On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, actor Michael McKean stopped by the studio to talk about what he’s been up to. He is playing Chuck McGill on AMC’s hit show “Better Call Saul” and starring opposite either Laura Linney or Cynthia Nixon on Broadway in “The Little Foxes.” But you might know him better as David St. Hubbins of “This Is Spinal Tap” or Mr. Green of “Clue.”
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at the link above, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me. It’s part of the Vox Media Podcast Network. I’m here with Michael McKean, who is on his day off, and I’m very excited he came and blessed us with his presence. Thanks, Michael.
Michael McKean: Thank you. You’re just down the block from me.
I’m glad I could make it convenient. We’re here in the Digital Media Bar studio with old vinyl records.
That makes it sound like a ranch. Bar studio.
Everyone here, in this room, is excited to see you. In case people don’t know who you are, let’s explain. You’re on television right now, you’re in theater. Long career in movies. You star in “Better Call Saul,” which is on the air now.
I am in that show. That is correct.
You’re in a Broadway show called “Little Foxes.”
I am in “Little Foxes” at the Friedman, yeah.
You’ve been in many movies.
One of which everyone knows, “This is Spinal Tap.” Many other Christopher Guest movies, a season of “Saturday Night Live.” We’re not going to do the entire Wikipedia or entire IMDb.
Just to set context here.
Okay. And “Clue.”
“Clue.” Obviously, “Clue.” Let’s do an hour on “Clue.”
Most obviously, “Clue.” “Clue” was a big flop when it came out, but it became a ... It’s a movie that almost everyone references with me, now, when I run into people.
Oh my god.
Is it a millennial thing?
There are Cluesies, yeah.
Okay, I’m unaware. So that will be a second episode of this podcast. For this one, I’m not exactly sure when this is going to air, but I know that I just saw the last episode that aired of “Better Call Saul.” “Chicanery” is the name of the episode. This is the big Michael McKean episode.
This is the episode where Michael McKean got no naps at all.
I don’t want to spoil it. It’s a weird thing to do, for 2017, because people are watching on demand, but this is a courtroom episode. Not technically a courtroom, essentially a courtroom. You make a reference to it, saying, “This is not Perry Mason,” but it’s kind of Perry Mason. You’ve been doing this show now three seasons. I assume this is sort of the big episode for you.
Well, yeah. It’s funny, because when you do this job ... The last three years, I have made a 10-hour movie each year. That’s how they feel to me, because there’s a nice stretch of time between the shooting.
I kind of know what went on in Season One, and I know what went on in Season Two. I’m not really sure what went on in Season Three, because I’ve only seen three episodes. I’m way behind in my viewing. I haven’t caught up, as they say.
But they show you the scripts for the season, right?
Oh, I know essentially what happens. I even know what happens in the 10th episode.
Oh, I want to hear about that.
No, you don’t.
Okay. Don’t spoil it. When they bring this to you, they say, “Here you go.” Do you say, “Oh, this is what I’ve been working for for three years. I gotta chew everything now.”
I have found, things rise and diverge. As long as everything makes sense, I don’t think of it in terms of, “Oh, here’s a big episode for me.” I just know, like I say, I’m not going to get a lot of days off here to cruise around the malls of Albuquerque.
You’ve been acting for many years.
When you see the script for something like this, in advance, do you go, “Oh, I know this is going to work,” or do you think, “I don’t know how it’s going to work until we’re done.”
No, because it’s, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, which I am, it’s about the process. It really is. I know it’s going to be a long week and I’m going to have a lot to do. I think I know what needs to be done and as things continue, and as I work toe to toe with whoever, with Bob, or Rhea Seehorn, or John Getz, who’s one of our guests in that particular episode, just day by day, you say, “Well, I think we got one. I think we got a good day in. Tomorrow, we’ll continue.” Because there was so much dialogue in that scene, in that long, long scene, that was the kind of work it was.
Do you lie down and have a breather after filming something like that, or do you ... Because at the pace of TV, you just gotta go back and do it.
Yeah. I’m not a great sleeper anyway. I can have a real long day, I can have a 14-hour day, of intense work and then get home and it’s just me and TCM on into the night.
It’s a little frustrating to not be able to talk about it the way I want to be able to talk about it.
We were talking, before we started taping, that you’re not very interested in the mechanics of how this stuff gets to people.
Well, how it’s sold to people.
How it’s sold, yeah. So this is airing on conventional TV. It’s not like Netflix, where they’re dropping all 10 episodes at once, but I think the way a lot of people consume TV these days is there’s not an expectation that you’re going to watch it week to week. I watched the last four episodes in the week, in part because I was going to see you. I love the show, but in other circumstances, I might have waited six months, or more, to catch up on the whole season. Does that matter to you, how people consume this, when they consume it?
