If you’re still wanting more Better Call Saul after last Monday’s finale, you’re not alone. The show has proven to be the rare spin-off that can hold its own with its predecessor, and LA Fan Cultures Examiner spoke with series star Patrick Fabian recently about what it’s like to be a part of the second series in the Breaking Bad world.
Did the great reception for Better Call Saul surprise him? “I think so only because the 800 pound gorilla was Breaking Bad obviously,” Patrick told us. “The measuring stick was so tall that you don’t know what to think. Are you setting yourself up for disappointment for everybody? But instead it was really well received and I think deservedly so.
“I think [series creators] Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan really know how to tell stories. They really know what they’re doing,” he continued, “and they took to this new storyline with the dedication, attention to detail, the love, and the coolness that they did with Breaking Bad.
“I didn’t even know really until we started showing it exactly how big of a deal it was, to be honest with you,” he laughed. “I was psyched for the job, I was excited to be a part of it, but I really didn’t quite appreciate how big the pressure was until all of the press started happening beforehand. All of that really laid it on us.”
For Patrick, season two was about finding out more of what drives his character Howard Hamlin, who began as Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) nemesis but in true Breaking Bad-verse fashion has evolved into something much fuller.
“We see ramifications of his relationships with Jimmy and with Chuck [Michael McKean] in particular,” he explained. “The relationship with Chuck is really key for Howard, because it’s Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill. So Hamlin is the first letter there. Is it my dad? Is it my grandfather? Is it my brother? We haven’t even established yet who the second H is.
“Me and Chuck, that dynamic and who has the power – and I think it moves back and forth – is really the key to who Howard is, and I love exploring that and figuring out what’s going on with that.
“Last season I was sort of painted as Darth Vader and this awful person by Jimmy. Since Jimmy is sort of our key into the world everybody sort of assumed that what he said was the truth,” he continued. “As was revealed at the end of season one, I wasn’t so bad after all. I was just trying to kind of maybe keep all the plates juggling. So season two is more about some of those plates start to fall and the ramifications. The consequences of your actions.”
That leads to an interesting dilemma for actors. When you’re playing a character without a lot of information, do you start coming up with your own ideas as to who he is and what made him that way? Or, especially when working with showrunners as talented and acclaimed as Gould and Gilligan, do you sit back and wait for them to tell you when they’re ready to tell you?
“That’s a tricky thing,” Patrick told us. “You want to do your homework, you want to come prepared. But there is only so much you can actually do given the circumstances. We had a year to sort of lay in [information]. I had a lot of people say boy, I really like season two, and I think part of it was that season one was that undiscovered country. Who am I dealing with? I know Jimmy McGill, but who are the rest of these people?
“Now people have an opinion on it. Like when Chuck enters the scene, people go eh, f–king Chuck. They have an opinion about him. When I enter a scene, oh there’s Howard with a stick up his ass or whatever. So consequently you’ve gotten familiar with the characters.
“I try to imagine and come up with a back story as much as I can, but I try not to be too married to it in some respects,” he continued. “I will sometimes ask about certain elements and I will sometimes get more direct answers than not. I think also with the writing they are discovering as things go along as well. I think they have a skeletal idea of where things are going.
“What is great about them is they are very flexible to all of a sudden have a new idea and then run with it and see where that takes them. They are never afraid to go down the rabbit hole with an idea and that changes things constantly. They write such great words that my best safety net as an actor is to do what’s on the page and not get ahead of myself.”
No matter what’s ahead for Howard in season three, Patrick is happy to play along as long as Better Call Saul will have him. “Like any good actor I always assume I’m being killed, shot, or maimed in the next episode,” he laughed, “so you live in constant fear that your character is going to get killed.
“It is really nice to be in something that has continuity to it absolutely, and to be part of a story line that continues to grow,” he told us. “I have not had that very often in my career. I really have been just job to job, popping in as a guest star. Couple of arcs here and there. This is the first real steady gig after twenty-five years of being a professional actor. I like it and they want to keep me in Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill for the next five or six years, you’ve got no complaints from me!”
As with most guest stars, a number of Patrick’s past appearances have been playing characters on the wrong side of the law, so we asked him which of his other alter egos would be most in need of Howard’s services. “When I was Senator Selfie on Scandal, I certainly could have used a good lawyer,” he said. “I was accused of killing my girlfriend. Yes I was taking pictures of my underwear and sending them to my girlfriend, but I didn’t kill her. I needed a good lawyer right then and there.
“I could probably use a good lawyer in a new independent feature called Driver X. I play a guy who goes out and starts driving Uber in nighttime Los Angeles,” he added. “He’s a middle-aged guy [but] nighttime hours he’s pretty wild, and I get into a little bit of trouble. I could probably use a lawyer for that as well.”
Which roles is he most likely to get recognized for?
“I get recognized a lot for playing Doctor Butthole on Grey’s Anatomy, even though that was just a couple of episodes, but that was fairly recent,” he said. “I was in The Last Exorcism, which did pretty well with the horror set. I played the exorcist in that and that was a worldwide hit, which was cool. I still get recognized as Nurse Dan from Friends. That was just a single episode but it re-runs all the time. I always get recognized as Professor Lasky from Saved by the Bell: The College Years. That never leaves.”
But even after everything he’s done, taking on the part of Howard Hamlin is something on another level. “I’m just so lucky and fortunate. I love being part of good storytelling,” Patrick reflected. “I think Better Call Saul is a great feather in my cap. Not to discount other work that I have done, but these guys are really firing on all cylinders and I couldn’t be more fortunate to be a part of them right now.”
For more on Season 2 of Better Call Saul, visit the official website.