If watching “Better Call Saul” teaches you to focus on the little things, the same goes for directing it.
After more than five seasons of playing lawyer for all clients and ascendant schemer Kim Wexler, Rhea Seehorn took her turn in the director’s chair for the Season 6 episode “Hit and Run.” It’s an hour of paranoia and trust and setbacks and fear and a glimmer of hope, all wrapped up into one.
On a visual and emotional level, it took as much planning as Kim and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) put into each step of their evolving plans for staying afloat in their connected personal and professional lives. True to series’ form, “Hit and Run” is a balance of the cosmic and the intimate, pairing long-brewing plans to ruin careers with thoughtful character touches along the way.
“At this point in the show, there are a lot of people that think that their behavior is in a vacuum. And it’s not. There’s this constant reminder of there are consequences to actions,” Seehorn said. “All of these people are humans. With Wendy, I wanted to stay on her little quarters that fell on the ground when she drives away, because she’s got this sort of childlike quality in that scene that I love so much.”
Seehorn spoke with IndieWire about how that spirit of attention and teamwork helped make the whole episode what it became. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
IndieWire: Above all, this episode seems like a tonal challenge. Not only is this right after Nacho’s big episode, it’s funnier than most episodes and you also have some real sense of danger, too.
Rhea Seehorn: I’m glad that came across. I was very conscious about tone in this one. There’s some caper, there’s some comedy, there’s some really fast-paced stuff. But it’s mixed in constantly with these dramatic moments. I felt that from the get-go and it’s in Ann Cherkis’ beautiful script.
There’s this soft underbelly of many characters in these intimate moments. Finding out that Hamlin’s marriage is crumbling, finding out that Cliff Main’s son had a drug problem. Gus Fring, seeing his humanity sitting on the edge of his bed in socks and hating that he has to arm himself in the privacy of his own home is this vulnerable moment. I wanted to honor those things. Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] have built shows that have taught an audience to handle those great tone shifts and that you can really lean into them.
There’s some pretty intricate choreography here, especially in those Gus compound scenes. How much prep work did that take?
Tons of prep. They started building that tunnel, Denise Pizzini and Dins Danielsen and the incredible crack art team. It was insane. It was built on a soundstage. The two houses were actually neighboring houses and so they measured the distance between those houses and then built this tunnel with basements that are very Guslike on one side, and very Rymans on the other side.
As soon as he saw it, Paul Donachie, my DP, immediately said, ‘We have to figure out how to do this as a oner or as close to a oner as possible. You just have to take advantage of it. Not every show would be building this and doing this.’ So that took a lot of a lot of planning a lot of choreography, as did the teaser scene when the Rymans come home. The slow reveals of, “Why are we watching these people? This is super weird. What show is this? Why does that guy have a gun? Who are these people in this kitchen? Why are there cameras?” That was fun.
One of my favorite touches in the episode is that you hear Mike before you actually see him. How did you go about setting up that reveal?
When we were on the scout, Paul and Angie Meyer, my first AD, we started talking about that. There is a top to that scene where you need to not see him there. But it also feels very cheap to do a magic trick where somebody appears out of nowhere, and Peter agreed. We wanted to create a situation where if you were to watch it back, you would see him there. And you do, when I’m going up to the counter to say goodbye.
I wanted us to be with Kim. I didn’t want you to be ahead of her. I really wanted us to realize at the same time Kim does that that the iconic Mike Ehrmantraut is in the room so that the audience could have that fun that happens when they know something more than I do. Kim knows this is a strange man talking to me, but they know, “Oh, it’s more than a strange man.”
You’re in a lot of the episode, but it seems like the brunch with Cliff and the conversation with Mike might have been the most difficult as far as having to split your brain in between focusing on your performance and everything else that comes with directing.
The final scene was also very challenging as far as like directing while being in it, because with those wides, you gotta run. You gotta hoof it to the monitor and then stand there and go like, “Wait, what is Kim thinking this moment? Right. OK, I’m here.” Like the Mike scene, it’s quiet, with a ton going on that she’s not saying. They were challenging.
I had Michael Morris, our producing director, over in video village. He was kind of my right-hand person whenever I was on screen. I could watch playback when I needed it. We rehearsed things extensively, so that both actors understood what the scene felt like, in broad strokes, beforehand. And then I wanted to make sure that I was just available as Kim, once I was in the scene. I would never want a scene partner to feel like their director is observing them. So I mapped out the general 15 points in an arc of possible reactions Kim could have here and then I would go and ask, “Is this reading? Does it look authentic? Does it look like she took in this information in this way?” I’d watch the shot and I’d watch my stand-in, Tricia Howland. I could frame composition really well, and then step in and do the scene. It was challenging, but thank goodness it’s scene partners that I have known and watched.
As far as the Gus scenes go, that’s a character that Kim’s never really met. Did those scenes feel different, given that you and Giancarlo Esposito hadn’t been scene partners before?
The bridge I had to cross there is that I’ve watched his scenes, but I wasn’t totally aware of his process in the way that I am with Patrick Fabian’s and Bob’s. But I just asked him and he was lovely. He’s from theater, as am I. So we had a good shorthand from the beginning and we adore each other as humans. I just simply asked him, “Do like talk about the scene or beats or do you just only want adjustments after the fact?” And he said, “I’d love to talk about the scene. Thank you very much.” I said, “Fantastic! Because here’s my six binders.” That little moment of Gus in a private place where you see him vulnerable for a second, he liked that idea. We had a really good time artistically looking at that story.
Now having having directed this episode, did the rest of the season after this feel different? Or were you able to switch back into that other mode?
I surprised myself in that I didn’t find it that difficult to change hats, even in scenes that I was acting in. Things that were super fast, that was a little hard. But I felt the same way when I edited and I felt the same way when I was in other scenes. One of my directors even said to me, “I worry when somebody goes through the editing process, that they’ll have trouble just being in the scene again. I don’t want you thinking about that stuff.” And I just don’t. I just have giant blinders on when I’m acting. I forget everything else.
“Better Call Saul” airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC and is available on AMC+.