It’s only fitting: Emmy-winning “Breaking Bad” writer/producer Peter Gould was there with the show in the beginning, and he’ll still be there now that the show has ended, shepherding the upcoming “Breaking Bad” spinoff tentatively called “Better Call Saul.”
Gould is the writer who created the Saul Goodman character (played by Bob Odenkirk), and he and “BB” creator Vince Gilligan will be steering the wily attorney back to the small screen. Will it be a prequel? A sequel? A little of both? No one’s confirming anything at this point, but Gould does tell Yahoo TV that the series, just like the drama from which it sprung, will be “unique.”
In celebration of the fantastic, bonus-packed new “Breaking Bad: The Complete Series” Blu-ray box set (make that, Blu-ray barrel), Gould also shares the origins of the Saul character, dispels a certain legend about how Aaron Paul was almost killed off the show in Season 1, and confirms that he once took a bullet (OK, a BB) in the face for “Breaking Bad.”
Let's talk about your boy, Saul. The germ of Saul: Where did he come from? To what extent did you initially plan for him to factor into the show?
We realized that if Walt and Jesse were going to get further into the business, they would need a guide. They would need a consigliere, as Saul puts it. That was the origin of Saul Goodman. We were thinking, “Who could they get?” We also thought to ourselves, “What would be a problem that they would have?” At that point in Season 2, Jesse's friends were out there selling for him, and so we thought, “What happens if one of these doofuses gets arrested?”
He grew from there, and we thought, “What kind of lawyer would Badger have?” It was really a very logical next step to say Saul Goodman. I think Vince might have walked in one day and said, "What about a character named ‘Saul Good’?" and one of us added “man.” So, Saul Goodman. That was really the origin of the character.
He came at a point in the show where Hank had been hitting some lighter notes, but Hank had just been traumatized by the whole exploding head turtle incident in Texas. Hank had really withdrawn. I think part of our impulse was, we needed a voice for the lightness of the show, but we also needed someone who really knew the underworld. I think that was our man Saul.
Bob Odenkirk has said he thinks part of the reason people like Saul is just that there's no sneakiness, really, about him. It's all pretty much out there; what you see is what you get. Also, he’s actually really good at his job.
Yes, that's part of the paradox of Saul Goodman and one of the things that made him fun, even right back in that first episode. He looks like a clown. Frankly, I've been hanging around in courtrooms lately, and it's not as broad as I thought originally. He dresses in a ridiculous way, he's got billboards, he's got ridiculous ads, but he is a shrewd customer. If you listen, most of his advice to Walt over the years in the show was really good advice. If Walt had listened to Saul a little bit more, I think the show would have gone very differently and probably would not have been as exciting.
You’re spending time in courtrooms as part of the research for the Saul spinoff?
Yeah, there's a little bit of that. A little bit of research.
When did the talk of the spinoff first happen? When did it become a real possibility?
The thing about "Breaking Bad" is, it was a place where even your jokes become true. The jokes about, what if we got nominated for an Emmy for this? What if people started having T‑shirts that said Los Pollos Hermanos on them? What if there were tourists who actually went to Albuquerque to look at these [filming] locations? All the things came true. So the idea of a Saul Goodman TV show, I think, started off not quite as a joke, but as a thought experiment. It grew in reality as time went by. Also, as we saw on the show, there was a lot more depth to the character than a lot of us expected. I think we started realizing that this was a character, and Bob was certainly a guy, who could carry a TV show.
How much of Saul’s backstory had you imagined for him throughout "Breaking Bad,” even before the spinoff came up?
We had imagined some, but to us, nothing is set unless it's on the show. We always like to maintain a certain flexibility, because I think, ultimately, in drama, action is character. You really learn about a character through what they do, not where they were or who they were. You really learn about them through behavior. We sketched in loosely some ideas, and he certainly said a few things over the years that give you a feeling of where he's from. The way he dresses and the car he drives give you a feeling he's probably not from Albuquerque. We don't consider anything locked in unless it's actually on the show.
What can you say right now about the spinoff? It's still planned for next fall?
There's no date that's definite, but we're working on it. I’m very excited to work with Bob and with Vince and some of the other people we're putting together on the team. I think we're going to have something that's pretty unique. I don't think it's going to be exactly what people are expecting, let's put it that way.
