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Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn on Losing Jimmy McGill, Favorite Con Jobs, and Go-To Takeout Food

on March 09, 2020, 9:00pm

Rhea Seehorn is not Kim Wexler. She’s actually pretty frank about that notion during our lively chat ahead of Better Call Saul Season 5. “She’s so much more skilled than I am,” the actress admits. “Like she would win at poker, and I would not, and I love that quality of her. I love it. She doesn’t care to fill silences.” Seehorn does, though, and that’s not entirely a bad thing, especially not for, you know, an interview.

No, unlike her steely-eyed attorney in Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s award-winning Breaking Bad spinoff, Seehorn is far more loquacious and spirited. There’s an energy to the actress that should be surprising for anyone who’s watched her on screen these past four seasons. She’s self-effacing and yet also remarkably verbose, working through each question with the utmost patience, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

These qualities fuel each and every one of Seehorn’s responses in our latest installment of Conversations with Consequence. As you’ll see below, this writer received a different kind of Kim Wexler Dress Down as the two discussed Kim’s ensuing relationship with Jimmy McGill, the effect of knowing Saul’s fate on her performance, her own go-to takeout-and-a-movie pairing, and what she’s singing at karaoke.

So, grab a smoke and read on.

On what she brings to Kim Wexler

Better Call Saul Season 5, Rhea Seehorn, Season 5

Better Call Saul (AMC)

The script is king on our set and in our production — and for good reason. I wouldn’t have it any other way when you’re talking about the kind of writing that I’m talking about, starting with Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and then our entire writing staff. They’re just geniuses. [The scripts] read like beautiful, sometimes nail-biting novels, and I get them one at a time.

I don’t get anything in advance. So, I have heard the showrunners speak and the writers speak to me, and even directors when they’re doing takes. There is definitely an organic element of how Kim has evolved, where Kim has evolved, and their trust and respect of what I will do with the material.  Certainly with Kim, who often chooses not to speak — they can put a lot of storytelling on my silences sometimes.

When she does erupt, as we’ve seen a couple of times, it’s sometimes all-encompassing, and so they do trust me a lot with those things and they let me shape and contribute to those things a lot. But it’s not a situation where I’m in the writers room and pitching ideas, or even aware of where they’re taking her. I know they’ve said that their writing is organically responsive to what I’ve been doing. But, how that timeline worked out in the writers’ room I couldn’t really speak to it.

On Saul’s fate and separating reality from fiction

Better Call Saul Season 5, Jimmy McGill, Bob Odenkirk

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Well, you have to remind yourself that Kim hasn’t seen Breaking Bad. It’s funny, even sometimes at panel discussions and fan events, they can be so alarmed that Kim can’t see the writing on the wall. But Kim hasn’t seen Breaking Bad, so I’m taking things one step at a time. I try to be very present because we’re only getting scripts one at a time. You have to have to deal with the hand that you’re dealt with.

It was quite radical when Breaking Bad came out and, to some degree, still is — characters who actually evolve and change over the series. Obviously, the largest change we’re witnessing is this origin story of Jimmy becoming Saul, or even Gene in the future. But, all of the characters are [changing], and Kim certainly is not the same character now as she was in the pilot episode of Better Call Saul.

So, I also have to take that in.  It’s one of those things. We’ve all been there where you didn’t mean to fall that hard, or jump that far, or fly that far. But, you did it one tiny, incremental step at a time. Now you look back and each of those steps might have been something. [Kim’s] a big rationalizer as well as compartmentalizer. I keep that present in my mind all the time as well.

You mentioned that Kim is accessible. There’s something about the things she goes through, and how she deals with them that I do think feels very accessible to a lot of people. They’re small, but they have monumental consequences when she makes wrong turns, and her need to be self-reliant to the nth degree is an arc that I’ve watched and I’m really interested in.

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul (AMC)

I think Kim struggled in the beginning of the series with desperately needing things, legal and illegal to be the same as good and bad, and that could be the same as moral and immoral, and for that to be the same as ethical and unethical. None of those things line up, and they certainly don’t line up when you practice law. It’s just not healthy.

We’re not all deciding who’s a good person in the courtroom. You could be a horrible person, but there’s no evidence, and that’s how the law works. So, I struggled with that. And Jimmy, in his sort of slippery ways of doing things, always had the best intentions, certainly among the people she was around at HHM at the time and wherever she’s come from, which we don’t know that full story.

This is a long about way to say that I try to stay really present with the choices she’s making just in that moment based on the information she has and who she is. This season, in particular, you start to see the dangerous game she’s been playing with thinking she can pick and choose when it’s okay to color outside of the line, who’s deserving in quotations and who’s not deserving of the chips falling in the right place.

She has this addiction to trying to figure out if there’s a way to put your finger on the scales — and Peter Gould and I talked about this at length. Is there a way to put your finger on the scales just a little bit so that the right people get the right things in life? No, there isn’t. They’re both internal and external, these consequences, and I think we see that in episode one when she’s in the stairwell.

