WARNING: This interview contains storyline and character spoilers for Better Call Saul.
Eddie? Eddie?! That's what Better Call Saul star Michael Mando's character, Nacho, was originally going to be called. He's so much more a Nacho than an Eddie, right? Mando, also known for playing Sarah's drug-dealing ex Vic on Orphan Black (and for voicing Vaas Montenegro in the videogame Far Cry 3) talks to Yahoo TV about why Jimmy McGill and Nacho have bonded, how Nacho's backstory will be a slow-burning unfold this season, and how he's already looking forward to Season 2.
How did this role come about, joining this crazy world of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould?
I was a very lucky actor. I received a wonderful email from my agent saying the casting directors, Sharon Bialy and Shelley Thomas, would like to see me, and I sent a tape. I thought it was just going to be a cattle call, but we received a nice surprise three weeks later, that Vince Gillian and Peter Gould would like to actually invite me to L.A. to screen test. That's where I met them for the first time and I fell in love with the way they work and the way they communicate immediately. Three weeks after that, I was grateful to receive the good news.
What made you click with them right away?
When you walk into the room, you're welcomed very warmly, and it's very genuine. They are happy to see any actor who comes to that room, and they respect any actor who walks into that room. And they communicate with such elegance. They have such a deep understanding of acting and actors and an actor immediately responds to someone who has such a profound understanding of the process. And they have this really incredible imagination. They're just the kind of people you want to be around and you want to work with and you want to learn with. I feel very grateful to call them friends.
How much did you know about the character when you got the role?
Very, very, very little, actually. When I first got the role, his name was Eddie. I just knew that he was a career criminal. I knew that he was very intelligent, and I knew he had the capacity to use force, but that he only did so when it was in line with what his bigger objectives were. I just found that to be so interesting, to have the words "very intelligent" and "very ambitious" and "very dangerous," those words next to each other [to describe him]. I wanted to explore that psychology.
Were you a fan of Breaking Bad?
I came to Breaking Bad very late, but I finished Breaking Bad by the time I knew I had the part on [Saul]. By the time I did the screen test, I had seen half of it, and by the time I received the good news, I had finished it all. I was an instant fan of the show, of, obviously, the writers and the directors and the actors.
We know Tuco from Breaking Bad and the Tuco we meet in Better Call Saul has a lot in common with him. If I had compare Nacho to anyone from the original series, I would say he's much more like Gus Fring than Tuco. He is someone who sees the bigger picture and has the intelligence and the patience to wait for the right move…
I think as an actor… I don't like to compare a character to anybody else, just because I respect other people's work, and I want that character to have his own identity. I can tell you for me, Nacho is like, he's a guy who has all the tools. He has the intellectual capacity, he has the leadership capacity. He's very courageous. Very dangerous. Very… I don't want to say street-wise, because he's just wise, period, but he's not born into a family that will permit him to be king. It's almost like the story of a peasant who wants to be king, and he wants more than the cards he's been dealt.
He's also incredibly people savvy. That scene in the desert in "Mijo"… he knows how to handle Tuco, and Tuco isn't someone who's easily handled. Nacho knows how to approach him and exactly what to say to him to get him to do what he wants. I'm guessing that's something that's going to continue to be a big factor for Nacho.
I agree with you. What I really find interesting about him is that he has compassion for other people. He has a moral code that he abides by and within that moral code there is a very rational and almost a moral justification for atrocious violence. I'm very excited to see where Peter and Vince, how they explore that as we learn more about Nacho.
Do you think that's part of the reason he clicks with Jimmy and shares with him this idea about robbing the Kettlemans? Jimmy also has that thing, where he'll go outside the normal boundaries, but he definitely has some road blocks as to where he doesn't want to go.
Yes. I think Jimmy and Nacho are the two kids in the sandbox that nobody is playing with. Nobody's playing with them for very different reasons. Nobody's playing with Jimmy because everybody thinks that Jimmy isn't good enough. Nobody is playing with Nacho because their parents told them not to.
Yet they're both charming in their own ways. Are you getting that reaction, that fans do like Nacho?
I've been overwhelmed with the incredible response from people through Twitter and Facebook and emails and phone calls and even casting directors and producers in the business. I'm honestly filled with gratitude for this opportunity and the responses of people. I don't take these things lightly and if anything, it encourages me to keep giving my heart and soul to everything I do.
Because you didn't know a lot about the character when you were cast, what kind of choices did you make in developing him?
Vince and Peter are responsible for every button, every wrinkle on your costume. There's nothing that does not go through them. They're also very open to an actor's interpretation, and they really cast you because they saw something particular in you that they want to fuse with the character… you come in and you give your interpretation of it. You fill in the backstory that's not being said, and they guide you. They tell you, "This is right, this is wrong," and you discover your character as you go along, and you change your backstory as you discover the episodes. Everything comes together and then this character becomes a three-dimensional person.
It sounds incredibly collaborative in a way that maybe not all TV shows and movies are.
I think the key word is organic. They are organic storytellers, and the whole process is organic. Nothing is forced. You don't come in and say, "I'm going to create this character." You come in and do as much research as you can, and then you're thrown into this world. The circumstances are that you actually, as the actor, have no idea what the circumstances of the scene are. You're basically living the part, because you don't know what the outcome of your character's actions are. You have to think of every possible angle like you would in real life. It heightens the danger of every moment of every scene. It's exhilarating.
Does that make playing the character more fun or more challenging?
You know, I can tell you this has been one of the greatest experiences of my career. I feel so much excitement. I can't wait to go back in Season 2 and jump right in. I love working with these guys.
Speaking of the future, will we find out more about Nacho's backstory as the season goes on?
I can tell you that Vince and Peter develop characters slowly and surely. They're like architects who think really carefully about where they're going to put their next brick. I can tell you that's as much as I can tell you. [Laughs.] It's a slow burn, but that's because they're building very solid foundations.
And the future of your other TV character, Vic on Orphan Black. Will he return for Season 3?
I'm a big fan of Orphan Black and to be one of the original cast members is something that will always be dear to me. [Showrunner] Graeme [Manson] called me and congratulated me when I got Better Call Saul and was very eager to have me back on Season 3. I was extremely eager to come back. But unfortunately, my scheduling this year… conflicts made it so that I'm not back this season. But who knows? Maybe Vic will pop up in Season 4.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.