'For Some Odd Reason': Rainn Wilson Interviews Bob Odenkirk

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Left: BACKSTROM: Rainn Wilson as Det. Lt. Backstrom (Chris Helcermanas-Benge/FOX); Right: Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul (Ben Leuner/AMC)
Left: BACKSTROM: Rainn Wilson as Det. Lt. Backstrom (Chris Helcermanas-Benge/FOX); Right: Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul (Ben Leuner/AMC)

This week, Yahoo TV welcomes Rainn Wilson as our very first guest editor! Check back all week for videos and curated TV picks from the actor/writer/art collector/star of Fox's upcoming drama Backstrom.

We asked Rainn Wilson who he would want to interview as part of his stint as Yahoo TV's guest editor, and his choice of Bob Odenkirk makes a lot of sense. They're both actors known for their comedic roles (Wilson for The Office, Odenkirk for Mr. Show and The Ben Stiller Show); they're both headlining a new TV series (Wilson on Fox's Backstrom, Odenkirk on AMC's Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul); and they're both freaking hilarious.

Wilson's a big Breaking Bad fan, so he had lots of questions about Odenkirk reprising his role as slippery lawyer Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul. And the two did plenty of verbal sparring along the way; Odenkirk even asked us to keep score during the interview because "I'm gonna kick the s--t outta this guy."

Related: Rainn Wilson on Gaining Weight For 'Backstrom,' and Leaving Dwight Schrute Behind

Read on for a wide-ranging conversation about the depths of Saul Goodman as a character, the rewards of carrying a TV show after years as a second fiddle, and a definitive answer to an amazing question: Who gives the best hugs in Hollywood?

RAINN: Bob, what are your favorite TV performances of all time?
BOB: My favorite TV performances of all time are Ricky Tomlinson for The Royle Family… do you know how to spell that? R-O-Y-L-E.

I don't even know who that is. I don't know anything about that.
Best TV show ever made.

Holy moly. I gotta check that out. The Royle Family? Is it a BBC thing?
Yeah. R-O-Y-L-E. Ricky Tomlinson. That's number one, and number two is Ricky Gervais, BBC, The Office.

Oh, ouch.


Sorry.

I gotta be honest, Bob: That stings a little bit.
Why?

No, it doesn't. He's brilliant. It's a fantastic performance.
I mean, it's so personal. It's hilarious, and as much as Ricky Gervais, I'm sure, would say that he's nothing like his character, it's just not true. All the feelings and all the pain and hurt inside of [David Brent] is a big part of him.

That's very well said. I've never heard it said before, that his character is such a personal or emotional expression of who Ricky is. You're playing Saul. What's Saul's last name again?
His real name is James McGill. M-C-G-I-L-L. McGill.

James McGill is Saul's real name?
Yeah. He says that in Breaking Bad; it's in the first office scene where you meet him. He tells Walter White, 'That's not my real name. My real name is James McGill.'

Oh, wow. I forgot that. Is Saul a personal expression of who you are?
No. Not at all.

How much of Bob Odenkirk is in Saul?
Honestly, James McGill is much closer to me; the character we meet in Better Call Saul is much closer to me. I think the feelings he has, the struggle he has to become himself and to discover where to apply his talents in the world so that he's rewarded and feels like a meaningful presence… I think I get that journey and that desire.

But Saul Goodman is not at all like me; Saul Goodman is kind of a character that this guy is playing.

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Gallery - Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Gallery - Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC

I've never heard that before. Saul is kind of a fabrication.
Oh yeah, that's not his name. He tells Walter White, 'This isn’t my name; I just do it for the homeboys.' He's just trying to get clients with that persona. And it's working on some level. But we're meeting him before he's taken on that persona.

Ah! So in a lot of ways we're meeting a different character at the beginning of Better Call Saul.
In a lot of ways, yes, he is a different guy. I mean, in the deepest ways, he's a different person.

But I think that Saul Goodman is a fabrication or a persona, but he's not entirely artificial. I mean, the qualities that Jimmy McGill has — he can talk pretty fast, he's fairly good at sizing people up and arguing his way out of situations, he's got a slippery code of ethics and he is excited by sorting things out with his tongue — those are qualities that work in the persona of Saul Goodman. He enjoys being Saul Goodman on some level, to some extent.

Related: Get the Scoop on 'Better Call Saul' From the Cast and Creators

One of the qualities I loved about Saul the most was, for some odd reason, he deeply cares. He's deeply invested.
Yeah. I like your phrase, "for some odd reason," and honestly, Rainn, that is what the show is about. The show Better Call Saul is about that some odd reason. It really truly is.

