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As 'Better Call Saul' wraps, Bob Odenkirk reflects on his life-changing heart attack

As the Breaking Bad prequel and spin-off Better Call Saul wraps up its final season, series star Bob Odenkirk and show runner Peter Gould talk about the show.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. There's only four episodes left of "Better Call Saul," a series that has a lot of fans on the FRESH AIR team and a series our TV critic, David Bianculli, said could end up as the best dramatic TV series ever made. "Better Call Saul" is the prequel to "Breaking Bad." Saul Goodman as we know him would not exist without my two guests. Bob Odenkirk played Saul in "Breaking Bad" and stars in "Better Call Saul." Peter Gould created the character Saul when Gould was a writer on "Breaking Bad." After that series ended, Gould co-created "Better Call Saul" and is now the showrunner. "Better Call Saul" is nominated for Emmys as best drama series and outstanding writing in a drama series. Bob Odenkirk is nominated for best actor in a drama series. Odenkirk also has a memoir called "Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama." In "Breaking Bad," Saul was a lawyer who worked on two levels. He was a slip-and-fall, I'll-sue-anyone kind of lawyer working out of an ostentatious office in Albuquerque. He starred in his own TV and radio ads, like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

BOB ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Oh, hello. I was just working on a multimillion-dollar lawsuit for one of my clients.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASH REGISTER)

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) I know what you're thinking.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASH REGISTER)

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Yeah. A lawsuit sounds good, Saul. But who can I sue? Who can you sue? Try police departments, libraries, construction companies, school officials, cleaning services, financial institutions local and international, your neighbors, your family members, your church, synagogue or other religious institution, your employers, your employers' customers, suppliers, companies in other countries, companies that made the drugs that were turned into the drugs that you took. The possibilities are limitless. But, Saul, how can I sue these people and institutions? I have no grounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Do me a favor. Let me answer that question in person.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHOOSHING)

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Better call Saul.

GROSS: Saul had a talent for using scams and his motor mouth to win cases and cash in on lawsuits. His secret business was much more treacherous - representing drug lords. In that part of his life, his motor mouth got him out of trouble but also deeper into trouble. "Better Call Saul" goes back in time to tell Saul's origin story before the "Breaking Bad" era, before he was even known as Saul Goodman, when he went by his real name, Jimmy McGill. Jimmy had been a scam artist as a teenager and eventually tried to follow in the footsteps of his successful brother, Chuck, a partner in a corporate law firm. Jimmy did become a lawyer but for various reasons kept sabotaging himself and got involved with representing someone from a drug cartel. As all that was happening, he fell in love with a lawyer, Kim, played by Rhea Seehorn. She's a great lawyer but joins him in legal scams, as well as some dangerous pranks. When this winds up in tragedy, Kim decides she can no longer practice law and withdraws from the bar association. In this scene, Jimmy begs her not to give up law.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BETTER CALL SAUL")

ODENKIRK: (As Jimmy McGill) You did what? Why? Why? All right, all right. I know why. But, Kim, you can't just...

RHEA SEEHORN: (As Kim Wexler) Jimmy, I...

ODENKIRK: (As Jimmy McGill) Just let me say my piece, OK? Just - let's take a breath here. Kim, after everything that happened, I mean, Jesus, I get it. You want to climb out of your own skin. That's natural But, Kim, you don't just throw everything away. This is your life. You're a lawyer. What about your clients? What about that poor guy, Mr. Yarborough? What about the kid in foster care? You give them everything you've got. Who are they going to find who's half as good as you? No one. They need you.

SEEHORN: (As Kim Wexler) It's already done.

ODENKIRK: (As Jimmy McGill) Oh. OK. What's done can be undone. You know, all I'm saying is just - let's take a week or two to think it over. For now, we're going to take some time off. God knows we need it. We're going to find a new place. We're going to leave here. We're never, ever going to come back here again, OK? We're going to put it behind us. Things will look brighter, I guarantee it. But first, we have to fix this. So we're going to go back to the hotel room, and you're going to write letters. You're going to write a letter to the bar. You write letters to your clients. You dictate, I will type. We're going to roll this thing back. I'll order a pizza. We'll pull an all-nighter because we're in this together.

