A version of this story about “Better Call Saul” and Rhea Seehorn first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
When “Better Call Saul” wrapped its sixth and final season last winter in Albuquerque, Rhea Seehorn decided to take the long way home. “I drove from New Mexico, just to clear my head, to get back to L.A. And it was sad,” she said during a Zoom interview that took place three weeks before the series finale aired. “Saying goodbye to that character and saying goodbye to that work and saying goodbye to the kind of collaboration that I have been afforded for so many years was really hard. I don’t think it’s hit most of us that we’re not going back because it’s (still) airing — like, we’re excitedly anticipating talking to people about these last couple of episodes and the series as a whole.”
It’s easy to understand why Seehorn would be reluctant to let go: The “Breaking Bad” prequel gave her the role of a lifetime in Kim Wexler, the whip-smart, often inscrutable lawyer whose moral compass goes increasingly askew as she becomes addicted to thrills of scam-artistry with her husband, Jimmy McGill, a.k.a. Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Critics hailed her performance from the beginning, but it’s only now, seven years after Kim’s tightly-coiled ponytail first appeared on screen, that the Television Academy finally noticed and nominated her for Supporting Actress in a Drama. (When it rains it pours: She also earned a nod for starring in the short “Cooper’s Bar.”) Since Emmy nomination morning, she’s been flooded with congratulations. “It’s been really, really wonderful,” she said. “It’s really sort of surreal to have people share in that and really feel like they were rooting for you.”
Because of the timing of the finale’s air date, Seehorn couldn’t tell us exactly what happens to Kim Wexler, but she had plenty to say about her character’s shocking breakup with Saul and the law, how the character was received in the “Breaking Bad” universe and where she herself goes from here.
When you got the “Better Call Saul“ role, did find yourself thinking, “Okay, well, Kim’s not in ‘Breaking Bad.’ What happens to her?” Or did you just focus on the Kim of the present?
It went in stages. In the beginning, it was: I don’t know how instrumental Kim will be. I knew I would be a storytelling cog in the wheel in some fashion, but I didn’t know how much I would be in it. So I was sort of just more focused on just what was in front of me. And then as I became more and more folded into the story, certainly Patrick Fabian (who plays unctuous power attorney Howard Hamlin) and I have talked about this. Like “Game of Thrones” or anything else where lead characters can die all the time, we would flip through scripts being like, “Yay! I’m alive.” And then it transforms into the third chapter. I was curious as a fan and intellectually: What happens to her? How will they handle this? How will they handle each of the journeys of people that aren’t in “Breaking Bad” or at least not known to be in “Breaking Bad”? And I was aware of the thrill of that because I was like, I don’t know either. I don’t even have to worry about spilling the beans cause I don’t know. (Laughs)
Audiences immediately embraced Kim, and as she became more integral to the story, many fans were more concerned about her fate than Saul’s even, because we know that he becomes Walter White’s shady lawyer in “Breaking Bad.” It must have been interesting to be in the middle of that.
For me, Saul’s fate is still a primary — if not the primary story. It’s just that it became about how we view his fate. He was a dangerous clown and now he’s this tragic Arthur Miller character to me. So that became a question, versus Kim — literally, what happened to this person? Which is such a fun mystery-novel place to live in. People feel protective of her. And I think part of that is the fact that she has always had her own agency, very much has made her own choices and, for good or bad, is the person that says, “I will save myself.” And I think people responded to that in a way that was really, really lovely. And it’s like, they don’t want that person punished for that.
It stands in stark contrast to the vile misogyny that was hurled at Skyler White — and Anna Gunn, who played her — in “Breaking Bad.” Did you ever wonder if Kim was going to get the same treatment because she’s a woman with agency?
It’s always possible, right? I mean, misogyny is always possible, sadly.
Right, right. Oh, that’s so sad. It’s important to me to not add any gas to that insane, misplaced, unfounded, incorrect, ridiculous thing that went down. Which I didn’t know about until after the fact. I’m one of those people that watched “Breaking Bad” after everyone else had seen it. And I was unaware of it until she wrote her beautiful “New York Times” piece.
