Rhea Seehorn is already doing hero’s work on AMC's “Better Call Saul.”
A newcomer to the “Breaking Bad” universe when the spinoff debuted in 2015, Seehorn quickly became the show’s dramatic MVP as Kim Wexler, the cheese to Saul Goodman’s cracker and now his literal partner in crime as the couple tries to outwit cartel boss Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) in the show's sixth and final season. She’s as practical, sharp and indispensable as her trademark gold triangle earrings, and still surprising viewers after seven years.
Now, Seehorn has another surprise: She’s directed this week's episode of “Saul.”
“It was definitely terrifying. People were like, ‘Was it fun?’ When I wasn’t sweating like Albert Brooks in ‘Broadcast News,’ yeah,” Seehorn said. “It was alternating just sheer joy and sheer adrenaline and terror. Yes, it’s daunting. This is not a first-time director type of show, let’s face it. This is an extremely advanced show.”
While Seehorn had directed some short films, “Hit and Run” marks her TV directorial debut. It plays as a tonal palate cleanser after the violent gut-punch of last week’s episode 3, as Kim and Saul continue their darkly funny campaign of terror against rival lawyer Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and set the stage for Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) complete transformation into his colorful strip-mall-lawyer alter ego.
While taking creative control was intimidating, Seehorn, 49, felt she had a leg up on other guest directors. Not only did she have a deep intimacy with the show’s characters and visual language, but being on the set of a show as cinematic as “Saul” proved a sort of film school.
“It was a free master class any day you went to set to watch any department,” says Seehorn, who shadowed other directors, including co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and immersed herself in every aspect of the show’s craft. “When I am not frantically trying to learn my own stuff or getting to see my family, the only other place I prefer to be is on set,” she says. “I like watching other people’s work. I also like learning all of the other cogs in the wheel of this giant, collaborative art form… It helps me as a performer; it helps me as a human.”
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Her background in visual art also came in handy. Seehorn, who was born in Norfolk, Virginia, graduated from George Mason University in the mid-’90s with a degree in studio art; she is wired to pay close attention to shot composition. “They tell you all the time: Don’t do a cool shot just to do a cool shot. It has to be in service of telling the story,” she says. “So I looked for places to do that.”
Still, for all her creative curiosity and the support she received, Episode 4 provided an extra challenge for Seehorn: It’s also an episode in which she has to do a lot of dramatic heavy lifting on screen, including one particularly intense scene that brings together Wexler and a longtime character with whom she’s never shared the screen (no spoilers). But it helped that during filming on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she shared a house with Odenkirk and Fabian (she calls it their “nerd camp house”), where they could workshop their scenes together. “We all rehearse and run the scenes over and over and over, and we also like to discuss them, and the beats and the infinite possibilities,” she says.
Their exploration of those infinite possibilities has netted 39 Emmy nominations – though no wins, and no nominations for Seehorn. ("I'm a little surprised that Rhea hasn't been nominated," Gould said in an interview. "I feel like she really has earned that. Hope springs eternal.") That's something this last season seeks to correct, judging by the intensity of the episodes so far. As straight-laced Kim continues to break bad, plotting Howard’s demise and becoming further entangled in Saul’s hustles, viewers are beginning to question if it’s Kim who’s the bad influence and not the other way around.
“She is not this do-gooder saint. The complexity has always been there,” Seehorn says. “The question is, are we revealing something that was always there that you didn’t see or have circumstances caused her to become someone she didn’t used to be? Or does Jimmy affect Kim in ways that wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t met him and vice versa? I actually think all of the above are true. And that is why she is so complex and quite a bit more inscrutable than Jimmy.”
Seehorn is pleased viewers are finally seeing these long-brewing character complexities come to fruition – and that everyone is so worried about Kim’s fate. “You can’t imagine how amazing it feels as a performer to create this character that wasn’t even in the ‘Breaking Bad’ pantheon that people have come to truly see as this three-dimensional person that they’re deeply concerned about. And that they also want to have a beer with and hang out with!”
And while she’s keen to exercise her new directing muscles with more turns in the director’s chair, she’s especially excited for her next acting gig.
“I definitely am prioritizing figuring out what I want to do for my next acting role because it’s how I process the world,” Seehorn says. “Getting ahold of great writing and being able to interpret that and work with a group of people that’s all in service to great storytelling is one of the great joys of my life.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Better Call Saul’: Rhea Seehorn on hit series, her directorial debut