There are internal consequences from realizing that something feels inherently wrong about what she’s doing.

On working with Jimmy McGill vs. Saul Goodman

better call saul amc season 5

Better Call Saul (AMC)

I really didn’t answer one of your first questions, which the brief answer is: I am not that similar to Kim. So, I was sort of thinking as we go along that I sound a little laborious about how I approach her, but it’s fun. It’s politically challenging as an actor. She’s so much more skilled than I am. Every time I come back, every season, the first thing I do for the 48 hours before is just sit on my hands when I’m talking to people and try to keep my face still. Like she would win at poker, and I would not, and I love that quality of her. I love it. She doesn’t care to fill silences. I love that she’s incredibly kind, but not concerned with being likable, which is something I find very aspirational, but I’m definitely not there. 

So, likewise, when I’m looking at [Odenkirk and Saul], and I’m trying to play Kim and not Rhea, I do look for similarities, as an actor and trying to figure out where there is crossover so that I can at least draw from different experiences of feeling something or going through something. When Jimmy was becoming Saul in those first couple of episodes, there’s the practical matters that she has to deal with that we saw from the finale last year of feeling lied to — feeling conned. She was part of the con, and was somehow able to compartmentalize that into being okay, because she thought he deserved to practice law and they didn’t see the real him. She thought that that was a worthwhile endeavor, but then he conned her — that’s how she failed.

There’s this one little line that I told Peter [Gould] was very important to me, where [Kim] asks [Jimmy], “When did you–” in the middle of asking him how this [turn] came about. He says something to the degree of “Right there at the moment,” and I think it was important for Kim to know he did not plot this. That he hasn’t been lying to my face for weeks. This change in plans came to him in the moment, and I think that was important to her.

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul (AMC)

But she’s on really wobbly ground. You see it in the whole first couple of episodes. There’s a little bit of tiptoeing around, and it’s not fear as much as what you’re talking about. It’s almost like when a partner decides to get sober or somebody decides to become religious, or somebody decides they’re way into meditation yoga, and they’re going to devote their life to doing retreats, and you’re standing there. None of those things are negative — because I don’t think she’s entirely sure what this Saul Goodman thing means at first — but they’re becoming a member of a club that you’re not in, and you’re trying to figure, Well do I have to also go to meetings? Or like, Well, how will we have the same discourse? So there was that element that I do understand.

And then there’s also the element of all Kim has seen. All she’s seen of Saul Goodman are some really low-brow commercials that he showed her in past seasons that he was doing to sell airtime, and then this confession that he’s been selling burner phones from parking lots, and now he’s talking about giving out discounts, and doing sort of a bottom-feeder loitering.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Kim is that she’s very intent on helping people get what they said they wanted. For four seasons, Jimmy has been saying — and we can presume for even years before we met them, because they were already such close friends — this idea that he thinks he deserves a seat at the big kids’ table — at the adults table — and that he deserves to be taken seriously. And, well, why won’t people let him in their clubs? And he’s suddenly putting himself in this lower subgroup to her mind than what he said he wanted, and I think that’s where she starts to wait carefully because I don’t think Kim has ever tried to make him be what she wants. I think she keeps trying to make him be what he said he wanted, and she can see that he’s driving his car off a cliff.

Rhea Seehorn Interview

Better Call Saul (AMC)

I think that’s also another accessible thing. You take these very extraordinary problems on the show, and my character is certainly often the audience’s perspective on a situation and often the audience is my biggest confidant because she’s quiet in rooms and other people don’t know what’s going on. But the audience does, which I find really fun. But it takes this sort of extraordinary problem that’s presented and makes it, to me, quite small and human. Trying to figure out where your partner is, and if you’ve been left isolated somewhere else. How do we navigate forward? Then also watching someone that you are thinking, Gosh, I really thought they wanted more for themselves. But it’s not my place to tell somebody their dream is wrong.

So all I can do is kind of point out to them like, “Okay, but just so you know, there’s nail spikes on the road you’re taking, there’s a fire out there on the left.” And I think she wades that carefully. I respect that she actually gives him his dignity to experience what he says is best for him, even when she thinks he’s wrong. I also think that it’s partially because she wants that back. It’s very reciprocal. Kim is insistent when he tries to tell her what to do with her life; that’s off the table. That’s not a thing that anybody’s going to do to her. I remember thinking  — and in a couple of scenes that are coming up in later episodes of this season — Wow, why is she not interfering at all here? And I thought because she is a die-hard about not being told what she should do with her life. I think you have to give what you want to get.

On whether the friction between Jimmy and Kim breaks them apart (as opposed to outside forces)

Rhea Seehorn Interview

Better Call Saul (AMC)

It’s an interesting question. I have to tell you I’m not allowed to even say the endgame for this season.

This season I got to participate in scenes that were some of the funniest I’ve done and some of the most challenging in a wonderful way as an actor. Some were the most revealing and vulnerable and also some were the most tragic just because of — well, I’m not going to tell that … it’s just tragic.

