INTERVIEW: Peter Gould (Better Call Saul)

Published in The Music (VIC, NSW) and on, Sept 2016

Better Call Saul was a terrifying leap for co-creator Peter Gould, who tells Daniel Cribb the show’s trajectory can still be overwhelming despite its acclaim.

The Breaking Bad finale truly cemented the series as one of the all-time greatest TV dramas, which is why following it up with an unexpected prequel headed by a comedy legend was a major risk for showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan. “We approached the beginning of this show with a lot of concern, fear and trepidation; a lot of sleepless nights,” Gould begins from Burbank, taking a break from outlining season three. “One of the questions that certainly occupies me is ‘will we be able to stick the landing the way we did on Breaking Bad?'”

Two seasons in and it’s certainly heading in that direction; leaving fans with a cliff-hanger that teases the introduction of more Breaking Bad characters next season (Gould wouldn’t reveal any information), but despite this, Better Call Saul has established its own voice over its 20 episodes to date and, at times, the viewer will forget they’re enthralled in a prequel. “We were aware that there are similarities and there are differences, and we tried very hard to define the differences from the beginning. We tried especially in the first season not to introduce too many characters we’d seen before in Breaking Bad,” Gould tells. “The first indication that the show was going to work was I started to get questions about characters who originated on Better Call Saul… I get just as many questions about Mr and Mrs Kettleman as I do, ‘When is Aaron Paul going appear? Is Jesse Pinkman going to show up suddenly?’ And that’s a wonderful thing.”

Although Bryan Cranston will return to the Breaking Bad universe next year to direct an episode of season three, it’s still unknown as to whether Walter White will resurface in front of the camera, and depending on how the story goes, White and Pinkman might not turn up at all. “Sometimes you can get dizzy by thinking too big,” he says of those cameos. “The truth is, we’re not going to bring any character into Better Call Saul – no matter how much we love them – unless it serves the story, and we’re trying to be as disciplined as we can be. Having said that, there’s been a lot of surprises for the audience and a lot of surprises for us.”

Part of the story’s diverse nature comes from placing comedy legend Bob Odenkirk at the helm, creating an interesting blend of drama and comedy that ebbs and flows to perfection. “Bob is our secret weapon,” Gould says. “We know that if we have a comedic scene that Bob is going to take it and run with it and bring an energy to it that I don’t think anyone else could.”

It seems the storyline to date has surprised the writers just as much as the viewers, with Gould admitting the show is taking a different path to how they initially intended. “When we started this, Vince and I both had in our heads that by the end of the first season, he’d be calling himself Saul Goodman – but the deeper we got into this, the more we fell in love with Jimmy McGill,” he admits.

“Jimmy McGill is good-hearted, he’s a fast talker, but he’s not quite the dark, criminal sleaze bag that Saul Goodman is, and because of that, the more we work on this, the more the show feels like a sort of minor-key tragedy.”

Working within the parameters set by the Saul Goodman we all know and love in Breaking Bad, there’s always a stark sadness surrounding the character of Jimmy McGill, knowing something could be lurking just around the corner, ready to crush his soul. With Odenkirk recently suggesting that season three will be about the loss of innocence, could the next chapter of the show see an introduction to Saul Goodman? “We’ll have to see – it’s a good theory,” he laughs. “Season three is a very different kettle of fish; it will kick off with a lot of momentum and it has a different feel about it.

“One of the things I love about this character is he always seems to bounce back – but the question is, can he bounce back from everything? Or is there something out there that is actually going to break him?”

Even though it’s a prequel and the introduction of Saul Goodman would be a logical place to end the series, there’s really no limit as to how long Better Call Saul could run. No matter which direction it goes, Gould and co are very aware of not overstaying their welcome. “It’s certainly something we talk about in the writers’ room all the time; the one thing we don’t want is to tread water.”

Season two of Better Call Saul is out now on DVD via Universal Sony Pictures. Stream seasons one and two via Stan.