BOB ODENKIRK

Bob Odenkirk’s strange sense of hu­mor proves just the right beat for ‘Bet­ter Call Saul’s’ quick-fire Jimmy McGill. Now he’s ready to cut loose with the char­ac­ter.

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Glenn Whipp glenn.whipp@la­times.com

A good fit for ‘Saul’

Bob Odenkirk stands in the writ­ers room of “With Bob and David,” the re­boot of the cel­e­brated com­edy se­ries “Mr. Show” that he’s mak­ing with David Cross to ar­rive on Net­flix later this year. Point­ing at the bul­letin boards loaded with Post-it notes sport­ing the ti­tles of ev­ery sketch (“An Ex­tra Bea­tle,” “Amaz­ing Moms!”) that will run in the new se­ries’ four half-hour pro­grams, he then re­veals two other boards con­tain­ing the names of even more ideas that didn’t quite make it to air.

Odenkirk de­lights in the re­jects (“Heaven Bucks,” about a guy who gives away all his money on Earth and, as a con­se­quence, doesn’t get any of the spe­cial cur­rency needed to buy stuff in the ce­les­tial king­dom) as much as the sketches that get made. Lis­ten­ing to him talk about his love for strange sto­ries, twisted hu­mor and, most of all, words and lan­guage, makes it clear what a per­fect fit he is for the char­ac­ter of Jimmy McGill, the small-time lawyer who be­comes late-night-TV le­gal pitch­man Saul Goodman in the “Break­ing Bad” spinoff, “Bet­ter Call Saul.”

Odenkirk, 52, can be just as nim­ble with his speech as his tele­vi­sion al­ter ego, though he’s not as ver­bose, in­se­cure or in­ter­ested in seek­ing no­to­ri­ety be­yond the things he con­sid­ers im­por­tant. Out­side of “With Bob and David,” Odenkirk is ly­ing low these days un­til he re­turns to Al­bu­querque in July to start film­ing “Bet­ter Call Saul’s” sec­ond sea­son.

“A lot of ac­tors if they had that time would look for roles harder than I do,” Odenkirk says. “But when you think about build­ing your ca­reer, both fi­nan­cially and ar­tis­ti­cally, what do you want more than ‘Bet­ter Call Saul’? So if I’m smart, I will take the time and fo­cus on do­ing a good job on the sec­ond sea­son and do the same with the third or fourth, if there is a third or fourth. Be­cause it’s just prob­a­bly not go­ing to get bet­ter ever.” He smiles. “How could it?”

Odenkirk seems gen­uinely “flab­ber- gasted” by both the suc­cess ar­riv­ing at a more “sea­soned” age (“Let’s put it that way,” he says, “oth­er­wise it’s too depressing”) and at how read­ily the “Break­ing Bad” au­di­ence em­braced “Bet­ter Call Saul.” The show’s first 10 episodes of­fered a com­plete jour­ney, be­gin­ning with the pre­miere’s strik­ing, six-minute silent in­tro, which showed Saul, re­lo­cated post-“Break­ing Bad,” man­ag­ing a Cinnabon in Ne­braska and then con­tin­u­ing through the sea­son­long ori­gin story of how be­trayal by his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) makes Jimmy forgo the straight life, ig­nore his bet­ter an­gels and be­come, in the words of Jesse Pinkman, a crim­i­nal lawyer.

As an ac­tor ac­cus­tomed to play­ing comic char­ac­ters that, par­tic­u­larly in sketches, tend to be one-di­men­sional by design, Odenkirk had to adapt to the day-to-day, en­ergy-ab­sorb­ing rig­ors of in­hab­it­ing a com­plex cat like Jimmy. All those scenes with McKean’s Chuck, for in­stance, re­quired Odenkirk to show Jimmy strug­gling with idol­iz­ing, re­sent­ing and be­ing con­cerned about his brother, all to dif­fer­ent de­grees and of­ten in the same mo­ment. Plus, given Jimmy’s gift for gab, Odenkirk would some­times have to mem­o­rize mono­logues five to six pages long, speeches he wanted to com­mit to down to the last hes­i­ta­tion and apos­tro­phe in or­der to un­der­stand the rhythms and logic be­hind the char­ac­ter.

“The amount of di­a­logue that Bobby had to re­mem­ber ... it was a load,” says “Saul” cos­tar Jonathan Banks, who like Odenkirk moved over from “Break­ing Bad.” “His throat was bad that first show. He was not talk­ing at all, ex­cept when he was on cam­era.”

Re­mem­bers Odenkirk: “Part of it was that I dam­aged my vo­cal cords be­fore we even shot. I wish I could tell you that this hap­pened in play­ing a part, but I think it hap­pened due to L.A. traf­fic.”

The abil­ity to de­liver a line both self­aware (Odenkirk read­ily owns up to his anger; like the rest of us, he’s work­ing on it) and self-dep­re­cat­ing is a rare gift. “Break­ing Bad” star Bryan Cranston calls Odenkirk a “stu­dent and mas­ter of com­edy,” but also more “ob­ser­vant” and “not the kind of guy who nat­u­rally wants to be the quar­ter­back of the team.” When Odenkirk called Cranston, ask­ing for ad­vice be­fore “Bet­ter Call Saul” be­gan film­ing its first sea­son, Cranston gave him a mo­ti­va­tional pep talk, telling him to em­brace his new­found re­spon­si­bil­ity. Seize the day. Carpe diem. That sort of thing.

“Bryan was giv­ing me this ... Joel Os­teen speech. ‘You can do it!’ ” Odenkirk says. “Now, I love Bryan Cranston, but he didn’t un­der­stand my point. I said to him, ‘Thank you. Do you re­mem­ber “Mr. Show”? I’ve done that thing where ev­ery­body looks to you. What I want to know is how do you do it, the sched­ule, the sweat of it all.’ ”

For Odenkirk, “Saul’s” prac­ti­cal­i­ties in­volve 4 1⁄ months in Al­bu­querque, away

2 from his wife, Naomi, and two teenage chil­dren, Nathan and Erin. He re­peat­edly ex­presses grat­i­tude to them for tak­ing on more re­spon­si­bil­ity in his ab­sence. (“The kids had to nag them­selves too be­cause I’m not around to do it,” Odenkirk jokes. Sort of.) He made it home once dur­ing the first sea­son, but only once, be­cause “Saul” of­ten shoots six days a week and he’s in al­most ev­ery scene.

That’s where Cranston’s mo­ti­va­tional min­istry came into play.

“Putting ev­ery­thing else in your life on hold, this ‘Bet­ter Call Saul’ act­ing be­comes a lit­tle bit of a med­i­ta­tion, like you kind of re­cede and dis­con­nect from the world,” Odenkirk says. “It’s a va­ca­tion from your­self. It re­ally is a way to get away.”

When he re­turns to this par­tic­u­lar sab­bat­i­cal for “Saul’s” sec­ond sea­son, Odenkirk ex­pects to find Jimmy in a dif­fer­ent head space. He says a fan no­ticed that Jimmy had a hint of a smile on his face in that first episode as he watched the old Saul Goodman com­mer­cials, like he missed hav­ing that kind of fun.

“I thought this was an as­tute ob­ser­va­tion,” Odenkirk says. “I shared her ob­ser­va­tion with [show run­ner Vince Gil­li­gan], and he smiled and said she was on to some­thing. I think Sea­son 2 will have Jimmy cut­ting loose a bit, and I’m look­ing for­ward to that.”

la­times.com/

A BUSY Bob Odenkirk is also help­ing cre­ate a show for Netf lix.

Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

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