So do I think that friction builds? I do, but I can’t say if it’s more of this or if it’s more of that which causes issues with them. One of the most interesting questions in this series for me has always been this idea of innate behavior. And what’s destiny and how much are environmental factors changing who you are and that’s very magnified in Jimmy’s Saul story. But it’s always quietly been a huge part of Kim’s story, too, it’s just that we don’t know what her endpoint is and we’re not entirely sure what her first point was. So, I feel like this season took that and also, for me, explored intrinsic versus extrinsic properties of her as well, and that’s what gets to the question of what you’re talking about.

Rhea Seehorn Interview

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Are these external things that are causing her, and the properties of who she is, to change? Or were her properties already altered and we didn’t know it? What is the outside influence versus the inside influence? I think they’re not mutually exclusive, and I’m not sure you can even separate them. They play a really interesting game this season of asking that question, subtly, of all the characters. Who are you when you’re alone versus who are you when you’re with other people? And even more specifically, who are you when you’re with Jimmy? For years, people come thinking he affects me negatively, but he also affects her in positive ways.

I also believe it’s true the other way. I don’t think she’s just that fate hovering around him. There are properties that only happened between the two of them when they are together. It does cause rifts in their relationship, but it also causes that adhesiveness sometimes between them where they seem to not be able to let each other go. There’s something affecting their own properties in themselves.

On what con jobs she’d take with her

I have to say painting the inside of bingo balls with magnetic paint was one. Kim wasn’t involved with that, but, wow, I never thought of it. I guess that would work. I thought that was very cool. I thought the letter-writing team to get Huell off the hook was also extremely clever. And some of the actual Zafiro Añejo … I can never say that one, we always have to do a million takes whenever I have to say the name of that. But, with Ken Wins, that was a lot of fun. I never asked the writers if each of these scams are the brainchild of one person because they all write together and I know they’re likely to say: “Oh, this person wrote that line and this person came up with this story,” because I know it’s a bit of a hive mind in there. But I do keep wondering like if half of my staff have an entire con history. I don’t know how they keep coming up with really good cons.

On how they come up with all those legal loopholes

Rhea Seehorn Interview

Better Call Saul (AMC)

They do have law consultants. I know they do. It’s been fun when they’ve had more legal, arcane, almost-contractual things. Like the idea of what you can do with solicitation, when Jimmy was trying to go to the old folks home, or riding the bus with them, and even with the billboards. Basically, what you can say and what you can’t say. As Kim, in some of those scenes, I needed to look up the ethics and the codes they have for the American Bar Association, like how you can promote yourself and how you can advertise. They’re very specific.

But there are some loopholes that Jimmy finds and Kim struggles with that are not entirely okay. But they’re not entirely wrong, either. I think that’s threaded through the whole series, and Kim navigating that I think, especially in the world we’re living in right now, is really something a lot of us are grappling with. Okay, just because I can’t go to prison for this, or that person can’t go to prison for this, like, why do I have this sinking feeling that it’s not okay to do it? It’s wrong. And what does it mean to be Machiavellian? Like any of us could say, “Well, the means to the end was worth it because this wonderful thing happened,” but those are dominoes that are always going to fall.

Her favorite takeout-and-a-movie pairing

Rhea Seehorn Interview

Better Call Saul (AMC)

Probably sushi or even just Japanese food in general. I do like watching classic movies, but I swear I keep watching more TV, as are many people. I’m not as much of a classic movie buff as my entire writers’ room as what they make Kim, so it’s been a lot of fun going back and watching some of the things she watches like Ice Station Zebra? I forgot, but there’s a bunch of posters in her apartment, too. Although, I do like a Hitchcock film, and I think there’s a poster for one of them in the apartment. I’m trying to think of all of them. I also really love ‘80s comedy. I really like revisiting them and then going, “Oh, wow, that’s wildly offensive now and I forgot about that.”

We were just revisiting John Hughes films awhile back and saying the same thing.

That’s what I was going to say! I’m a huge John Hughes fans. Crazy! Like where I’m stopping it with my boys, my stepsons that I adore they’re 11 and 13. I love to watch John Hughes films with them and go, “No, no. When your girlfriend is drunk, you do not hand her to Anthony Michael Hall. That’s not a thing, we don’t do that. Nor do we call anyone Long Duck Dong — that’s not okay.”

Ferris Bueller isn’t too bad.

Yeah, I think that’s good one — I totally agree. There’s some mild stuff with the girlfriend, like, what’s she really doing? But it’s great and I very much liked Mia Sara and Jennifer Grey. They were great. I love The Breakfast Club and, at first, I was like, “Oh, there’s nothing offensive there, right?” Until my boys said, “Why does Molly Ringwald like the Bender character if he’s just mean to her?” And I was like, “Oh, right, this whole idea of girls just fall for bad boys, that sort of shit on them is kind of not a lovely message.”

Her go-to karaoke song

 “Careless Whisper”.