Bob Odenkirk is a busy man. But he’s trying not to be. From 2009-22 he inhabited one of TV’s most ethically challenged characters: lawyer Jimmy McGill, a.k.a. Saul Goodman, a.k.a. Gene Takavic, first on “Breaking Bad,” then on “Better Call Saul,” a role that has earned him five Emmy nominations, though no wins … yet. “Saul” ended in 2022, though not before Odenkirk, 60, suffered a heart attack on set. A matter of months later he was shooting his next AMC series, “Lucky Hank.” So maybe he’s not ready to take things too easy. He spoke with The Envelope by phone recently to discuss “Saul’s” end, insights from the brink of death, and mediocrity.
What’s your mind–set like these days?
I’m so happy right now, I’m smiling on the inside … and somewhat on the outside. I find myself at a point where I have some space in my heart, in my brain, in my life and I am really very, very happy right now and want to make the most of this next chapter — whatever this is.
Was there a part of you that hoped Jimmy might get better as a human being while you played him?
Absolutely. The character did progress; he just didn’t do any real fundamental growth until the very end. It was inside him to have that awareness, and act on it — he just never did.
Jimmy was a lawyer who wrapped himself — or at least his office — in the Constitution. Was his journey, and his essential character, uniquely American?
I asked an Italian journalist, “How is it that you understand who this character is?” And their explanation was, “We watch a lot of American content.” I think to them he is a very American character — a manipulator, a schemer who succeeds very often in his schemes, which can seem hollow and literally surface level value. This is a country where packaging is everything.
As you got back on your feet and healed from the heart attack, did you hit on any big life insights?
The insight is I need to make the most of the time I have. And that I don’t want to work as much. I need to put a little space in my brain and my life for taking the world in. I want to make the most of my time. One of the things I’ve lacked in my life over the last 10 years is time to dream.
And yet you signed on to another series with “Lucky Hank.” Was that seven-month window between wrapping up “Saul” and shooting “Hank” enough to decompress between the two?
It wasn’t enough. I did a trip with my family, and that was great but it was a little bit rushed. I just want to proceed forward with a little more replenishment of my energy in life. I’m very, very lucky — the whole incident, which has been talked about probably too much — I can’t stress how lucky I was in that. I shouldn’t be talking to you right now. I should be a bunch of ashes in the ocean at this point.
Speaking of luck, were you concerned that people would see Hank as another Saul, but with a beard?
I don’t think he is. One reason I did it was he’s so unlike Saul to me. Saul cared about Kim, wanted her to love him, but I don’t think they had the capacity to feel love and embrace each other in a fuller way. Fundamentally, the relationship Hank and Lily have in the show is so much fuller, so much like a real marriage. Also, Hank is funny. Hank makes jokes. You laughed at Saul — but at him, not with him.
Is Hank on a trajectory that he won’t be able to turn away from, where fate will just take him along?
I think so. That’s true of any story you’re telling. You’re sweating, seeing it coming, you see that truck — whatever it is — coming, you know the car’s going to crash. And he can’t get out of his own way.
Hank has a speech early on about mediocrity, and you worked with your son Nate on a podcast called “Summer in Argyle,” which also focused on mediocre people. Why are we interested in the mediocre?
We’re all afraid that we’re mediocre. That maybe in the grand scheme of things, we come out in the middle. You want to come out at the top, or crash gloriously at the bottom — that’s something, too. But to just come in the middle and be there feels like less of an achievement.
What was your first indication that you’d “made it,” that you’d reached a particular level of success?
I remember going on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” after the second season of “Better Call Saul,” and feeling like I could exhale a little bit and be myself. Before that, on talk shows especially — which is to say when I’m being myself in public — I always felt embarrassed. But it was that feeling that enough people know who I am and why I was there. I could feel that, you know what I mean?