Can we make the headline of this Yahoo TV article "For Some Odd Reason"?
[Ed. note: Done.]

I like that. But honestly, yeah, the story here is, "What is the reason?" And that was the question that — if you hear from Peter Gould, one of the co-creators — the guys ask themselves: "What is the problem that becoming Saul Goodman solves?"

I can't wait to dig into that problem. So what's the most important thing to you about Better Call Saul?
Well, before we went to make it, even when they were talking about it, I said, "Do me a favor and make it really hard and beat the s--t out of me and my character."

Because if I'm gonna go live in Albuquerque for a couple months out of the year, I don't wanna be sitting behind a desk just saying clever things. I wanna really be doing s--t every day that makes me go, "Oh, I know why we're here," and I wanna work hard. And they did that.

Vince Gilligan and Bob Odenkirk on the set of Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Episode 1- Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Vince Gilligan and Bob Odenkirk on the set of Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Episode 1- Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

How many months were you in Albuquerque?
Four and a half months. And I grew to like Albuquerque, I'd say, a lot. I found a lot of things that I loved about that part of the country, and about that town.

And the other thing that was a challenge that we talked about was making him likeable. One of my instincts on that is simply this, that Saul Goodman… it;s really fun to see him in pain.

[Laughs.] That's great.
Whether it's something as simple as, you know, banging his knee on his desk, or having a gun up to his head in the desert. So it's always fun to have him in pain.

I'd always thought that the desert, and that particularly seedy side of Albuquerque that Breaking Bad was set in, was like another character in the ensemble. And I loved how there was the kind of that Southwest desert underbelly that's been very rarely captured before. Is that going to be a part of Better Call Saul as well?
For sure, man. For sure. They love being in that town.

Photos: Check Out Pics From AMC's 'Better Call Saul'

Do you find seedy locations in Albuquerque, and do they ever write scenes that they're excited to set in a particular liquor store or donut shop or strip mall?
I don't think they do that, but what they do is they shoot stuff like at the diner or some of those desert scenes, and then after they've seen them, they go, "Oh, we gotta go back there because it just looks too damn good."

I mean, there's definitely a middle America quality, there's a sadness, and there's a bit of existential lost-ness, kind of like a Western would have, about shooting in that town. And I think the guys love Westerns. They love shooting huge, wide panorama shots. So I think that there's so many qualities to Albuquerque that work for Vince and Peter's writing, and certainly work for the character.

Plus, he's from Chicago and he's really out of his element here. Honestly, in the sparseness of that landscape, you're a lone soul walking around. And you're kind of under the harsh sunlight. And you know, it lends itself to that sad, existential vibe.

Yep. You were talking about you wanting them to write physical stuff, stuff that was really going to tax you and really use your full capacity as an actor. I can relate to that. I think we were shooting possibly around the same time, because I did about four and a half, five months of shooting 13 episodes of Backstrom.
I can't wait. I can't wait!

BACKSTROM: Rainn Wilson as Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom in the Dragon Slayer series premiere episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, Jan. 22 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX
BACKSTROM: Rainn Wilson as Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom in the Dragon Slayer series premiere episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, Jan. 22 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX

Thanks, Bob. It almost killed me. It was only 13, and it almost killed me.
But you're glad, right? I mean, that feels good, right?

It feels good because this is what we do as actors, but I'd never been taxed so much before. I'd always been the second fiddle or the character guy on a show or movies, and never had seven pages of dialogue a day with 13 and 14-hour days. And stunts and rain towers and extreme weather. It was a lot.
It's hard. But Rainn, when you think about it… a lot of times, actors do talk about easy jobs like, "My job's so easy. We go home at four." And they're happy about it. And I get that can be fun.

But I really feel like whatever fun that is, or whatever glee you get from that kind of job, is to me short-lived. And there comes a point where… that would get annoying to me. Even though it's really tired me out. You know, I'm in almost every scene of this show and I have tons of dialogue. My character talks constantly. And I have to remind myself at times, I asked for this.

But it's so much better to be working hard and doing something that pushes you in the long run. And you don't get bored, and you know why you're there. You gotta do something really hard.

Video: We Play 'Stump the Star' With Rainn Wilson

I guess what you're really describing, Bob, is what it is to be a human being on this planet for these short eighty or ninety years that we get handed to us. And hard work and digging in and making the very most of who you are in the short time is really what it's all about. I see there's kind of a philosophical drive behind what you're saying.
I mean, maybe there comes a time in my life when I don't want that, but I sure want it now. I don't know… I can't imagine a time when I wouldn't wanna work, you know, as hard as I could.