It’s so outside of anything I can wrap my head around having reason or logic to it, that it’s as throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air when it was my character as well. There’s nothing that is deserving or undeserving in either of our performances. I think she’s (Anna Gunn) brilliant. I will never, in my lifetime, forget the scene where it’s early on in the series, when she’s sitting at the table by the pool and she now knows that Walt has cancer, but he’s told her to not tell anyone in the family. They’re sitting around and they’re talking about what he’s gonna do next, and she has tears streaming down her cheeks while trying to act fine. It’s a remarkable piece of acting.
So I was more worried about being as good as she was and that whole cast was — and my cast is. (Laughs) The reception was kinda way beyond anything. I couldn’t worry about it. I mean, listen, people could have just simply hated anybody that’s not in “Breaking Bad”: me, Patrick, Michael Mando. All of us. You don’t know.
Kim breaks up with Jimmy in episode 9 when she realizes their scams have gone too far (and Howard is murdered). It was devastating to watch. How did you react when you learned that this was their ending?
That, to me, was a gut punch to even read it. It’s the end of what they had and the tightrope they were walking. It’s incredibly well written and beautiful and complex. It wasn’t about them falling out of love with each other and actually wasn’t even about her passing judgment on (Jimmy). It’s about her passing judgment on herself. Sadly, coming from a place of, “I’m the one that saves me,” she ends up being a character that says, “I am the one that will condemn me. I will set my prison term.” She’s a self-loathing shell of a person, which to me is more tragic than a lot of things that could happen to her.
She also quits the career in law that she loved. She will no longer aspire to be Atticus Finch.
Yeah. She actually thought that it was — is — a noble profession. And she thinks she can put her finger on the scales of justice, just lightly, so that it errs in the favor of the deserving — the deserving being in quotation marks. That’s a dangerous and unethical, illegal way to practice law. (Laughs) It’s Machiavellian or it’s Robin Hood, and it got away from her. She has no business practicing law anymore. She has no business passing judgment on people. I think she thinks this is punishment. It’s what she deserves.
The “more” that she said she wanted out of life during her job interview with lawyer Rick Schweikart in a previous season became too much?
I thought about that a lot. It’s a bit of an Icarus story in her mind: How dare she want more than her station?
You directed the episode “Hit and Run” this season, in which Kim and the great Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks) finally meet. How was it, directing yourself in such a pivotal scene for the series?
My entire crew in every department had, being led by Peter, put in an infrastructure that was set up for me to succeed. Jonathan Banks and I are very close friends and we’ve lobbied for a scene together forever, you know, half joking, because it’s like, be careful what you wish for, because if I want a scene with Giancarlo (Esposito) or Jonathan, it might be because I’m dead. (Laughs) And we also thought the characters that each of us had made would be very interesting in a room together because they can both be incredibly stoic. They’re both very wary of other people. I was so happy that we got to stage it at the El Camino diner on the bar stools. I just loved that idea of putting them shoulder to shoulder because there’s something about bar scenes where you can really see the dichotomy of what somebody chooses to show the other person versus what they do when they look away. We had a good time. We shot that scene for a very long time. As Jonathan would say, I covered the shit out of it. (Laughs)
What are you going to do next? Bob Odenkirk wants you in the mockumentary he’s making with David Cross?
Oh my God. I can’t wait. I’m thrilled that he wants me to come play with him and his cohorts. Other than that, I’m just in a lot of development talks and a lot of meetings with different showrunners and writers about various films, limited series projects, as well as another series. And just trying to find the right thing. The show opened a lot of doors, so I’m very fortunate that I’m talking with different people and being afforded the opportunity to have conversations about what part is right.
Will you miss Kim’s ponytail?
(Laughs) I cut it off right after wrap! I am going to miss Kim and everything that goes with her. Her ponytail was part of her armor that eventually became this barometer of how she was doing, which was a lot of fun. I don’t think any of the lovely department heads in hair are going to miss my ponytail, though. That is quite the upkeep to make sure that thing is perfect.