Bob Odenkirk Talks Fargo, Comedy And The New Breaking Bad Spinoff

Ahead of the premiere of episodes one and two tonight at 8:30pm on SBS ONE, we chat with Fargo lead Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Nebraska, The Spectacular Now) about the joys of working with Martin Freeman, the differences and similarities between the TV show and the Coen brothers film and the shape of the new Breaking Bad spinoff. 

So first of all where in the world are you and what have you been up to today? I’m in Calgary, Canada and I am shooting my final scenes with the great and very dignified Martin Freeman. Do you know of the great actor Martin Freeman?

I do. I love Martin Freeman. I do too and I get to shoot my final scene with him today.

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s this great Office outtake video that’s probably the best blooper compilation on the internet and there’s this one scene where Ricky Gervais makes Martin laugh like 80 times in a row. No I haven’t.

It’s amazing. Martin struggles mightily. Oh god. I’m looking it up now.

With your comedy background do ever try to make your colleagues laugh during serious scenes? Sometimes I can’t help myself. I have to do what I would call the comedy version of the scene. I do the lines but I just mess with the tone and delivery. Sometimes I have to do that then I can do it for real because I just can’t help myself. In the movie Nebraska I had to this news report and I had the hardest time getting through it because it was just incredibly boring, dry local news stuff so I did the comedy version and made fun of every story in this silly way and then I was able to do it. I have to flush my brain. There it is – I’m watching the clip now – oh my god it’s amazing. I have to tell Martin.      

So how did they pitch the Fargo series to you? Well my manager got the script and said “there’s a good part in here for you.” And I read it and I really liked it and I wasn’t sure if they were interested in me but I went in and read for it like a regular old actor does. I got the script and I was skeptical. I didn’t want it to ruin my thoughts and feelings for the movie because I love the movie. But I would say by page ten I knew it was funny and perfectly played and was just going to be a celebration of the film’s tone and mixture of darkness and humour. I was won over by page ten.

Can you tell us how this differs and how this stays true to the movie. It’s completely different because there’s none of the same characters and none of the same story. But it’s completely the same because it’s all of the tone and that mixture of violence and darkness and terror mixed with the sweetest community and the most innocent characters you could imagine. Somebody was comparing it to Breaking Bad the other day and saying how it was funny. It’s not the same. This show is like oil and water. The darkness is intense and pure. It’s all black and white and there’s no grey area. And the people who are swimming in it who aren’t aware of the evil are completely pure and innocent. 

What’s it been like after shooting in New Mexico for a couple of years and being in Calgary now, I can’t imagine more different environments.
 Well you’re right. They’re both intense environments for different reasons. Though I have to say that Albuquerque gets really cold at night, especially in winter. We shot scenes in the desert when it was whipping cold wind. That’s one kind of harshness. The weird thing is that because this is set in Minnesota in the winter we’re always dressed for the winter. In Breaking Bad sometimes the challenge was shooting scenes where it was meant to be summer but they were shot in the winter and we had to wear our regular summer clothes and act like we weren’t cold. That’s some of the hardest acting you can do.      

What have you learned about writing and directing from people like Vince Gilligan and Alexander Payne who maybe don’t have that comedic background that you have?
I’ll tell you what, the biggest thing I’ve learned is by not being the producer or the writer or the director I think I’ve been a much better actor because I can just focus on that. It’s certainly cemented my belief that acting is really fun and can be great when you have a great script. It can feel like a meaningful job when you have a well written script. If it’s not good, acting’s not my favourite thing to do. That’s what I’ve learned from those guys just because the way they approach filmmaking is so considered and so artful that it’s a privilege to be a part of. It makes you feel grateful.   
Can you tell us the shape of Better Call Saul as you understand it? As I said before, one of the things I’ve learned from doing things like Nebraska and Breaking Bad and the movie Spectacular Now which I made last year is that I’m just a better actor when I don’t help with the production. So I have consciously kept myself out of the creation of Better Call Saul. I’ve been in the writers’ room one time only and I didn’t talk about the show much though I did hear about it from Vince Gilligan. He told me some stories about the character and they were really fantastic. He’s really building a three dimensional character with a background and history that’s intriguing. I can’t wait to show it to you guys and explore it myself.

What’s your favourite Breaking Bad memory? Every time someone punched me in the face or kicked me. I love fake fighting. One of the best has got to be almost the first scene you see Saul in when he’s out in the desert and they’ve got him on his knees over an open grave and they’ve got a gun to his head. That was shot at about 2am in a sandstorm out in the middle of the desert and that was just an amazing experience and an amazing night and fun to be part of. I like finding myself in crazy situations that are intense. And if acting can bring that into your life that’s a great thing. 

Now talking as a fan of Breaking Bad and not a player, who would you like to see return for Better Call Saul? I love all of the gangsters. If it’s me mixing with the gangsters it’s really funny. The nastier and rougher the better. I like seeing Saul when he’s got his back to the wall. It’s fun to make wisecracks and be a crazy character but I think when he’s under pressure that’s when it’s most fun. So for that reason I want Huell. I want to see Huell again. My muscle. I want him back. I don’t know if he’s in it or not. I just don’t know. I know Jonathan Banks is in it but that’s about it.

Fargo premieres tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.