I have to say that this really helped me, because I recently ran into an old friend who's on a multi-camera sitcom, and she's like, "Oh, it's so great. It's so easy. I work 20 hours a week." And I felt some twinges of sadness and envy, like "Oh, maybe I shouldn't have taken on playing an irascible Portland cop. I should have been a chubby dad on a sitcom set."  
No way, man. I mean, everybody's different. I don't think I could do it. I think I'd go crazy. I mean, there are things that you could do for a few weeks that you couldn't do for a long period of time. I look at Conan O'Brien and those guys interviewing celebrities, and, you know, hosting a talk show looks like loads of fun — for two weeks. And then it just seems like I would be in hell.

That's a good point.
But you have to get a job that fits your temperament.

BACKSTROM: Backstrom (Rainn Wilson) searches for evidence when he investigates the death of a senator's son in the Dragon Slayer series premiere episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, Jan. 22 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX
BACKSTROM: Backstrom (Rainn Wilson) searches for evidence when he investigates the death of a senator's son in the Dragon Slayer series premiere episode of BACKSTROM airing Thursday, Jan. 22 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Sergei Bachlakov/FOX

So when we were exploring the Dwight spinoff on The Office, one of the big things we wrestled with was: Here's a character that was designed to be second fiddle. Dwight was designed to be the annoying foil to Michael Scott and to Jim. So as we were looking at doing The Farm, we were like, "How do we deepen him and broaden him? How do we reveal other aspects of Dwight that we haven't gotten to see in the 200 episodes we did of The Office?"

Did you have a similar issue with Better Call Saul, in that you were probably fourth lead of a show, there for a very specific purpose, and now the show's being shaped around you? What other colors, textures, and facets are we gonna see?
I mean, this is a job that [co-creator] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter did, and I wasn't a huge part of it. I mean, I had a meeting here or there where we talked very generally about the challenge, and sort of what I think it could be. But they went off and did the hard, hard work. They're the ones who dug really deep.

And I certainly said to them, "Do whatever you want and I'll work with it." Because it's been one of the joys of being just an actor in a production: getting a script, not knowing what's in it, not knowing the dead ends that have been gone down and ignored or set aside, just seeing what I've been given, and working with that and trying to make it work. I've enjoyed not being behind the scenes.

(Lewis Jacobs/AMC)
(Lewis Jacobs/AMC)

But I think I can answer your question this way: Saul Goodman, first of all, when you first meet him on Breaking Bad, he says, "This is not who I am. This is a persona. I’m putting on a show." So he's telling right away that I’m not this guy. Then he only pops in and out.

There are glimpses of the real person behind that public façade in the final scene when he's telling Walt it's over. There's a scene where he's encouraging Jesse to go see Brock and the girlfriend, Brock's mom, and spend time with them. And he tells Walter White more than once, I think twice, to quit while he's ahead. Those are moments where he's not being this character of Saul Goodman that's a very selfish, focused character. And he's showing some humanity.

But beyond that, we don't see him that much. It's not like Dwight, where he was in every show. He wasn't even in every show.

Yeah. We didn't see where he lived. You didn't see if he had a wife or a girlfriend.
You didn't see much of Saul compared to Dwight. Not nearly as much. So there's not as much to work against. If you watch Breaking Bad and somebody asks you, "What's he like outside this place?" It's very easy to say, "I have no idea; he’s probably different." You know, you don't assume that he's always like that.

And you can't describe everything about him because you haven't seen it. You haven't seen him at home. You haven't seen him talk about his personal life at all. So you know… I'm not going to say the word "easier," but there's certainly less to work against compared to Dwight. I mean, we saw a lot of Dwight.

Yeah, Dwight had a love story. You saw his family. You saw where he lived. You got to see different colors from him. And ultimately, the Dwight spinoff didn't work, and I think America is relieved.

Who gives the best hugs in Hollywood?
Uh, best hugs in Hollywood… who do I want to get a hug from? That's what I hear when you ask me that.

Your wife [Naomi] is a hot-shot talent manager and producer.
I'm not encouraging people to go around hugging my wife.

That's true. You can say me, and then I would get hugged more. And I kinda need it. Janeane Garofalo? Just throwing names out. I don't know.
I mean, there's gotta be a… oh, I'm gonna give it to John Ennis.

