'Better Call Saul' Postmortem: Michael Mando on Nacho's Father Figures and Pryce's Pimpmobile

Juan Carlos Cantu, Jonathan Banks, and Michael Mando on the set of ‘Better Call Saul.’ Photo credit: @mandomichael

SPOILER ALERT: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the “Cobbler” episode of Better Call Saul.

Aside from the new romance between Jimmy and Kim, our favorite part of Better Call Saul’s sophomore season is the return of Nacho, the calmer (read: sane) associate of criminal Tuco Salamanca. Nacho had some dealings with Jimmy, via Tuco, early in Season 1, but their paths didn’t cross again until “Cobbler.” Actually, it’s Mike and Nacho who are working directly together, but Jimmy was called in to help clean up Mike and Nacho’s Pryce mess, with lies and pies, and we’re guessing Jimmy and Nacho are destined to meet up again soon.

In the meantime, Yahoo TV talked to the actor behind Nacho, Michael Mando, who delved into the motivation behind Nacho’s criminal pursuits; his feelings about Pryce and his ridiculous Humvee (described by Nacho with one of the best non-Jimmy one-liners in the series so far); and what Nacho and Mike will be up to for the rest of Season 2.

Was it frustrating to have Nacho be such a major part of the storyline in the beginning of Season 1 and then sidelined for a bit?
You know, I took it as a complete blessing and was so grateful for it, because it gave me an opportunity to be in New Mexico surrounded by people whose work I thought was absolutely brilliant. I got the opportunity to watch and to listen and to be a part of it without having to be in front of the camera. I would show up on set every day or every other day and watch my castmates work, watch the wonderful directors and writers communicate to each other and be on set together. I would learn from Melissa Bernstein and Nina Jack, our producers. I looked at it as a positive.

Did you give you chance too, then, to think about Nacho and the things you wanted to do with the character when he rejoined the action?
What’s so amazing about this experience is that you don’t know where the story is going whatsoever. I think I figured out Nacho’s storyline this season as I was living it. Kind of like we do in real life. When you’re getting to a new year, you have these hopes. At the end of the year you say, “That year was about this.” By the time we got to the end [of filming Season 2], I had a smile on my face, and I said, “This is what this was about.”

Going back to the Season 2 premiere, the scene where Nacho and Pryce meet… your reaction, the way you played Nacho’s reaction to Pryce and his car and his ridiculous matching shoes and watch was so fantastic. And I think it highlighted something about Nacho, that he is a calm, focused observer.
Absolutely. I agree with you. I think Nacho’s always been an observer. I think he’s always been an outcast. We know, as we find out in “Cobbler,” he has been brought up by a father who has a very morally sound point of view and application of that point of view. At his core, Nacho has ethics and he has principals that are very sort of … fair and just and good. What’s interesting about him is that he brings that honor among thieves to the criminal world. In many ways, he’s like the Prince of Thieves, who is looking at Mike as his possible mentor or his possible paternal crime figure so that he can go from prince to king.

Nacho’s reaction to Mike showing up at his family’s upholstery business was priceless. He’s not someone who ever really shows what he’s thinking, but he was visibly shocked that Mike tracked him down.
Everything that we’ve seen of Nacho so far has been his public façade. Every character on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul has those two façades. What we see in this episode is really Nacho’s … I think close to what maybe Nacho’s inner child is like. The man who hugs his father, who’s seen his father struggle with English. Who’s seen his father work so hard to be able to afford a lower middle class [life]. You get to see why Nacho’s ambitions are so much bigger … he wants to raise his family name. He wants to make sure that he picks up the baton and brings it a lot further. He’s grateful to his father. Even though he knows his father would completely disapprove of his life of crime, he feels deep down that it’s the only means he has to get out of that upholstery shop and elevate his family.

What’s really interesting is that Nacho finds himself in the middle of these two men. In that scene on one side you have Mike, who’s in his seventies. On the other side you have his father, who’s in his fifties. He’s in his early thirties or late twenties, so you have three generations, twenty years apart, all standing right there. On one side, the ideal crime paternal figure, on the other side you have the complete opposite, that true paternal figure. These three people in another world could very easily have a barbecue and throw the football around together, be best friends.

Another great Nacho scene in “Cobbler” is the baseball card/Humvee swap with Pryce. It’s sort of mean when he tells Pryce his beloved car is going to a chop shop, but then it also highlights how ridiculous it is that Pryce cares so much and the car and the cards, and has no idea how he’s putting lives in jeopardy, including his own.
Absolutely. I think that’s actually a really good scene if you try to put yourself in the mind space of Nacho, his patience and his fairness, because in all honesty, in the criminal world, Pryce would have been eliminated a long time ago. He puts everybody’s life in jeopardy. What Pryce did was funny, on one hand, but to Nacho and Mike it was life threatening. It would have ended their lives, [or it would have led them] to jail. What’s interesting is that Nacho lets Pryce talk. He gives him these opportunities to let off some steam, while both Nacho and Mike are just thinking to themselves, “Man, we’ve got to get this over with as quickly as possible.” He’s giving him the opportunity to get everything off his chest, then he just gets to the point where he’s like, “The car looks like a school bus for six-year-old pimps. Get over it.“ It’s never done in a malicious way. I think Nacho would have liked to continue this business for years.

That line by the way, comparing the yellow and red Humvee to a school bus for six-year-old pimps is, I think, the greatest line spoken by anyone who isn’t Jimmy in the series so far.
You know who wrote that? Gennifer Hutchinson. She’s such a great writer, and we’re all so happy to work with her. It was one of the very few moments where Nacho revealed his sense of humor. We notice his sense of humor before because he tends to find Jimmy funny. But it’s the first time that he actually permits himself to participate in the humor. Nacho really keeps his cards as close to his chest as he can. Whenever we do catch him off guard, it’s kind of like a breath of fresh air. It’s shocking and it’s exciting, because we realize the complexity of the human being behind his (coolness).

Mando on set with producer Gennifer Hutchinson. Photo credit: @mandomichael

That scene at his dad’s upholstery shop is the first real bit of Nacho backstory. What can you say about how that might factor into his story the rest of the season?
Well, for sure I think the most important thing playing that scene was realizing the similarities between Nacho’s father and Mike. That to me was something that will shape the relationship between Mike and Nacho. I can’t tell you how it’s going to develop, but I can tell you that that’s definitely something that is going to color, self-consciously at least, the way Nacho sees Mike. He sees two older, accomplished, in terms of character, accomplished men, who look very similar physically, and who have very similar honor and dignity and integrity codes. I think that the amount of respect Nacho has for his father is in a way parallel with the way that he sees Mike … I think we’re going to learn a lot about that this season. We’re going to see Mike’s slow and dark descent into the criminal world. And Nacho, his is like a coming of age story this season. It’s kind of like a man at some point realizing that he needs to be a man. He needs to make a decision where nobody else can be in control of his destiny but himself.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC