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Before the cult series he created with David Cross in the ’90s, Mr. Show, comedian-actor Bob Odenkirk had a writing stint at Saturday Night Live. “It was frustrating,” he says of constantly writing against the clock. “Also, I was young, and I was a little bit of a jerk. I was a really, really, unbelievably intelligent guy, and over time I’ve gotten stupider and kinder.”
The kind Naperville native reclaims his inner jerk as crooked lawyer Saul Goodman, now a regular character on the third season of AMC’s acclaimed drama Breaking Bad, premiering Sunday 21.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m in my backyard. In L.A. In a T-shirt. No pants. That’s my choice—that’s not an L.A. thing.
How’d you get the part of Saul Goodman?
Vince Gilligan, who’s the maniac genius behind the show, called me. He said the character’s a shady lawyer and his name’s Saul Goodman. I go, “Well, I’m not Jewish. My wife’s Jewish, and my kids are Jewish. Ish.” He said, “Saul’s not Jewish, either. He took that name to impress the drug dealers. He’s Irish.” I’m half Irish, so.
Living in L.A., you must encounter your fair share of Saul types.
There’s a closeness between Saul and showbiz agents. They work in the same arena, really. They take people’s lives and they play with them and try to make money off other people’s pain. [Laughs] I hope my agents read this.
Any particular agents in mind?
I always go back to the überagent, also a Chicagoan, Ari Emanuel, who was my first agent and runs the agency that I am with. I love Ari. He makes me laugh; he’s a character. His brother is Rahm, you know, and I’m sure they’re similar. They’re guys who like to play the game. They like to wheel and deal, and that’s what they live for. Saul has no ethics at all. I think Ari has some…. You have to get me from the sun, Mom.
My mother is taking a picture of me. With the phone up to my ear. She lives in Naperville and she came out for a short visit. Her mind is so blown by the weather, as long as it’s in the sun, it’s worthy of a photo.
You’ve said you grew up hating Naperville—why?
Because it wasn’t exciting enough. It felt like a dead end, like Nowheresville. I couldn’t wait to move into a city and be around people who were doing exciting things.
You’re out to offend both Hollywood agents and Naperville residents.
No, but I like Naperville now. You have to include that. At 15 years old, I couldn’t wait to get out, but at 47, I have great appreciation for it. There’s lots more people and maybe therefore more interesting people as well. Also, I think you can get the Internet there. [Laughs]
You’ve got six siblings—any others in L.A. with you?
My brother is a writer at The Simpsons, so he lives here. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a doctorate in chemistry, and the day after he got his doctorate, he flew to L.A. and moved in with me and started writing on Mr. Show.
Mom must’ve been thrilled.
She doesn’t care. Show business was such a foreign thing to us and to her that it probably seemed crazy, you’re right, but honestly, she doesn’t know how you make a living at chemistry, either. [Laughs]
What did your parents do?
My father was a businessman; we’ll put it that way. He had a printing business, and he also enjoyed martini lunches similar to what you see on Mad Men, only not as glamorous. All his friends ended up divorced alcoholics, broke. [Laughs] Every lunch hour was just getting ripped.
And how did your dad end up?
He died of cancer years ago. He ended up broke and divorced and pretty down on his luck. But, you know, that’s what you get, man. I think the Rat Pack sold a lot of guys a bill of goods.
Are you a teetotaler as a result?
I am, and you could say as a result, but I do drink once in a while. I just don’t like it that much. I would drink more if I didn’t have responsibilities and kids.
Growing up, were you the family clown? Is that how it worked?
Yeah, me and Bill. Everybody in my family is funny. We’ve all got that Chicago Irish cynical sarcastic sensibility that comes from my mother and father, who both have Irish mothers. Every dinnertime was a show.
Saul is the consigliere for the main character’s meth business. What was the drug of choice in Naperville? The pre-meth days.
This was pre-meth, thank God. Holy cow, meth is horrible. That would’ve been pot, but I didn’t smoke pot in—uh, wait a second, I did smoke pot in Naperville. All I got was a headache.
The third season of AMC’s Breaking Bad premieres Sunday 21 at 9pm.