Bob Odenkirk has been writing, producing, directing, and acting in Hollywood for more than two decades. For the stoners and comedy nerds who worshipped his short-lived HBO sketch-comedy showcase, Mr. Show, he and costar David Cross will remain the patron saints of absurdist humor. But its his late-career turn as the oozy lawyer Saul Goodman on AMC’s Breaking Bad that has introduced Odenkirk to an entirely new audience. Next month the show begins its final 8-episode run, and naturally, Odenkirk has been bombarded with questions of the how-will-it-end variety. But before Breaking Bad returns on Aug 11, Odenkirk can be seen on movie screens in the coming-of-age Sundance winner, The Spectacular Now (out this Friday), playing the boss of an adrift, popular high school student (Miles Teller) who falls for the straight-edge girl next door (Shailene Woodley). Odenkirk, who is planning a Mr. Show reunion tour with Cross, has also been at the center of rumors of a Saul Goodman spin-off that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has sort of confirmed. We’ll let Odenkirk himself fill you in on the rest, along with info on his favorite Mr. Show sketches, his cameo in Waiting for Guffman, and his reaction to the actual, literal end of Breaking Bad.
The Spectacular Now has been getting such rave reviews. Do you ever know you’re making something good, or is that something you know only after watching with a finished product?
I’ve changed my tune on this issue. Years ago, I remember hearing people say, “You never know.” And I’ve heard a lot of actors say, when they were making great films, that they just thought they were making a movie, and they were even mislead by the hijinks on the set—when people are on set laughing and feeling great—they thought they were making a great movie and they weren’t. My feeling is the opposite. I feel like the movies I’ve made that weren’t very good, and I’ve made a couple of them, I always felt like there’s something wrong here and I don’t think we’re solving the problem by having a good time shooting it.
I’d say I was 80% sure that this was a really solid piece of acting and writing and storytelling. It is better than I thought it could be. And I think James Ponsoldt deserves tons of credit for that. Miles Teller too obviously, for being the perfect guy to play this character. But James really had, similar to Alexander Payne, just a calm certainty about what he was shooting.
How do you pick the projects you take on?
Here’s the thing. I have so many wonderful friends and I have a certain level of childish delight in being in show business at all, that sometimes I do projects just to make a story, or just to do a fun scene or TV show, because I can’t believe I get to do this at all. I’m not maybe as critical as people think I am—if you look at my resume you’ll see I’m not too harshly critical of everything I do. Maybe I should be more hard on projects or more careful, but I guess I feel like I do projects for many different reasons. A project could be worthwhile just because you get to work with your friends for a few days. There are a few things, not many, very few, that I’ve done because they paid me. And I have kids and they eat food and you have to pay for food.
Can you tell me more about the tour you’re doing with David Cross?
Yeah, it’s gonna be fun. Just between you and me, I think we’re selling out in New York today. Here’s the thing: David is shooting a movie while we’re doing this tour, so we can’t do as extensive of a tour as we want, but we’re going to add second shows in a few cities and we’re going to have a great time and we’re gonna re-meet our fans again and do some funny sketches for them and some standup, including some really special stuff we wrote just for the show. And then we’re hoping to do a reunion tour that’s more of a complete theatrical experience, on par with anything Cirque du Soleil cooks up.
Why did you decide to reunite now?
Well in two years it’ll be the 20th anniversary of starting Mr. Show. Now, it’s to promote the book [HOLLYWOOD SAID NO! Orphaned Film Scripts, Bastard Scenes, and Abandoned Darlings from the Creators of Mr. Show out Sept. 10] and to just get our feet wet. But two years from now will be the big Mr. Show reunion tour.
After all this time, is there a Mr. Show sketch that you love above all the others?
Well without a doubt I think it’s “The Story of Everest”, which also known as “The Thimble Scene”, which is often people’s favorite scene. But I love that sketch of Jay Johnston falling down into the wall of thimbles. I love “The Fad 3”, my brother Phil wrote that. I love “Audition” just like everybody else. I love F.F. Woodycooks. I love “Crime Stick”. I love the whole episode with “Mediocrity” I love that whole episode.
If someone has yet to see Mr. Show, which sketch would you recommend to initiate them into that world?
I don’t know how to start people on the show. The sketches are all pretty different. I think you can have a sketch that can alienate people. People seem to like “Titanica” with the kid in the bed who tried to kill himself.
I spotted your face in Waiting for Guffman, standing in line for an audition in a full on vampire costume. How did that come to be?
Obviously, I got cut out of that movie, and I think justifiably so. Chris Guest wanted me to play the local pastor who auditions for the show. That’s all he told me. The only limitation was I could only sing that one song. It was an opera song, and I really don’t know opera that well, but it was the only song they could get the rights to. So that’s all he told me. I’ll tell you what my big joke was, and I say that laden with sarcasm. The way I played the pastor as saying things like, “It’s not fair for me to audition. I’m not going to audition. I perform every week. My services are very showy and very entertaining. I put on some pretty entertaining sermons.” And he talks about sermons that he’s given where he had flash pots and stuff, and so he’s pumping himself up saying what a great performer he is and how he’s not going to audition, because it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the people in the community. Then he does show up to the audition in full opera make up. I know I looked like a vampire but that’s full opera make up that you’d see in Amadeus, and he belts out this opera song. It was a little cute but not that funny, and they didn’t have a lot of room for extraneous kooky characters, because their main characters were so involving. I felt very lucky. I wish I’d gotten in the movie.
What was your reaction when you discovered how Breaking Bad would end?
I do not know how the show ends. I did not read the last script and a half on purpose. I only read my part. I didn’t read it because I want to watch it just like you. I’m a fan of the show and I don’t want to know what happens. I will tell you this: It’s an awesome final eight episodes, and things get wrapped up unlike other of these dramatic shows where a lot of stuff’s left hanging. I think Vince Gilligan really goes right at the throat of all the main conflicts and themes and subject matters of this show. But something happens in that last episode that’s going to blow my mind and yours. I can’t picture what happens based on what came before it. I’m sure it’s going to be just astounding. The whole last eight are crazy. You’ve never seen a TV show just kind of hit the wall and smash into a million pieces like this thing does. Every character goes spinning out.
What was it like when they yelled cut on your last scene as Saul?
Well it was more emotional than I thought it would be. I’ve always felt like a guest there and very lucky to be a part of this great project that was started and brought to a level of excellence by other people, and I just got to come in for dessert and skip the vegetables that they all ate.
The show allows me to show a whole new side to my abilities as an actor, and that is so hard to achieve in Hollywood. Usually in Hollywood, whatever you’ve done, you’re allowed to do that again, but you’re not allowed to do anything else. You can do it all the rest of your life, but as far as doing anything else, no fucking way. So Vince [Gilligan], he gave me the job because of Mr. Show. He saw something in some of the Mr. Show scenes that I did that made him believe that I could bring the intensity and commitment that I brought to Saul Goodman, but I’ve always felt secretly that as much as I’ve loved sketch comedy and as much as I’ve loved doing it and writing it, that as an actor that kind of dramatically under-pinned world is really the best place for me as an actor, because I have a bit of a complicated energy on screen that doesn’t lend itself as easily to sketch comedy. Sketch comedy is good for people whose performance energy is kind of simple to understand and enjoy, and I don’t have that and I know it. The only reason I’ve done so much sketch comedy is because I love writing it and being in it, but I’ve always felt like if anybody ever noticed, and I guess Vince did, that a story that’s more dramatic could allow me to have more impact and fit in better as a performer.
Tell me about the spin-off project—is it any realer now?
Vince Gilligan is a serious guy about everything he does. So when he says it—and he did when we were just at Comic Con—he told fans you know, “I’m envisioning the Saul Goodman show.” And I heard him say that. He’s not fucking around. He doesn’t say that just to have something to say. On the other hand, as far as official movement on it, there hasn’t been any. So it’s in a little bit of a limbo space now, but I think it has a shot. I think it has a chance. It’s all up to Vince. The thing that’s been the most surprising to me—the internet is where negative comments flourish. It’s a place for everyone to vent their spite and jealousy and the meanest smallest part of themselves, but I’ve been shocked when I’ve read any article on the Saul Goodman spin-off and how many people say, “That sounds like something fun.”