Warning: This interview about the “Witness” episode of Better Call Saul contains spoilers.
We all knew that this season Breaking Bad’s Gustavo Fring would soon make his presence felt in the Better Call Saul world, and now, with the April 18 episode, “Witness,” Gus has finally arrived to wreak some havoc — eventually, at least — on the lives of both Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks).
Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan broke down Gus’s entry for Yahoo TV, including its impact on Mike, how important it was to get the shot where we see Gustavo’s face for the first time just right, and the exact moment when we saw not “nice Gus Fring,” but “the real Gus Fring.”
He’s here. And now that Gustavo Fring has revealed himself in the Saul universe, we know by the end of “Witness” that Mike has finally met someone who is as formidable as he is. Now Mike’s facing an opponent on his level.
This is the most capable man in this universe meeting the other most capable man in this universe, and I couldn’t agree more. I was lucky enough to get to direct that episode, and having the first episode where Giancarlo Esposito comes back and once again plays the role of Gus Fring was very exciting. It was exciting for me. It was exciting for the crew. It was just great to see him suited up and on the Los Pollos Hermanos set once more. I felt a great weight of responsibility on me to reintroduce this character in the most dramatically interesting way possible.
I thought long and hard about, how are we first going to lay eyes on this guy? And I had a lot of help from my editor, Kelly Dixon. I had a shot that you see in the episode, but I intended to use a lot more of it and have Gus basically appear from the background walking to the foreground, and you’d see his entire face. The first time he shows up, he’s busing tables and cleaning tabletops, and I was originally going to let it run in the edit so that he walks right into frame and you see his face very completely. My editor, Kelly, cut it a different way.
When I first saw it, I was like, “What are you doing? You need to see his face.” She said, “I like just hinting at him here, and then having him move through frame, and then you wait a couple minutes more, and then Jimmy is reaching in the trash can, and then you’ve got that great reveal there in the footage where Jimmy jerks his arm out of the trash can and there is Gus Fring. I think that’s your big moment. That’s your million dollar shot. Don’t dilute it with this previous moment.”
I was like, “No, I’m the boss,” and I threw a little tantrum, but then I got over it, and I said, “Wait a minute, Kelly’s right.” I give great credit to her. I love the way he is revealed, and it took a village to make that work.
I also love the scene when Gus is outside Los Pollos Hermanos sweeping, after Jimmy has had his postmortem with Mike on what he saw inside the restaurant during his recon mission. Gus doesn’t turn around, but you know, from the look on his face, that he knows what they’re up to.
That was a fun one to shoot. That’s one of those moments, it can either be unbelievably frustrating or wonderfully thrilling when you’re there as the director watching it on the monitor. There were so many moving parts, because we’ve got two actors across the street, and we could see them, but we can’t really talk to them easily. While you’re watching that scene, there’s an assistant director hiding behind a tree, holding a walkie-talkie, and then if I need to talk to them, I talk into the walkie-talkie, and the assistant director pops out of hiding and passes along, like a game of Telephone, the directions I’m trying to give. Bob [Odenkirk] had to pull out of that car, and he had to turn left and then drive through frame. And then the camera was always moving. The camera had to reach Giancarlo’s face just when the car is at the right position. And then Giancarlo had to give the perfect look at just the right moment.
Sometimes these moments can drive you up a wall as a director if things aren’t happening just as they should at the exact microsecond that they’re supposed to occur. Yet, I think we only did that three times, and it was just about perfect every time, because these actors are so good. Giancarlo, in particular, gave the perfect reaction at the perfect moment, and it just thrilled me when I saw it, because that was the first moment.
We’d worked with him all day, but he had been the nice Gus Fring. The good boss and good restaurant owner Gus Fring. That was the first moment any of us saw the bad Gus Fring, the real Gus Fring, and it was thrilling to watch.
On an unrelated note, we were a little taken aback to see that Jimmy, a lawyer in his 40s, still uses a Velcro wallet. Is there a reason for that?
You know what? I think it’s kind of lame. It’s fun how lame it is. But also, and I’m just saying this for the first time, you could maybe make the argument that, for a guy as rascally as Jimmy McGill, who is sort of attuned to the streets and the seedy side of things, maybe he’s thinking, “If someone lifts my wallet, I’ll hear the Velcro [sound] if they’re trying to steal my money.” It will be like a tip off to him.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
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