Photo: AMC/courtesy Everett Collection/�AMC/courtesy Everett Collection
The first thing Bob Odenkirk wants to do when he gets on a Zoom call with Rhea Seehorn is show her a copy of the children’s book he wrote with his illustrator daughter, Erin. He apologizes, noting he’s not trying to publicize Zilot & Other Important Rhymes when we’re here to discuss Better Call Saul’s last round of Emmy nominations. “Rhea knows all about it,” Odenkirk explains a few moments before Seehorn hops on the call. “She was part of all the conversations, and she saw me and Erin working on it. I haven’t seen her in months. I wanted to show her that the book is here.”
“You have the book!” Seehorn says as soon as she logs on. “Let me see it!”
Odenkirk flips through the pages of illustrated poems and holds them up to the camera. They make dinner plans for the following week — “If you’re available next Tuesday night, Peter Gould and Patrick and I were going to go to dinner,” Odenkirk says, referring to the co-creator of Better Call Saul and the actor who played Howard Hamlin. “Yes, the answer’s yes,” says Seehorn, adding, “We like getting nominated for shit. We get to hang out together again.”
It’s been almost a year since the Breaking Bad prequel, which follows the ethical devolution of attorneys Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler, ended its run on AMC with the second part of its sixth season. This week, Odenkirk and Seehorn earned two more Emmy nominations for their performances (the final season received seven overall), and though the two remain close friends, they haven’t seen each other recently — the last time was the premiere of Odenkirk’s latest AMC series, Lucky Hank, back in March. (Seehorn has been busy with Cooper’s Bar, a series she co-created and stars in, and will reunite with Saul s other co-creator, Vince Gilligan, on his forthcoming Apple series.)
Before getting into the accolades, Odenkirk catches up Seehorn on his travels to the U.K. for a speaking tour. She balks when he encourages her to do something similar, but Odenkirk is sure she could pull it off, describing how he approached the grand finale of his show: improvising a version of Hamlet despite knowing very little about the play. “I would just be a fucking idiot for a minute and a half and leave.”
“I am beginning to think that I could do this based on that description,” Seehorn laughs. “I can definitely pull off being a fucking idiot.”
“Well, yes, I’ll help you,” Odenkirk says. “You helped me be an actor for six years. I’ll help you be a fucking idiot.”
I don’t know if you know the total number of nominations Better Call Saul now has to its credit, but it’s 55.
Rhea Seehorn: I was gonna say 2,000. [Laughs.]
Bob Odenkirk: How many have we won? Jen?
R.S.: We’ve won two in Creative Arts, haven’t we? [The series received two Emmys for off-shoot digital shorts Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training and Better Call Saul Employee Training: Legal Ethics with Kim Wexler.]
B.O.: You’re going to think it’s bullshit, but people always say the nomination’s a win. I think more than ever, in the history of television, being nominated in a world where there’s this many fucking shows is a massive win. You know, winning, of course, would be fine. I guess I’ll find out one day … maybe. [Laughs.] But, really, it’s such a big fucking deal. It was our final season. We know we left it on the field, everything we had, and I’m so proud. That last episode, the way these guys and women who wrote the show dug in and twisted these characters inside out was just masterful. This is an acknowledgement that you saw it and noticed it, and that’s — it’s everything.
R.S.: Bob and I both are in the Television Academy, so we did the voting. Not only are there hundreds and hundreds of shows, there’s a lot of really, really great shows. It is not lost on us to have people single out five or six performances, or five or six shows.
Sometimes you do the best work of your life but no one saw it. Sometimes the show is popular but you don’t feel like it was your best work. And then there are these rare times where you have the chance to do writing of this quality surrounded by cast and crew of this quality, and then you push yourself to do your very best. It’s amazing to be recognized for that.
As a voting member, how do you approach checking out all these shows? B.O.: I’m not in the Academy.
R.S.: Oh, you’re not. That’s why I keep losing. I’m always one vote away. [Laughs.]
B.O.: I used to be years ago. I was in as a comedy writer at the time. I worked really hard and I was actually very pleased by everything about it. If you were in the academy, they had two voting days here in L.A. and you would have to go to the Hilton and sit in a room. You had to watch, over the course of a day, every episode that was nominated. What was great about that, obviously, is I actually had to see shows I’d never seen.
We saw a Homicide and we saw two episodes of Northern Exposure. It was drama writing, and the Homicide episode was really hard. The whole hour was an interrogation, so it was really dry, very well-written. I thought, That won’t win a popular vote. It’s not juicy enough for a regular audience. But as a writer, that’s the best fucking writing. So I voted for that. It won. What I loved about that was, there’s so many secondary reasons why someone might win. You might even say, this year, wouldn’t that lean in your favor, Bob, because it’s your last time? But I’d rather just win for the work we did. In order to do that, you have to watch the show.
Back then The Ben Stiller Show won. Why did this little show that no one had seen win? Because they made you watch them. And when you were forced to watch The Ben Stiller Show versus Saturday Night Live, you went, Oh shit. This is better. I don’t think they do that anymore, and I wish they did.