GROSS: Bob Odenkirk, Peter Gould, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations to you both on this terrific series. And I should say, if you want to find out Kim's response to this, I'm not going to say what it is, but it's a really interesting turn. And so if you want to catch up, definitely watch this episode. Bob, you're, like, hyperventilating in this scene. You're, like, gulping air and then almost, like, choking on it. Did you know you had this in you when you were doing sketch comedy?

ODENKIRK: (Laughter) I was a waiter at a restaurant that served hamburgers. And part of the gag of the restaurant was you were supposed to be a smartass to people. And I learned very quickly that I hurt everyone's feelings (laughter) whereas the waitresses and many of the other waiters could walk around and say, sit your ass down, and everyone would laugh. If I said, sit your ass down, they ran out of the restaurant. There's a softness that I didn't have in my presentation that works well in drama acting.

(LAUGHTER)

ODENKIRK: It just - it feels very direct, I think, when I say things. Even when I don't mean them that way, it can feel that way. And now I find myself in moments like this and scenes like that being able to cut loose. And I think that works for me.

GROSS: Peter, you came up with the idea of the character Saul. What was your initial conception, and what need did you think he filled in the show?

PETER GOULD: You know, the show - if you cast your mind back to "Breaking Bad," it had taken a very dark turn. Season 1 of "Breaking Bad," Hank Schrader, played by Dean Norris, was sort of - in a way, he was the comic relief. You know, he was the guy who was happy with himself, happy with his place in the world. But by the time we got to the middle of Season 2, Hank had been in a shootout. He had PTSD. He was - you know, he was in a very - a state of bummerdom (ph). And I don't think - we never thought, OK, we need this or that for the show. We never said, OK, we need - everything's dark, we need something light. But as we were talking about what could happen next now that Walt and Jesse are trying to sell drugs, the question came up, what happens if one of their guys gets arrested? And of course, then they have to go to a drug lawyer. And somebody said somebody said, you know, what if his name is Saul Good, like it's all good? And then somebody said, Saul Goodman. And then somebody talked about the Cadillac and the license plate. And I think we just thought he was going to be this slickster who was going to be Walt and Jesse's guide into the underworld.

You know, he was going to be kind of like a helper character who'd help them and kind of look out for himself along the way. And having said that, once we started thinking about him, we just had so much fun because he was happy with himself. And also he was the only character who wasn't tormented by his misdeeds. He saw things very - it seemed on "Breaking Bad," he saw things very mechanically. He would always see the shortest distance between two points. And he'd say, why don't you just do that, no matter how violent or distasteful that might be.

GROSS: Why don't you just kill him and get rid of him and solve your problem (laughter)?

GOULD: Exactly. Wait, why are you doing all this? Just go ahead. Kill Badger. He could be - get him shanked in the chow line. It's easy, guys. So he was just fun. And this is - you know, this is the amazing thing about being a dramatic writer. Then Bob comes in and plays the role, and you start seeing there's more to him than that original conception. And he - you know, we gave him, I think, in one of his first scenes, like, two pages of dialogue. And what Bob did was he created all these transitions in this big wall of dialogue, all these transitions. He interrupts himself. And some of it was written in there. But it - what you saw was that there is a guy who's thinking a mile a minute and maybe there's a little layer of, you know, his confidence isn't as high as maybe he's putting forth to the world. And so that was - having Bob play the role absolutely changed everything.

GROSS: Is that scene you're talking about the scene where Jesse and Walt have dug a grave for Saul and take him out to the desert 'cause they're afraid he's representing Jesse's kind of not very bright friend who's dealing the meth for them, Badger?

GOULD: That's right.

GROSS: Is that the scene you're talking about?

GOULD: That's - Badger, played by Matt Jones, is arrested, and Walt tries to bribe Saul Goodman. Saul Goodman won't take the bribe, so they kidnap him and drive him out to the desert, put him in front of an open grave, put a gun at his head, and he manages, pretty quickly, to turn the situation around and becomes the dominant force in the scene, even though he's on his knees in front of an open grave with a gun pointed at his head.

GROSS: Yeah. And Walt and Jesse are afraid that Saul will let Badger...

GOULD: Right...

GROSS: ...Talk to the...

GOULD: ...Flip.

GROSS: ...DEA and flip and...

GOULD: Yes.

GROSS: ...Turn in Walt and Jesse. So their lives are at...

GOULD: Exactly...

GROSS: ...Stake. And they're wearing...