We certainly feel a great responsibility to the fans, but all we can do is proceed as we have been and try to make the best show we can. I'm very excited about it. Frankly, I can't say very much at this point, but I think it's going to be pretty unique.
There's also the assumption that “Breaking Bad” was such a great show, and everybody involved was so talented, that a spinoff isn't something that you would do unless you felt certain it had great potential.
Yes, that’s absolutely true. Everyone involved has a lot of other options. Everyone's working on this because they want to work on this. Having said that, also, there's a lot of value in … when you've got a band together, and you're playing good music and you can jam together, those are people that you like to jam with. That's certainly part of it.
So some of the other "Breaking Bad" writers, producers, cast, and crew might be involved in the spinoff?
I can't say officially. We're certainly hoping so.
It’s been two months since the series finale. After living with the show and those characters for so long, have you had a chance to reflect on everything yet?
It's settling down now, but it's been a little bit overwhelming, especially because the show was not a big deal in the beginning. People in the business knew about it, but it was really not a big deal out in the world for the first couple of years. It's wonderful to have something that people enjoyed so much, and it seemed to have really hit a nerve, I think. That was very, very exciting. Of course, the [Best Drama Series] Emmy was just more than I could ever have imagined.
That being said, I don't know that I have perspective on the whole show. I feel like I should go back and watch from Episode 1 to try to appreciate it as a whole, because, of course, for us, part of it is the show, but it was also the experience of working together with a really special group of people. That's the part that a lot of us miss. I miss writing for those characters. I'm really going to miss writing for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and Skyler.
You probably lived with those characters in a lot of the same ways the actors did, always thinking about them, and what they would do next.
Without a doubt. We would spend hours and hours talking about, especially, I remember Skyler. What is she going to do next? Why doesn't she leave now? What is the right thing for her to do, as a human being, as a mother and all the rest of it? Yeah, you live with those characters and with their dilemmas, and their faults, and a lot of discussions, in retrospect, seem to lead to answers that now appear obvious. [Laughs] At the time, all these questions were very much in contention. What should Skyler do? What will Walt do? For us, in the writers' room, it's almost like watching the story, and going back and forth in different versions of it. That was a lot of fun.
The 2007-08 writers' strike shortened Season 1, delayed Season 2, and then the show started to catch on. At what point did you realize just how devoted a fan base “Breaking Bad” was gaining?
That's a really good question. I will say, I think the writers' strike saved the show. I don't think that we would be talking about the show right now if the strike hadn't happened. There was a lot of suffering because of the strike, but it's an accident of history that it kept us from doing things that first season that I think would have really led us down the road to a quick cancellation. Well, not quick cancellation, but it would have gone down a very different creative road if we had made those last two episodes.
In terms of knowing how people liked it, I would say sometime in Season 3 and Season 4, suddenly people would see you wearing a "Breaking Bad" hat or a jacket, and they would come up to you and say, "Do you work on that show? I love that show." We started getting the feeling that there was a small group of rabid fans. I was in Europe in the summer after we shot Season 4, and I started seeing a few "Breaking Bad" T‑shirts and hats, even in countries where theoretically the show wasn't being broadcast.
Speaking of the writers' strike and how it changed things, Jesse is the biggest one? That he was originally going to be killed off in Season 1?
No, I hate to shoot down any theories, but … I would say Vince, by the time I came on the show, which was literally Episode 1 after the pilot, Vince had already realized that he had lightning in a bottle with Bryan and Aaron. He wasn't going to kill Jesse. I think that was an idea he had while he was working on the pilot.
I was actually on the set the day that Vince told Aaron he had intended to kill him. We were all sitting there eating lunch. Vince said, "Hey Aaron, come over here. I just want to let you know my original plan for the show was that at the end of Season 1, your character would die." Aaron's face … he just blanched. His eyes went wide. Vince said, "But the good news is, we're not going to do it. We love you so much, man. You're doing such a great job." Aaron was like, "Uhhhh, thanks." [Laughs] His reaction was so perfect, I wondered for a minute if this was something that they had already said to each other. But it was, in fact, the moment when Aaron first heard that story.
Watch Aaron Paul at a "Breaking Bad" table read in this exclusive clip:
OK, speaking of Jesse surviving, where, in your mind, was he driving off to in the series finale?
