EXCLUSIVE: Rhea Seehorn on the force of nature that is Kim Wexler, and the future of 'Better Call Saul'
By Heather Newgen
Now in its fourth season, 'Better Call Saul' continues to mesmerize fans with the thrilling origin story of crooked lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), who becomes heavily involved in the Albuquerque, New Mexico drug trafficking ring and transforms into the persona of Saul Goodman.
Audiences originally met the character in Vince Gilligan's 'Breaking Bad' and are eagerly awaiting the reveal of how he enters the twisted underground world and adopts his alter-ego. The 'Breaking Bad' prequel cleverly shows the moral decay of the characters, as well as realistic elements of human facets in ways we've never seen, thus making the drama an incredible TV show on its own merits.
The writing, cinematography and outstanding performances by actor Rhea Seehorn, who brilliantly portrays Kim Wexler, Jimmy's love interest and fellow attorney, enhance the quality and appeal of the AMC series, making it one the network's top performers. Meaww exclusively talked to the 'Better Call Saul' star about the show and where her character is heading this season.
Why do you think Kim sticks by Jimmy? What does she see in him?
I feel like they actually have a lot of similarities. I thought that from the beginning and still think that. They both have elements of them operating on the peripheral and attempting to fit in whatever the circumstances is needed. They're people who are attempting to get ahead but feel like they're imposters. I don't know if Bob would say that about his character, but there's something about needing to put on a certain veneer and move through the world with the confidence of the character you've assumed.
They also both seem to find a singular point of trust where they can be themselves and let down their guard. Now increasingly this season is the tragedy of what if these people can't suddenly communicate and in this instance grief is a huge barrier.
Some of the most mature relationship [scenes] Bob and I have done, [are] these little quiet scenes you'll see peppered throughout where they can an attempt to regain the ability to trust in each other and be vulnerable, which I think is extremely hard for Kim. They're missed opportunities because two people are attempting to deal with their feelings in a bubble. As we get closer to Saul there are activities she's unaware of, but he's always been the most loyal.
He's a con man and she knows it, yet he's the least duplicitous in her life. All of these pillars of justice, the Howard Hamlin's and Chuck's of the world, these people are not ethical. They're legal, but not moral and I think Kim does gravitate towards that. Lastly, as we've seen, there's a part of her that very much enjoys the energy, the humor and charisma, and even the darker side of Jimmy. There's something about that she enjoys and seems to have a strange comfort level around.
You just set up my next question perfectly because earlier in the series we see her do a con with Jimmy and it seemed like she had gotten that sort of thing out of her system, or has it?
That's an interesting question. It's a journey for Kim and how we balance what is or isn't her backstory. I think it's a constant dialogue for Kim of where her line in the sand is. Even when she did that con in the past, she deemed it as okay because of who is getting hurt versus who isn't. Is it a moral decision? Is it ethical? It's a very dangerous game to be playing and I think a part of Kim knows that. It did seem to me in the past that there were rules. Even when she hears about Squat Cobbler, it's amusing to her up until he says he fabricated evidence. For me, as an actor, I sense a push-pull issue within her of trying to equalize the balance for it. I think that is a part of her and I think she's still trying to negotiate what she can tolerate in herself, not just in him, but herself.
How do you think things are going to progress given that Kim isn't in Jimmy's future?
I don't know if she is or isn't. They haven't told me. I don't think that they have in permanent marker decided. I think they have ideas and don't want me to really hang my hat on one until it's certain. I love the writers have always abided by the idea of character should dictate plot, but not plot dictate character. So they're not going to decide I'm going to do something regardless of where the story is going to go. That being said, they have these end points they have to get to that are in "Breaking Bad" and rules they have to abide by. I don't know where she is and I no longer think her being dead is the most tragic end.
Her going down some path of her own or of his and ending up in legal trouble herself, or becoming someone she didn't want to become, or having to leave or stay. There's a lot of story opportunities at this point that I think all are valid. I know that her being with Jimmy probably seems the most difficult to wrap your head around, but I don't fully understand who Kim will be by the time Jimmy becomes Saul. I have to remind myself as an actor that Kim didn't see 'Breaking Bad.'
When small things happen this season where Jimmy is acting strangely her perspective is he is grieving the loss of his brother, who literally burned himself alive. So there's a wide verse of behavior that's acceptable under those circumstances. People are like she could never deal with this man that orders hits on people, but she doesn't know and that's not where we're at right now. I have to stay present in the story that I'm in at all times.
You went into the show knowing that Kim isn't in the 'Breaking Bad' universe, so is that freeing to you as an actor that you can craft this character that only exists in 'Better Call Saul?'
In a way yeah, because I'm not doing the heavy lifting that Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo and Bob are doing — the deductive logic of where did you come from? They're doing such tremendous nuanced work to show these arcs of these people. While it can be scary to go, 'Oh I have no idea what my fate is,' it is fun creating something from scratch and finding a way to fit a jigsaw puzzle piece that you didn't know was there or looking for.
The most recent episode featured a powerful outburst of anger from Kim toward her former boss Howard Hamlin. Acting-wise, is it harder to be loud and furious, or to see them quietly? There are a lot of moments in the show that aren't spoken, but just as powerful I think.
Yes, and Kim usually favors the latter. She's definitely more prone to suppress and not even out of a position weakness, but often out of a position of power to give people just enough rope to hang themselves and give them nothing, no reaction and no engaging. I have huge challenging passages of choosing not to speak and the audience is my closest confidant in many of these scenes and they would understand internally what's going on even when she won't give it up to other people. They're both challenging.