GOULD: ...Exactly.

GROSS: ...Ski masks, so...

GOULD: That's right...

GROSS: ...Saul...

GOULD: ...That's right.

GROSS: ...Has no idea who they really are. So why don't we just hear that scene? And this is also the scene - the first scene in which the name Lalo is mentioned. It's the only mention that he gets in "Breaking Bad" and he becomes a pretty major character in "Better Call Saul." So here's that scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Oh. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. No, it wasn't me. It was Ignacio. He's the one. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no, no. (Speaking Spanish)...

AARON PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) Shut up, bud.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman, speaking Spanish).

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) Shut up. All right? Just speak English.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Lalo didn't send you? No Lalo?

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) Who?

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Oh, thank God. Oh, Christ. Oh. I thought - what can I do for you gentlemen? Anything. Just tell me what you need.

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) This afternoon, an associate of ours offered you $10,000. You should have taken it.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Wait a minute. This in regards to what's his name?

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) Badger. Brandon Mayhew.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) The uncle. The uncle, that was your guy (laughter)? No offense, guys, but I don't take bribes from strangers. You know, better safe than sorry. That's my motto. But I'll take your money. Sure.

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) No, that offer is expired, yo.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Oh. It was kind of low anyways, but OK. OK. I'll take it. Just tell me what you need, all right? I'm easy. I'm going to keep a happy thought and assume this is just a negotiating tactic.

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) All right. Listen to me very carefully. You're going to give Badger Mayhew the best legal representation...

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Yeah.

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) ...Ever. But no deals with the DEA. All right? Badger will not identify anyone to anybody. If he does, you're dead.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Why don't you just kill Badger? I mean, follow me, guys, but if a mosquito's buzzing around you, it bites you on the ass, you don't go gunning for the mosquito's attorney. You could go grab a flyswatter, so to speak. I mean, all due respect, but do I have to spell this out for you?

PAUL: (As Jesse Pinkman) We're not killing Badger, yo.

ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) Then you got real problems - OK? - 'cause the DEA is going to come down on your boy like a proverbial ton of bricks. I mean, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here, but, hey, he's not going to like prison. He's going to sing like Celine Dion, regardless of what you do to me.

GROSS: So we heard some of the twists and turns that he takes, trying every - (laughter) everything he can think of to convince them not to kill him. And so you had to - since that's Lalo's first mention, you had to follow through and create - or you decided to follow through and create a character, Lalo, in "Better Call Saul." So, you know, I'm curious. Bob, in playing Saul, you've talked about how you patterned his voice a little bit on the film producer Robert Evans, who produced "The Godfather," on hearing him, you know, do the audiobook for his memoir, "The Kid Stays In The Picture." And you've talked about basing the character a little bit on your agent, Ari Emanuel, or at least he was your agent, I don't know if he is now. But really, in terms of, like, the line readings, did you, like, write out some kind of score for them, like, where to breathe, where to, like, pause, where to swallow hard? 'Cause there are so many things going on when you talk.

ODENKIRK: Oh, thank you for the compliment. And all the things you said about my process on approaching this was - are true. I did put in little breaks. I would put, like, a double hash mark into the dialogue at places where I saw that kind of - how can I put it? I don't want to say artificial, but it is kind of a manipulated cliffhanger delivery, and it's not sort of normal speech patterns. And so, you know, that's how I made use of what I perceived as his excellent and amazing and involving delivery. And I just tried to make that a part of, you know, presenting Saul to the world.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guests are Bob Odenkirk, who played Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul," and Peter Gould, who created the character of Saul when he was a writer on "Breaking Bad" and is the co-creator and showrunner of "Better Call Saul." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE PORTER'S "WALLS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Bob Odenkirk and Peter Gould. Odenkirk played the fast-talking, sleazy lawyer, Saul Goodman, in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul." Gould created the character of Saul when Gould was a writer on "Breaking Bad." He co-created the series "Better Call Saul" and is the showrunner.

So I want to ask about something that happened during the shooting of the episode that was just on last Monday. And that is that, Bob, you had a heart attack while that episode was being shot. And my understanding is that you flatlined and were brought to life because there was a defibrillator that one of the people working on set had. So where were you in the process of shooting that episode when this happened?