He was driving to Brock, to make sure Brock was OK. He wanted to touch base with that kid, and then, I think, he would just drive and drive. I hope that he got away and didn't end up in jail. I'm hoping that he made it all the way to Alaska. It's interesting; we're talking about somebody who did shoot another guy in the face, who put people in acid, who is a drug dealer, and a drug cook, but in the world of "Breaking Bad," you really felt that Jesse was a redeemable person. He had suffered. Who knows how many years it will take him to stabilize after that experience he's had?
And what about Huell? Is he still in that hotel room?
You know, there was that DEA guy they had with them, who was babysitting him? Once this whole thing went down with Hank vanishing, I think he would have turned to his bosses and said, "Well, you know, the last time I saw Hank and Gomez was in this hotel room with this giant guy, Huell Babineaux." Frankly, Huell's in hot legal trouble, probably, as a result of that, and so is Kuby. That might be why Saul is hightailing it out of there. And the only other lawyer in this show was shanked. It is a problem.
Huell Babineaux is one of the great names of the series.
I had no idea that Babineaux was his last name until that script came out. I could be totally wrong, but I believe that was George Mastras’s episode. George named Gus Fring and George also named Tuco Salamanca. He has a real way with names, there's no question.
As viewers, there were so many times we would think, "There's no way out of this. They’ve painted themselves into a corner." Did that happen in the writers' room, too, when you were seriously worried you wouldn’t find a way to get out of something?
Constantly. The first one that I remember really struggling with, tremendously, was the scene in George Mastras’s first episode [“Crazy Handful of Nothin”], where Walt goes to Tuco's lair and shows him something that looks like meth, but it turns out not to be. It explodes, and he ends up getting the upper hand with Tuco. We had Walt up there, and we knew he had to do something. We knew he had to turn the tables on Tuco somehow. We spent probably days trying to figure out what it would be. Somebody said, "What if he ended up with something that looked like meth, but actually was not?” That was really a breakthrough for us.
The other example I can think of is the John Shiban episode [“Sunset”] in Season 3, when Hank has Walt and Jesse trapped in the RV. We spent days: “What if they dug a tunnel? Is there some kind of distraction they could create? Could they just floor it and get out of there?” Nothing was working for us. Then Walt came up with this brilliant, really evil way of getting Hank away, to have Saul's assistant call pretending to be a hospital administrator. But that took forever. The trick for us always was, could you make it the character's problem? If I were this character, what would I do? It's much more satisfying than if you're just trying to solve some writers' problem, like, I want to get to this scene, how do I do it?
Given how intense that process could be, and how much time you all spent in the writers' room, did you have any little tricks for dealing with frustration or writers' block?
It could get incredibly frustrating. I remember Vince, specifically, hitting his head against the wall really hard. The question was not so much, “How can I stand to stay [in this room] any longer?” It was, “Is there any way we're ever going to solve this to our satisfaction?” That sometimes seemed impossible. Then, of course, when you've solved it, in retrospect, you think, "What was I worried about?" In retrospect, it seems like it was easy. It's a little like, I would imagine, never having been through it, like childbirth. You don't really remember the pain. [Laughs]
And then you have this big, beautiful DVD box set in the end.
[Laughs] Yes, that’s right! Our baby is in a barrel.
We have to ask you about the story of Vince shooting you in the face with a BB gun. Did this really happen?
This literally did happen. There were a certain number of simulated firearms and projectile weapons in the "Breaking Bad" writers' room. Vince has a really nice BB gun, but just because of the architecture of the office, it was always a challenge to figure out where to hang the target. The target ended up one day on the front door of our office suite. I went to the bathroom, and when I came back in — BAM! — I got it in the face with a BB.
Fortunately, I wear glasses, so nobody lost an eye. We laughed about it for the rest of the day. Every time someone pitched an idea, it was like, “As I was saying before Vince shot Peter in the face…” [Laughs] There are a lot of people who do a lot of work that's a lot more dangerous. Usually for us, the most dangerous thing that can happen is a paper cut. I was willing to get shot in the face with a BB once to bring "Breaking Bad" to life. Yes, absolutely.
“Breaking Bad: The Complete Series” is now available on Blu-ray from Sony Home Entertainment.