During the last season of Saul, you were dealing with shooting under Covid protocols, and obviously, Bob, you had your health scare. Coupled with the fact that this was also the last season, does that give these nominations more weight than previous ones?
B.O.: Oh, absolutely. Because we’ve never won, that too adds to a feeling of, maybe we can pull one down before we’re out of the way. It would be nice. If Rhea wins or I win, or the show wins or writing wins, hopefully everybody will see that as a reflection of everybody’s work and a reward for the whole show. Obviously, Succession is a juggernaut. It will be everywhere.
R.S.: And The White Lotus.
B.O.: They’re great so it’ll be awful hard. It would mean a lot to get even one.
R.S.: I agree with that sentiment. Our crew and the directors and the producers and the writers and we, the actors, are all very sincere in letting them know this is a collaboration. They are all part of creating Kim Wexler. They’re all part of creating Jimmy.
B.O.: They’re encouraged to be. The prop people who have an idea are listened to, you know? They feel like they helped make the show. Maybe their idea was used, maybe it wasn’t, but they were taken seriously.
R.S.: People don’t know that this is unusual, but it is — you look around when the new scripts come out and you see your crew, the grip and the gaffers, everybody is sitting around wanting to read it. They’re invested. A win for any of us is our whole team.
Rhea, I asked you this a year ago, but I want to ask it again with both of you present. Do you think that interaction between Kim and Jimmy at the prison in the last scene of Better Call Saul is the last time they see each other? Or does Kim come back to visit again?
R.S.: I think she comes back. Peter said, “I want to write a finale where the characters and the story continue after the screen goes to black.” I was like, okay, but when I’m asked what I think, I’m going to say she comes back, because I’m a hopeless romantic. I don’t think she becomes the Kim she used to be. But you do see her begin to practice law again. I think she tries to figure out a way to reduce his sentence on the up and up, not with a scam. I do think she returns.
B.O.: Wow. I don’t agree.
R.S.: I know you don’t! Bob’s always like, “They never see each other again and they both die in a fiery car crash.”
B.O.: [Laughs.] Obviously it’d be awful hard for Saul to die in a fiery car crash. He’s in prison. I just think it really is a goodbye. The word that comes to mind when I think about the journey of that final episode is surrender. The struggle inside Jimmy has always been with what he senses is true or what he should do versus his strange, unique instincts.
These are two characters who had incredible intelligence about other people and struggled to have any self-awareness of any real depth about themselves. But in that final episode, they were granted a deep level of self-awareness that they always were capable of. Only with every other option stolen from them did Jimmy realize the only way out is through surrendering. I thought it was beautiful.
What do you miss about working with each other every day?
B.O.: The richness of the writing was always surprising and rewarding to dig into, and obviously Rhea — that chemistry, you know, you’re not going to get that everywhere.
R.S.: We had that from the beginning. And then our respect for each other’s work grew at the same time as our friendship grew. I trusted Bob’s thoughts on a scene and his choices in a scene enough to completely let go and let it alter how I had thought I was going to play the scene. Because I know he respects my work and that we know the best work is going to be the collaboration.
You don’t always get that. You also don’t always get to play a character over the course of seven years. Shows get ripped off the air in like three episodes now. You also don’t always get a chance to play a serialized character that’s allowed to grow. I miss that. It was constantly cumulative. Bob is a one in a million scene partner.
Have you talked about working together again at some point?
B.O.: We have not. I’ve been talking to my friend David Cross — it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with him. I like to keep relationships alive over the course of my career. It would be a dream to work with Rhea again. It can happen, I think. The Odd Couple on Broadway! I’ll be Felix. You be Oscar.
How are the strikes impacting both of you?
B.O.: Core issues are being argued and it deserves everybody’s complete dedication. I think it’s going to be a hard, long fight. We’re arguing about the value of our work in a world where certain technological things have changed so fundamentally that the companies get to call into question, What is the value of a human being writing it as opposed to a machine? These are basic, deep issues and it’s going to be a hard one to sort out. We’ve got to stand our ground, man. We’ve got to stand our ground as actors and writers and insist that human beings matter and need to make enough money.
R.S.: Writing is a profession, not a hobby. That means that it can’t be that the person has three other jobs and writes on Sundays for an hour when they can.
It pains me that so many people in the general population that you speak to, friends and family of mine, are like, “So the writers and actors, what, they want another million dollars an episode?” People’s heads are still stuck in the era of Friends, you know? That’s not what we’re all making anymore. We’re not doing 22 episodes a season, we’re doing ten, and sometimes six a season and people are trying to make a living between them. In the times when you are making money, you need to speak for those in our unions that are not.
B.O.: If you write a hit show, you should be rewarded. If your show just falls away and nobody notices because it didn’t come together, well, that’s okay. We took a chance on something. Everybody knows there’s a risk and is willing to take that risk. But if you write a hit show, then you should be compensated as it plays for years and years to come. That’s a model to encourage excellence.