GROSS: Well, Peter, maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong because I - my memory is zero (laughter) for the incident. I was informed about a lot of what happened around the heart attack. The day was the day where Lalo is - I think, has shot Howard, and he sits us down - it's Episode 8. And he sits us down, and he's talking to Kim and Jimmy about his plan - about the plan for the night. One of them is supposed to go and shoot Gus. And I think we got most of that scene done, and then I had a heart attack.

And then five weeks later, after I had surgery and recuperation, we came back and began to shoot Episode 9. And then about a week and a half maybe into shooting Episode 9, we went back to the scene that we didn't finish, and we shot the remainder of that scene with Vince Gilligan directing 'cause he directed 8. Is that right, Peter? Do I have that right?

GOULD: I think that's exactly right, Bob. Yeah. I think the idea was to start you back with something that was a little bit more straightforward before getting into that that big, juicy scene again.

GROSS: So this is the scene - you were in the middle of the scene where Lalo, which is part of the - who's part of the drug cartel, is threatening you and Kim.

ODENKIRK: Right. And so that is the one scene where it's Bob Odenkirk before dying (laughter) and Bob Odenkirk's second life (laughter) with Lalo talking to me and Kim. And I kind of screwed it up in an interview I did the other day, so I'm glad to have this opportunity to clarify.

GROSS: So did you feel like you were a changed person when you returned to the set and that it was hard to get into that same emotional and physical place that you were before the heart attack?

ODENKIRK: I definitely took it into account, and I felt I had a challenge in front of me. I came out of that incident with the heart attack with a strange, fresh energy. I didn't have - I didn't see a white light. I didn't have a flashback on my life. I really had, like, a mind wipe. (Laughter) I think it's called medically (laughter) - sorry. I can't help but laugh. It's such a strange - you know, I really just lost that time completely. And I came out of it with, like, strangely fresh energy towards my whole life like I was born again. (Laughter) Like, hey, everybody, look where we are. Let's go back to work and make stuff. And this is my family, and this is great. I really kind of had an upbeat let's-go-get-them energy (laughter).

GROSS: Was that different from who you were before?

ODENKIRK: Yeah (laughter). Yes (laughter). Yeah, I would say so. I think, you know, in real life, I'm probably a bit of a grumbler and a person who gets worn down, and so it was a kind of an upbeat freshness towards everything - towards the character of Bob Odenkirk that I get to be...

(LAUGHTER)

ODENKIRK: ...In real life. And it was really, I think, disconcerting for some of the people around me - probably a better choice than me being, I don't know, sluggish and dragging myself and feeling - I don't know - some negative way. I - but to some extent, I think people looked at me like, what's wrong with you?

(LAUGHTER)

ODENKIRK: You died. You shouldn't be so happy.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Bob Odenkirk, who played Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul," and Peter Gould, who created the character of Saul when he was a writer on "Breaking Bad" and is the co-creator and showrunner of "Better Call Saul." We'll pick up right where we left off after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BETTER CALL SAUL")

ODENKIRK: (As Jimmy McGill, singing) I played all my cards, and that's what you've done to...

Chuck McGill, everyone. Let's hear it.

(Singing) Nothing more to say. No more ace to play. The winner takes it all.

That's you.

MICHAEL MCKEAN: (As Chuck McGill, singing) The loser's standing small.

ODENKIRK: (As Jimmy McGill) Yes. Let's go. Let's go.

MCKEAN: (As Chuck McGill) No.

ODENKIRK: (As Jimmy McGill, singing) Beside the victory. That's her destiny.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Bob Odenkirk, who played the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul." Also with us is Peter Gould, who created the character of Saul when Gould was a writer on "Breaking Bad." Gould co-created "Better Call Saul" and is the showrunner. There's only four episodes left. The series is on AMC. When we left off, Bob Odenkirk was talking about the near-fatal heart attack he had last year while filming an episode in the final season of "Better Call Saul." Returning to life was transformational. He's felt more positive and upbeat about everything.

Peter, how'd it look from your point of view when Bob came back and had this energy and, it sounds like, optimism and gratitude?

