Warning: This interview contains storyline and character spoilers for Better Call Saul.
He's the only one who really gets under Jimmy McGill's skin, which makes us think Chuck McGill's law partner, the slick, confident, perfectly coifed and outfitted Howard Hamlin, has a big hand in the events that lead to Jimmy becoming Saul Goodman (and, eventually, Cinnabon slinger Gene). Howard's portrayer, Patrick Fabian, talks to Yahoo TV about Howard and his billboard war with Jimmy, about how Jimmy finally took his Howard-baiting shenanigans too far, about the complicated professional and personal relationship between Howard and Chuck, and how viewers should be prepared to learn that some of the things we think about Howard might be all wrong.
Congratulations on the success of the show and just how great it has been so far.
Thank you, we're over the moon. We thought we were going to have good numbers at least for the first one, because people are curious to see what's going on, but we're over the moon with the success of the subsequent episodes without a doubt.
Saul has transcended spinoff status. It's its own great thing now.
Right? And it only took three episodes. I'm just like the fans, I haven't seen any of the shows… I saw the premiere, because we had a premiere before they actually aired the [pilot], but I'm watching them just as they're unfolding with everybody else. From the time I read the script back in June or July… some of those scenes that I see with Michael [McKean] and Bob [Odenkirk] and Rhea [Seehorn] and Michael Mando, I wasn't on set for those, so it's a real thrill for me to watch my part in the midst of this storytelling because I'm like, "Oh, wow that's so cool." I'm just like a fan.
Related: 14 Spinoffs You Forgot Existed
So you haven't seen "Hero"? It's a particularly good Jimmy/Howard episode.
I have pictures of me and Bob like Frick and Frack, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, standing beside one another. It was such a fun day to do all that. I liked it also because it's an episode where Jimmy starts to really confront Howard and get in his face, and Howard doesn't like the boat rocked. He likes the money pipe flowing. He likes everything nice. He likes his tee times on time and people to be polite. Jimmy's a guy who seems to have nothing to lose. That's a live wire, and I don't think that's something that Howard likes to deal with at all. Howard's been tolerating Jimmy for a while. This is the thing that starts to force Howard to either think and do things that Howard doesn't want to think and/or do.
Howard comes across as very arrogant. There's not a lot to like about him on the surface, but we know Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and everyone involved in creating this universe never give us one-note characters. What can you say about the different layers we might find out about Howard coming up?
It's funny you say that, because I've gotten tweets and emails and comments and reviews about [Howard being] surface-y and smarmy. They're valid criticisms, but I haven't seen any evidence other than Jimmy saying that he's Lord Vader. You know what I mean? The vitriol that's been talked about with Howard is interesting, but so far, all we've seen is he's tried to keep Chuck's job for him, he's tried to keep him on the payroll. He's shown up at Chuck's house. I think it's revealing in [the pilot] when Jimmy goes to Chuck's house, and he sees a manila envelope that Howard tried to get Jimmy to take to Chuck, and he's completely gobsmacked. He's like, "Howard came here? He grounded himself? He put his cell phone in the thing?" And Chuck gets to say, "Well, of course. I'm not a recluse." I think all of sudden that gives us an alternative view of the events that are going on that aren't just Jimmy's. Of course, it's called Better Call Saul not Better Call Howard. But, I will not completely run away from the fact that there is some smarm, and there's a double-edged smile going on with Howard. I don't think you become the head of a white-collar law firm that that's successful without having a bit of, what is it, an iron hand in a velvet glove, that sort of thing.
Related: 'Better Call Saul' Recap: 'Hero'
We also don't know who the other Hamlin is in Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill. So perhaps there's a father he's dealing with or some situation that we don't know about yet.
Right. I keep trying to dig that out by the way. You'd think the writers would want to give a little nugget this way, but they do not. I've been like, "So are we going to get a Harrison Ford to play my dad?" [Laughs.] Or something like that? Then I thought, maybe there is no dad. Maybe dad's dead. Maybe it's just all mine… also met with complete silence from the writing staff. So I don't know yet exactly… as far as I'm concerned, both Hamlins are me. How about that?
As you mentioned, things take a turn in "Hero." As Kim says, this is really Jimmy making a declaration of war against Howard with the billboard. But up until now, Howard has seemed to be largely amused by Jimmy.
You know what? What's Jimmy going to do to him? Howard tolerates Jimmy because Chuck is such a pillar and necessity to the law firm. I think Howard loves Chuck for both personal and professional reasons. I don't think there's any secret about that, and there's nothing wrong with that as Jimmy sort of implies. That's Jimmy's worldview. I think Howard has no problem with that. I think there's no way that Jimmy would be able to burst into Howard's boardroom in Episode 1 unless Howard's [respect] for Chuck is so high that he allows that kind of behavior, because it strikes me Howard's not the kind of person that tolerates that kind of behavior. The fact that that's allowed tells me a lot about Howard. It tells me… Howard feels he's handcuffed, and so consequently he will tolerate Jimmy with bemusement.
Then all of a sudden it's like the fly that's around you, now the fly has landed on your eyelid and is stinging you. Then you're like, "OK, now I have to deal with this."
What is it that gets to Howard with the billboard? Is it that Jimmy's trying to capitalize on the firm's success, or is it more personal, that he's mocking Howard and Howard's appearance?
I suspect Howard's been the target of mockery before. I think successful people have to have a bit of a Teflon thing about them… Howard is fine with that. Howard is fine with whatever you want to say about him. But when you start getting into the realm of dealing with the money pipe that flows to Howard's business, I think any good businessman at that point is like, you know what, it's all fun and games, and clownish things are clownish things, but if you start chipping into my money, the game changes.
Is that why Chuck reacts so strongly at the end of the episode, when he reads the newspaper and realizes Slippin' Jimmy is back in action? Is he thinking about how this gives Howard leverage against Jimmy if everyone finds out Jimmy set up the billboard rescue?
Look, Chuck may think he's going to be fine. He may say that he's going to be OK and things are still working, but questions have to be asked. Why such a small stipend [for Chuck, from HHM]? Why doesn't Howard just move a secretary into his house? Why doesn't Howard have every doctor in town working on Chuck, right? That must give Chuck a sense of tenuousness, as well, and Chuck, desperately tells Jimmy he's going to get better, and he's going to go back to the firm. He has all these clients, and he's not willing to tamper with that. I think Chuck has a loyalty to what he has built, which is Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill. He is the McGill of this, so he has built this 125-employee, very successful law firm. Chuck's a great lawyer, and he is indispensable. Why is he going to want to throw that life away if Jimmy is acting like that? Then Jimmy threatens not only Howard's existence, but he threatens Chuck's.
The scene with Jimmy and Howard at the judge's office, talking about the billboard, is so fun. And you may be the first character in TV history who has his own color.
[Laughs.] How about that? We had joked about it on the day we filmed… Hamlindigo blue. Then I reread the script, and I was like, "There it is… Hamlindigo blue."
Do we definitely get more backstory on Howard this season?
Yes. And I will say this: Everything is not what it seems. Just because characters say that you're something doesn't necessarily mean you're something…
One last question: Jimmy couldn't settle on which color it was, so, for the record, is Howard's hair more Strawberry Fields Forever or Sassafras Glow?
You know what, I will take Sassafras Glow, because it sounds like it could also be a cocktail.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.