Oh yeah, the actor. Yeah, I remember him.
He's a cast member from Mr. Show, and he's got a great story. You should call him and ask him about his story about hugging a woman on a studio lot who he didn't know... in that capacity. And that, you know, it was inappropriate. [Laughs.]

OK, I may have to.
He's just a warm, wonderful guy, and he did that, and it's great.

Related: Yahoo TV Guest Editor Rainn Wilson Picks Your TV To-Do List

John Ennis. Good. What is the saddest you've ever been?
The saddest I've ever been? I mean, seriously?

Yeah.
Are you trying to bum people out with this?

No, I'm trying to mix it up as a cub reporter. I'm a cub TV reporter. I'm like Jimmy Olsen, of TV. Just call me Jimmy TV.
I had a friend who killed himself, and that was pretty much a bummer. It was a pretty serious bummer.

That's very sad. That's very, very sad.
That took a lot, you know… when a person does that, it’s like a big rug getting pulled out and there’s no putting it back. So it's an immediate drop. A big drop. He was pretty young, too. We were both pretty young at the time. So that's a huge bummer.

I'm sorry to hear that.
Sorry, everyone. But everyone has things like that in their lives. And worse.

That's true.
Sorry! You asked the question.

I'm fine with it. I don't know that Yahoo TV is gonna run that, but... if I had a major website, I'd run that.

Yes, I've had friends kill themselves. And I had a good friend just die a few weeks ago of a stroke. Just out of the middle of nowhere, boom. And life is a very fragile web.
Yeah. You forget that.

No, we can't forget that.
We seem to forget.

Is Kanan Rhodes, Unkillable Servant of Justice ever going to see the light of day?
My prediction? No. [Laughs.]

That's a good prediction. So, a little backstory: Bob and I were working on a movie project together many years back, six or seven years ago. A very funny comedy in the Ace Ventura vein about a very hyper-serious, demented process server who becomes a spy. A very funny script. And we were close on that one. I was so looking forward to it. But it's one of those things in the graveyard — the project that didn't happen.
Yeah, it's a very silly script. It's very hard to make those kinds of movies happen because it's so conceptualized. The world, it's so silly. And you need a personality, and I feel like, Rainn, you could have done that awesomely if they'd given you the chance. You could have done a great job.

It would have been a lot of fun. But now I'm fatter and almost 50, so I don't see that...
I think you're gonna do great with this part you have now. This part is gonna be really fun, very entertaining to watch. I can't wait to see it. All I've seen is a photograph of you in it. And it looks great! I love how you look. I love the vibe.

Bob, thanks. It's got a great vibe. You know, I'm doing a network show. You're doing an AMC show. We don't get to kind of explore the dark recesses of the underbelly of the human condition like you do on AMC, at the Fox network.

But that being said, we are pushing the envelope, and we've got a lot of nice grittiness and some nice humor at the same time. So I'm happy with that. And it's a really terrific character to play. So I'm very excited about it.
Wow, great. Great.

BACKSTROM: Cast L-R: Page Kennedy, Kristoffer Polaha, Thomas Dekker, Genevieve Angelson, Rainn Wilson, Dennis Haysbert and Beatrice Rosen. BACKSTROM premieres Thursday, Jan. 22 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/FOX
BACKSTROM: Cast L-R: Page Kennedy, Kristoffer Polaha, Thomas Dekker, Genevieve Angelson, Rainn Wilson, Dennis Haysbert and Beatrice Rosen. BACKSTROM premieres Thursday, Jan. 22 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/FOX

One last question: Are you down to have an act-off with me, and if so, how would that work?
Yeah, sure. We could take Death of a Salesman and tear it up so those pages are loose. We would toss the pages in the air. There'd be a timer. We'd each have thirty seconds to pick up as many pages as we can...

And whoever picks up the most pages wins?
Yes.

[Laughs.]
Whoever has picked up the most pages is the automatic best actor. And gets an award in a category: Best Dramatic Performance.

OK. But I do think that would be a great idea, to randomly perform pages, so there'd be a lot of switching back and forth as Willy Loman. We could have a studio audience that could vote, kind of like American Idol? They could press buttons.
And then what would happen is both of us would play Willy Loman, alternating lines, and we would flip a coin for Biff and… what's the other guy's name?

Yeah, I forget his name.
And the other son.

OK, good. Let's do it. Maybe Yahoo will sponsor it if it's gonna be a big event. Maybe we could do it in Madison Square Garden.
Finally, a use for that building.

Backstrom premieres Thursday, Jan. 22 at 9 p.m. on Fox; Better Call Saul premieres Sunday, Feb. 8 at 10 p.m. on AMC.