GOULD: Of course, we didn't know what to expect. And Bob is always fun on the set. And he's always generous and great. But there was an extra bit of Mr. Wonderful (laughter), I have to say when he came back. And, you know, it was a very suspenseful moment because we were - you know, I was not there when Bob got sick, but I was there when he came back. And we were all wondering, you know, what's it going to be like? And it turned out it was great. And it was, you know, one of the most hopeful things imaginable, especially, you know, we're in the middle of a pandemic and all the, you know - and it's somebody you really care about and who's so important in your life gets, you know, seriously ill. To have him come back and have him in sort of an elevated state is just - you know, it's just a wonderful, wonderful feeling. And then, of course, we did some of the darkest, most difficult stuff that we ever had on the show.

GROSS: You know, Bob, I'm sure, as an actor, you want to give, you know, your part everything you've got. Did you have doctors who discouraged you from doing that and said, just, like, pull back? Take it easy, you know, don't work as hard?

ODENKIRK: There's no question they did ask me to calm down and slow down. I mean, they really, really pushed hard to get me to control how much I got involved with and how much I exerted myself.

GROSS: You can't calm down in character, though. That character is never calm.

ODENKIRK: Yeah. Well, we did limit the hours. That was kind of a big deal. And it was very necessary, too. I mean, it's just a technical thing. But the truth is, I only had energy to do it for about eight or 9 hours a day. And usually, we shot for 14 hours a day.

GROSS: Oh, wow. That is a long time. Yeah.

ODENKIRK: So they cut us back. They cut me back to 12 hours door to door. And that was very necessary, yeah, as it turns out. I felt a little bad about it, but it was absolutely necessary. I kind of conked out after about 8 hours every day. And here's what it did for me, Terry. It made it even easier, much easier, to be in the moment. This kind of weird, fresh energy that I had of just being in the moment, of looking at the world almost like you just woke up and don't remember anything is, like, a very in-the-moment energy. It's like, look around. Look where we are. Look at this place (laughter). My wife, you know, straggled in after a day of not sleeping and getting phone calls and getting a private jet that Sony was so good to send to get her in New York. And she came into the hospital room. And I popped up after surgery that morning going, let's go to work.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Did you really?

GOULD: Yes.

ODENKIRK: And she was like, what the hell?

GOULD: (Laughter).

ODENKIRK: And that energy carried through. And it made it easier to be in the moment, which is your job as an actor. That's the weird mind game you play is getting yourself in the moment of someone else's life, but really feeling on the edge of, I don't know what happens next here. And if you can make that real in your mind - and that was easier for me to do with this kind of weird, newfound POV on the world, on existence. You know, it's really advantageous to playing moments and to acting. So (laugher) in a way, it's a shortcut. Every - to all you actors out there, have a brief moment of death.

GROSS: That sounds like great advice.

GOULD: (Laughter).

GROSS: Did that outlook stay with you? Or did it fade over time?

ODENKIRK: I think it fades. But I also experienced it once, so I can think back on it and reconnect with it. And I want to do that literally every day of my life. I really want to stay in touch with what happened there because it really was a great reconnection to being alive. And so I'd love to ruminate on it every day (laughter) and try to reconnect.

GROSS: Well, I just want to say, thank goodness you're well and, you know, that you're alive and healthy and working and hooray (laughter).

GOULD: Yeah.

ODENKIRK: Thanks. I'll just add that Rosa Estrada, we were very lucky that this woman was nearby because she knew how to do CPR properly. And she had the AED in her car. And she only had it in her car because she was returning it to somebody who she borrowed it from.

GROSS: Is that the defibrillator?

ODENKIRK: Yeah. It wasn't an official thing on our set. It was in her...

GROSS: Oh, it's just coincidence that it was there.

ODENKIRK: It was total crazy coincidence in that she had put it in her car. And I guess she had tried to return it, but the friend wasn't home. Otherwise, she wouldn't have had it either. And so it's only because of that circumstance that it was in the trunk of her car. And I'm sure that helped me immensely. I mean, the CPR is No. 1. But the fact is, I didn't get a heart rate for 18 minutes after this started. And that...

GROSS: That's a long time.

ODENKIRK: So that's a long time. But CPR, the fact that it was done almost immediately - within a minute, minute and a half - and it was done so well, it was done properly, that's what really saved me.

GROSS: Yeah. And thank God it did. Well, let me reintroduce you both. If you're just joining us, my guests are Bob Odenkirk, who played Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul" - and Peter Gould, who created the character of Saul when he was a writer on "Breaking Bad" and is the co-creator and showrunner of "Better Call Saul." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE PORTER'S "ALPINE SHEPHERD BOY")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Bob Odenkirk and Peter Gould. Odenkirk played the fast-talking, sleazy lawyer, Saul Goodman, in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul." Gould created the character of Saul when Gould was a writer on "Breaking Bad." He co-created the series "Better Call Saul" and is the showrunner.