That scene with Hamlin with Michelle MacLaren directing was written by Tom Schnauz and Michelle was wonderful to have discussion with about what does this look like when it says on paper that Kim loses it. She's absolutely unleashed. We finally got to this place where she really does lose it and the laundry list of stuff that's she had no outlet for to talk about starting two seasons ago, her dealings with Chuck, how she feels Howard and Chuck treated her and her career, how she feels that Chuck has shaped Jimmy in a negative way and the love and support she feels for Jimmy.
I felt like in this scene it was about things she would have liked to of said to Chuck. The rawness people responded to in the scene came out of was Michelle and I agree that if Kim were to lose it in a professional setting, I think she would be frightened by her own emotions. So we played the scene with the constant attempt to not let go of yourself. What happens is a very physical conflict in your body. You are trying to sound normal and composed because you don't want to show someone that you've become emotional. I don't think Kim enjoyed giving that up to Howard, but she can't stop herself. It's just too much.
What I find so interesting about your character is that she's changed a lot since the season, which isn't something we see a lot with TV characters. Usually, we see their circumstances or situations change, but not the character. Can you talk about that aspect of Kim and what's that's like as an actress to play her?
It's thrilling. It's so rare and it's something you don't even realize it's happening until you're in it. It's like, 'Wow you can actually grow and make cumulative character changes from their circumstances and their ability to deal with certain situations.' You're absolutely right, shows presume a comfort level with the audience and they need their characters to be the same familiar person they met last week and that their circumstances change, but you can bank on your character that you've known behaving the exactly the same way. On this show, I find it's often very funny and it's often very scary to have people actually act like humans because they respond in ways you never saw coming. In retrospect, it makes total sense and feel organic, it's just a hard left or a hard right from what you might think the scene would normally dictate. To me, it makes these characters very human and I know my entire cast and I have discussed the thrilling challenge there is to that--to figure out your subtext and your winding path. You have to ask yourself who is my character today because it's not the same as yesterday.
I know you said you don't know how Kim is going to leave Jimmy's world, or if she's even going to, but as an actress is it helpful for you to know her future or is it better for you to be surprised?
It's an interesting question because if you were actually going to be killed off, as soon as they decided this was a definite decision they would tell you. They've said they would give me, and any character, the dignity and respect if you were going to be written off the show. But I have thought to myself, would you want to know, or even if it's not death or written off or riding off into the sunset, would you want to know your fate? It's quite the philosophical question.
Would you want to know this is where you end up? It's strange when I contemplate that maybe I wouldn't. Coming from theatre, when you look at a play, one of the first things I do is if my character ends at point B, by deductive logic I decide what's the most interesting place that A can be. Here I don't know what B is and what I've found that I didn't know is the joy of the risk to just be present--to just play the episodes as they come. We also don't even have the full season. When I'm doing episode seven, I don't know what's happening in episode eight.
There's a tightrope feeling that's actually exhilarating between you and the writers, your scene partners and director. It's just constant suspension of just the right now. You see these little nuance shifts that we all play in the scenes that go back to what you were talking about--characters that are extremely human in their ability to react differently than you expected or to find themselves incapable of reacting. For the first time, I was playing scenes where Kim's not sure of why she's reacting the way she's reacting and that's because I don't know what's going to happen.
I think this makes the characters more accessible and Vince and Peter assume a very high intelligence of our fans. We're instructed to keep that in mind as actors, and we all feel that anyways, but that's present when we're performing as well. When you're writing that our characters are processing things in the moment, we don't know the end result and neither does the audience. There's a degree that it makes the characters more accessible because we're experiencing things with you. There's also a respect for the fans that we aren't ahead of you. It's never condescending. You're figuring it out with us. Sometimes it is confusing and strange and they trust our audiences enjoy that and enjoy having to figure things out.
'Breaking Bad' had a five-season run, although the last season was split in half. 'Better Call Saul' has already been renewed for a fifth season, so are there plans to stop at five or are there plans to continue the show? What are your thoughts?
I don't know. I know there are all sorts of discussions like is five going to be a split like "Breaking Bad" or will there be five and six because technically 'Breaking Bad' did have a five and a six, will it be a shorter season, will it be a longer season? I've heard as many theories and I don't know the answer. They're still finishing dotting all the i's and crossing off the t's for the post episode 10 of season four. The writer's room hasn't assembled yet for season five. I'm sure Peter's [Gould] head would actually pop off if we asked him to tell us what season five is going to look like right now. I don't think it's possible for him to do more than what he's already doing so I don't know and I'm not going to ask him right now.
Because there are multiple storylines on the show, and many characters never crossover between them, are there actors on 'Better Call Saul' you never see except when you watch the finished episode on TV? Which of those characters would you most like to be in a scene with?
No, I've been to set multiple times to watch other characters for stories I'm not in. I like watching their work. It's a great joy to see these people do their work and I've been around, hung out and watched them all. There are actors, every single actor on the show would be a joy to work with. As Kim, I'm not so sure because I don't know if it would go well. I know Jonathan Banks and I desperately want a scene together and we laugh because both of our characters are fairly reticent to chitchat. I'm pretty sure it would be a staring contest in a bar. I'm not sure how much talking would happen, but he would be fun. I could see a world where they would meet and have to negotiate what their possible relationship could be.