One of TV’s Best Written Shows Has a Lot to Say About Silence

Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Michael Mando, and Patrick Fabian explain how the lack of words in the scripts inspire them to create their best performances.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Better Call Saul” is a show that doesn’t lack for dramatic confrontations. But the reason those scenes are so memorable is that on balance, the AMC drama is a show driven by silence. In fact, the quiet reserve of so many of its characters has become a trademark of the series that Rhea Seehorn couldn’t help but laugh when asked what would happen if the show’s most stalwart characters came together.

Seehorn is more than capable of exploding with rage, as viewers saw in “Breathe,” the second episode of Season 4. But typically, tough and smart lawyer Kim (Seehorn) is more reserved than normal folks, perhaps only matched for silence by reluctant drug dealer Nacho (Michael Mando).

On set earlier this year, IndieWire simply asked, “what if Nacho and Kim had a scene together?”

But Seehorn found the idea amusing. “If you stick Jonathan Banks in there, it’ll just be three people staring at each other, right? For an entire season. Just a staring contest. That’d be great.”

Watching Nacho, Kim, and Mike stare at each other for a season does sound like a lot of fun. And the reason for that speaks to how well this show deploys the moments when characters do speak their minds — or, more often than not, the moments when they don’t.

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

For Seehorn, her reaction to getting a largely dialogue-free scene is appreciation, because “as an actor, you look at it and first of all, you feel trusted. By your writers and your directors, and then one of the coolest things about the show is how much they trust the audience. And I do think that it has, from the beginning of ‘Breaking Bad,’ made these shows stand out in a way.”

As she continued, “There’s never spoon-feeding to the audience, and that includes us not having to reiterate plot-wise over and over. If a character is not very articulate about their emotions, or like Kim who sometimes is suppressing, avoiding and not totally in touch with some things, then they don’t say them. Sometimes you watch TV and they let you know how they feel to make sure you’re keeping up, and on this show, they just completely trust the audience.”

For Mando, Nacho’s silence spoke to an aspect of his character that he learned from doing his research for the part. “When I spoke to a lot of people who were in this business, in order to prepare for the character, they would tell you the most dangerous guys are those who don’t speak, because a dog that barks doesn’t bite,” he said. “Nacho, I think inherently, because of his father’s upbringing, has always been moral. And he was always surrounded by predators. And the way that a person like that survives is by observing and calculating.”

Added Mando, “What’s so interesting this season is there’s a new saying that applies to Nacho, which is, ‘If you make yourself a sheep, you will be eaten by the wolves.’ And Nacho has to make himself a wolf.”

One scene from Season 3 that demanded a great deal of Mando was what we might simply call the “training montage.” The sequence showcased Nacho practicing the simple yet crucial maneuver that would allow the character to sabotage Hector Salamanca’s medication.

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga, Vincent Fuertes as Arturo - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Michele K.Short/AMC/Sony Picture

“The pill sequence is a really interesting sequence,” Mando said, “because to an outsider it sounds like a banal thing to do, but when you understand what it means for that particular character… In that given moment, that pill situation for Nacho is the equivalent of flying a fighter plane and being able to go after the Death Star in ‘Star Wars.’ That’s what that meant to him, and if he had failed that moment, he’s dead. There’s no alternative.”

When it came to filming the scene, Mando said that “It was extremely grueling. When I was switching those pills, my hands were sweaty and the pressure was there and it was draining… Even though it’s just entertainment, I really take it to heart. I really care. So whenever they give me tasks like that, I really invest in it. I really, really care.” And when it came time to shoot the moment, Mando said that he did successful drop the pill bottle in the jacket pocket on the first take.

(But here is a promise that just Episode 2 of Season 4 has already delivered on: “As draining as that was,” Mando said, “that pales in comparison to what [Nacho] goes through this season.”)

One of the show’s most talkative characters may be Howard Hamlin, played by Patrick Fabian, who admitted to being conscious of how much he might get to say in any given episode. “My ego as an actor says, ‘Yes, give Patrick more dialogue, because the more Patrick says … ‘ — I don’t know if you’ve noticed — ‘he likes to talk. And that would be so much more interesting,'” he said.

That said, he admitted, “In this show, the two scenes that I constantly get told how good I am in are the two scenes where I say nothing. The first scene is a silent dumb show where Jimmy’s having a birthday cake to celebrate passing the bar, and I do a silent dumb show where I let him know that he’s not gonna become a lawyer at HHM, and all you hear is the sound of a copy machine. And in the other one, is me and Kim walking down the hall and we are dead silent as she’s trying to say things. And I say nothing. And then all of a sudden we hit the HHM room and I smile and say, ‘Hey, welcome.'”

As he said, “I get singled out for those scenes all the time, which just goes to show you, at least for this actor, I don’t know when I’m being really good or when I’m not being really good. And I don’t necessarily need a mouthful of dialogue in order to convey what’s going on.”

Fabian did follow that up with a joke: “If you want to call the writers and tell them to give me more words, you may do so. You have my permission.”

Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Meanwhile, Seehorn said she loves playing the quiet scenes, noting that when it comes to “Saul’s” writing, “the entire script, no matter who’s talking, there’s such a great art of the economy of language. [Executive producer] Gennifer Hutchison even said on Twitter — she writes a lot of great writing advice on Twitter — she was talking about that at some point her final drafts involve, how little can you say and how well can you tell this in the fewest amount of words? And that pairing down, I think lends itself to a lot more reality, certainly for the relationship with Kim and Jimmy. They are often much more about what’s not said than what is said.”

That matters a lot to Odenkirk on both sides, because for him the quiet scenes do matter, but “the dynamics of this show are pretty vast.” And that’s most especially true when it comes to the interplay we can expect between Kim and Jimmy going forward.

“There have been a number of scenes between Kim and Jimmy that were very mature and not people hiding inside of their characters, but two people who are genuinely trying to stretch themselves as people and doing things that you almost wouldn’t think they’re capable of,” he said.

Still, their central dynamic is rooted in what’s said and not said, as Seehorn noted. “You’ve got a character like Kim who’s really far on that spectrum, as far as she’s quite withholding. And it sometimes very much has a position of power I think, in certain situations to just not participate and engage,” she said. “And then it becomes also a source of comedy I think at times, and heartache, with a character like Jimmy because he’s actually so verbose, and deals with the emotions and his reactions to things by talking and talking and talking, and Kim gets quieter and quieter and quieter. It makes for a very interesting relationship that I find very believable.”

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Odenkirk did feel that in Season 4, the dynamic between Kim and Jimmy had evolved to some degree. “Much of what we play are people hiding inside their self-delusion or their natural reactive behaviors… there has been more than one scene where the character doesn’t resort to their limited almost caricature version of themselves, but kind of reaches out in a human way to the other characters. Boy, that’s something to play. That just feels like you’re playing a living person.”

As Odenkirk continued, “these two characters give each other forgiveness and leeway. That is just not something you’re used to playing or seeing, even in movies.”

“Better Call Saul” Season 4 is currently airing Mondays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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