Bob, I want to ask you about a personal experience you had and how it's affected, if at all, your acting and whether it informs you in scenes where there's fear or violence. I know, like, years ago - I think it was back in the period when you were working on "Saturday Night Live." And you were up all night working on the show and then flew to Chicago to do an improv show there. So you were in your car sleep-deprived with your girlfriend years ago when you were robbed at gunpoint. And did - tell us a brief version of that story.

ODENKIRK: Well, I'd stayed up all night the night before in New York where I was writer at "Saturday Night Live," which is to say I woke up Monday - or rather, Tuesday at 10 a.m., stayed up all night Tuesday night, did the read-through at "Saturday Night Live" on Wednesday afternoon, got on a plane, flew to Chicago, did the set at Second City, got in my car and drove with my girlfriend to where we were staying, got out of the car at 1 a.m. in Chicago time, which would be 3 a.m. New York time. And somebody walked up and stuck a gun to my face, and then they asked for my money.

And I was in a really weird place because I hadn't slept in so long. And I kind of had a conversation. And there was a lot of tension, of course. And I talked the person out of certain things and gave them money I had. I was weirdly defiant in the moment, but it was all because I was sleep-deprived.

GROSS: Well, he wanted your girlfriend to get out of the car, and you basically told him to get out of here...

ODENKIRK: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: ...Which was pretty...

ODENKIRK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Pretty brave. I'm not sure you knew you had that in you.

ODENKIRK: I - yeah, it wasn't brave. It was crazy, but (laughter)...

GROSS: But it worked out. So...

ODENKIRK: It worked out.

GROSS: So where does that figure in when you're playing, for instance, like, Saul or Jimmy and - they're both typically under some kind of threat or another, and they have to, like, talk their way out of it or scheme their way out of it.

ODENKIRK: Well, it plays into the fact that I didn't go to acting class, and all I have are my memories of striking moments, intense moments, emotional moments in my life - that's certainly one of them - that I can draw on to kind of put myself in a place where I can feel those feelings and bring that sense of tension or reality or fear into my performance. And so, without a doubt, I've - there have been moments where I use that incident to - you know, to register and play those emotions.

I think you guys - you played earlier in this show the scene where Jesse and Walter have a gun to my head. And that would be something I would draw from, that moment at that night where I was kneeling on the sidewalk in Chicago and a gun was pointed right at my head and I was digging through my gym bag to get the money out because I didn't - I wasn't - I didn't have money in my pants because I was wearing my stage clothes 'cause I had changed out of my street clothes to do the Second City show. And this guy had to wait, and I couldn't get the zipper to open on the gym bag. And it was really fraught with fear and tension.

GROSS: Peter, do you - when you're working with an actor like Bob, do you want to know what their personal story is so that you can kind of play to, you know, memories and experiences that they have?

GOULD: If I were a more sophisticated person, that probably would have been a great idea.

(LAUGHTER)

GOULD: I did not - I had not heard this story about being held up until just now. When I got held up, my reaction was just the opposite. I basically threw them - threw my wallet and lay on the ground. And every time you see a shot in the show where there's a gun pointed straight at someone, that's my memory of - it's all I saw. And all I can remember of the robbery was just literally the front end of a pistol aimed straight at my head. So this - everybody has their memories. I don't think I ever brought that up, but it's something that you always bring to the work.

GROSS: So another thing I'm wondering, like, and - like, you were saying earlier, as I remember, Peter, that, you know, when you're writing complicated stories like "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul," you're not only talking about the characters' lives, you're talking about, like, the kind of the philosophy of life and where the characters fit in. Forgive me for paraphrasing you not very well. But in talking about all that, do you also share personal stories?

Bob, your father was somebody who was - you know, he was mean. He was an alcoholic. He was - he went through long stretches of not being home. When he was home, he fought with your mother. He said things that were very upsetting to you and your siblings. And you grew up with a lot of justified anger toward him and never really reconciled because I think you decided that, like, you couldn't. I mean, he wasn't the kind of guy you could - who saw his own flaws and who you could really reconcile with or who really was very interested in understanding who you were. So, Bob, how much did you want the writers to know about your personal life?

ODENKIRK: No. I mean, I'm an open (laughter) - I'm an open pamphlet. There's not much there.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Just a pamphlet?

(LAUGHTER)

ODENKIRK: It takes you two seconds to go, yeah, yeah, I got that guy figured out (laughter). You know, I think part of the residue of my upbringing was telling everybody everything I could tell. Everything I could possibly stomach to tell, I do.

GROSS: Why?

ODENKIRK: Because there were secrets when I was a kid. I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't know so much. I mean, for about - not till I was around 13 or 14 did I find out what - you know, really understand more of what was happening. It was a mystery how my house worked. And I mean, look at it on the page. We lived in a nice suburb. We had no money. We were told over and over we have no money. We drank powdered milk. The father was never home, but there were seven kids. He had to come home seven times. I know that.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ODENKIRK: But it just made no sense. My life and the world, the universe I inhabited made no sense. And it was frightening and scary. And it gave me a desire to go look at the problem. This is the problem here. Say it. Say it out loud. And I don't understand not saying it to the point where I think it's annoying. I annoy people with, like, pointing out the issue at hand that I see, loudly and repetitively.

GROSS: My guests are Bob Odenkirk, who played Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the AMC prequel, "Better Call Saul," and Peter Gould, who created the character of Saul when he was a writer on "Breaking Bad" and is the co-creator and showrunner of "Better Call Saul." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE PORTER'S "THE BIG WINNER")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Bob Odenkirk and Peter Gould. Odenkirk played the fast-talking, sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad" and stars in the prequel, "Better Call Saul." Gould created the character of Saul when he was a writer on "Breaking Bad." He co-created the series "Better Call Saul" and is the showrunner.

So, Peter, a writing question for you. Since "Better Call Saul" is a prequel and you had to follow the structure of "Breaking Bad" in the sense that everything in "Better Call Saul" had to lead to the characters in "Breaking Bad," and "Breaking Bad" was already written, is there anything you wrote for "Breaking Bad" that you later regretted while working on "Better Call Saul" because you wish you didn't have to explain that, or you wish you didn't have to reach that destination, but you were trapped and you had to go there?

GOULD: Sure. I mean, but the thing is, eventually, we would figure it out. You know, the - we - the Lalo-Ignacio thing haunted us. And one of the reasons it haunted us was that Bob kept saying to me, we got to meet Lalo, right? We're going to meet Lalo. And I would say, yeah, sure. And then, you know, I'd kind of sweat some more thinking about what exactly happened that has the - him on the wrong side of the cartel but not on such a bad - he's still living a relatively public life. So how does that - how does all that work? You know, there was also a scene that was deleted - thank God - from, I think, Season 3 of "Breaking Bad," where Saul talks about all his ex-wives and the fact that he himself stayed at this short-term apartment rental place called The Beachcomber. And we ended up omitting that scene. At the time, I was very sad because I loved the scene and I thought Bob and Bryan Cranston were so funny in it. But I'm kind of glad we don't have to explain too much about his previous marriages. You know, so there were absolutely things that we think - that we felt constrained by. But sometimes, the limits - sometimes having limits is actually super helpful because it focuses your mind on those limits.

GROSS: So I'm really wondering what's going to happen to the character of Kim at the end of "Better Call Saul." She's Jimmy/Saul's girlfriend. She's a lawyer. She's incredibly smart but has gone along with Jimmy in doing some incredibly stupid things. And I - you know, I don't know if she's going to survive to the end of the series or not. She's not in "Breaking Bad." That offers a clue, but I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from that clue. I'd love to see her get a sequel. You know, I'm sure at this point you probably want out of that world.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Peter, you've written enough plot twists to last you a lifetime for those characters. But - I don't know. There's probably nothing you can say about that right now.

GOULD: Oh. Well, I'd sure love to keep working with Rhea Seehorn. I'll say that. And I love the character Kim, also. I do feel like I - it's - I need to get away from this world for a little bit. So we'll see. You know, we'll see. It's - there's - you have to watch the rest of the show. And you can tell me at that point what the prequel sequel should be.

GROSS: What's next for each of you?

ODENKIRK: I'm working on a show also for AMC and Sony called "Straight Man," based on the Richard Russo novel. It's exciting. It's totally different from "Better Call Saul." It's got little, I'd say, more comedy. The stakes, you - there's no way around it, they're lower (laughter) for the character and the people around him. And yet, I think it's still a great - it's a great mix for me and a great character whose point of view I have great connection with. And I'm excited to get that opportunity.

GROSS: And, Peter, what's next for you?

GOULD: Oh, we'll see. You know, I have three projects that I'm very excited about and I hope will get made. But there's no - you know, there's no guarantees in this nutty business. And none of them are based - so far, none of them are based on IP or existing pieces, which is, you know, always a little bit more tricky to get going.

GROSS: Bob, I know, in your memoir, you quote Bryan Cranston as saying that he was kind of happy when "Breaking Bad" ended, only in the sense that he had to get away from his character, Walt, that Walt was so toxic, it was hard to embody him for so long. How were you feeling about parting from your character of Saul and/or Jimmy? There's a lot of toxic elements to those characters. But they're not evil in the way that Walt had become really, truly evil.

ODENKIRK: He kind of arcs and grows. And you'll see in the remaining episodes, without spoiling any of it, I became - he became even more comfortable to play because he gets a certain degree of self-awareness that I feel he always had, but he finally owns it and can see it and really embrace it. And that made it easier to play. And it's a wonderful character to play. That's the challenge is it's just such a great character to play. I mean, I've said it in other interviews - I don't think I'll ever have a part ever again that has as much dynamic variety in it as this part. It's just not going to - it's just - I don't think the stars could line up ever again with what we have here.

GROSS: So finally, you know, at the beginning of "Better Call Saul," we find out that he's taken on a new identity to go into hiding because there are so many people who want to kill him. And his new identity is the manager of a Cinnabon in a food court. And it's really, like, a soul-deadening job for him. And I'm wondering if anybody from Cinnabon has ever contacted either of you to register their approval or disapproval or legal threats (laughter)?

GOULD: You know, the Cinnabon people have been great to us. They've been super supportive. We didn't know that they would be until on "Breaking Bad," after the episode where Bob mentions Cinnabon in Omaha, immediately, the Cinnabon social media people posted a tweet about an opening for a manager in Omaha, Neb.

GROSS: (Laughter).

GOULD: So they've been great. Bob - before we even started shooting, Bob spent, as I recall, a day in our Cinnabon in - our so-called Omaha Cinnabon, which is actually in Albuquerque. And you actually - Bob, you were making Cinnabons, weren't you?

ODENKIRK: Yeah, I was given full training to make Cinnabons. It took a couple hours. And I do it right, I'll tell you. And every time we do it, we have someone from Cinnabon there to make sure I do it properly. And so I know what goes into a Cinnabon.

GROSS: Thanks to both of you so much. Thanks for being on our show. Thank you for "Breaking Bad" and for "Better Call Saul." So Bob Odenkirk, Peter Gould, thank you so much.

ODENKIRK: Thank you, Terry.

GOULD: Thank you, Terry. That was great.

GROSS: Bob Odenkirk stars in the AMC series "Better Call Saul." Peter Gould is the series' co-creator and showrunner. There's only four episodes left. "Better Call Saul" is nominated for Emmys as Best Drama Series and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. Bob Odenkirk is nominated for Best Actor in a Drama Series. He also has a new memoir called "Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama."

(SOUNDBITE OF DRESAGE AND SLOW SHIVER SONG, "PERFECT DAY")

GROSS: Let's close with the song that opened last week's episode. It's a new recording made for the show of a Harry Nilsson song. It's performed here by Dresage and Slow Shiver.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERFECT DAY")

DRESAGE: (Singing) It's the perfect way to end the perfect day.

SLOW SHIVER: (Singing) It's the perfect...

GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, how to talk with kids without a lot of anxiety about gender, sex and where babies come from. Our guest will be Cory Silverberg, author of "Sex Is A Funny Word," "What Makes A Baby" and "You Know, Sex." Silverberg is a sex educator who was raised by a children's librarian and a sex therapist and identifies as queer. I hope you'll join us. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERFECT DAY")

DRESAGE AND SLOW SHIVER: (Singing) Ride with me. Glide with me. Stay by my side with me through the night. Ride on the wings of the angels of love, who are on our side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEN TOUSSAINT'S "EGYPTIAN FANTASY")

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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