No. It can’t, because I’m working on Chuck McGill. I’m not working on anybody else. They don’t even exist in Chuck McGill’s world.
Because it’s filmed ... Because it’s set 10 years ago.
Yeah, because it’s make believe.
Because it’s pretend. Thank you. So you’re not thinking about whether or not someone’s going to consume this in a year.
No. It’s kind of not my department. And if they do ... Listen, I’ve had ... I’m running into people now who say they just started watching the show and they’re really digging it. They’ll watch two or three at a time. They’re enjoying it and that’s fine with me. I kind of watch week to week. Like I told you, I’m a little bit behind now. I’ve only seen the first three episodes.
I watched all five now. They’re good. You should keep going.
All right, I will. Yeah, no, no, I will. It’s just my wife and I have been in two separate places and we like to watch together or watch with the girls.
Do you ever do the thing where you watch the episode, but you don’t want to tell your spouse, and then you pretend you haven’t seen it?
No, not with my spouse, I haven’t.
There’s probably some term for it. Yeah.
No. My wife is on ... It was on “Halt and Catch Fire.” We watched the first two episodes. She said, “I’m in the third one.” I said, “Well, let’s watch the third one,” and she said, “No, I don’t think I want to see it.” She’s very strange like that.
She’s very specific.
No, yeah. It’s like she just ... It’s very odd.
“Breaking Bad” was one of these shows that I think, at least in telling of it, caught on after it had aired, when it was on Netflix and when it was on demand.
Did you watch it that way? “Better Call Saul” is the prequel to “Breaking Bad,” but if you didn’t know that, you’re probably not listening to this episode.
I did. I started watching "Breaking Bad" and really like it a lot. Then I had a job and I was staying in a place, I was subletting, and I couldn’t record anything there, so I was sunk. I happened to have a conversation with Vince Gilligan and he said, “No, I’ll send you some ...” Gotta do your Vince Gilligan. “I’ll send you some episodes. I’ll send some DVDs.”
So he sent me some DVDs and I got caught up that way. Then, whenever that would happen ... I fell out of the viewing after a while, but I ... Boy, when they started appearing on Netflix, I said, “Yeah, I’m going to go back to the beginning.” I went back and I watched on a binge and caught up, and then I was watching week to week.
Your preference, would you rather something unfold week to week, or do you want to binge?
Depends on what it is, really. There’s this great British show called “Happy Valley,” which is a British crime show.
It’s one of their genres.
Yeah, and it’s ... There’s two episodes. They’ve shot another one and we haven’t seen it yet, but Annette and I really got into, “Oh, let’s do another one. Let’s put another one on.” We really like that. It kind of gangs up on you, so then, after you watch three of them, you go, “Holy hell.” You really kind of take a breather there. So it depends on what it is, really.
A little more business. I think you already told me you’re not really interested in ... Or you don’t even know ... I’m assuming, because we’re halfway through the third season and this is the upfront season right now, as we’re speaking, everyone’s telling advertisers, “You gotta come sign up for our shows next fall,” but AMC has not told you whether the show’s coming back?
I don’t hear anything, officially, and if I ...
Your publicist here, Courtney, who works at AMC, has got a smirk.
See, no. No. That’s her “I don’t know any more than you do, Michael” smirk.
Oh, not a smirk, okay.
More of a smurf than a smirk, actually.
But I’m assuming you’d like to come back. It’s a good gig, right, as these gigs go?
I like working with Vince and Peter. I like working with Bob Odenkirk. I’ve had a lovely time and que sera, sera.
If you ... stage, movies, TV: Do you have a preference for any of them?
I’m having more fun onstage now than anywhere else. Again, it’s a special gig, because we have Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon in there.
This is in “Little Foxes.”
“Little Foxes.” They’re alternating roles, so it’s a historical thing. It’s happened before. There have been actors who’ve alternated in roles. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller did it, with “Frankenstein,” as kind of a two-person ...
“True West.” I saw.
Exactly, yeah. With John and Phil Hoffman. But it’s always men. We can’t find anywhere where it’s referenced that women have been alternating like that. It keeps us on our toes.
So it’s novelty for you.
Yeah. Yeah, and they’re two amazing actresses and the rest of the cast is a lot of fun. We’ve all become really close.
What’s your sense of a New York theater audience in 2017? Do you think it’s different than it used to be?
Well, they’re spending more money.
They’re richer, or they have more disposable income?
We had a prop newspaper that we were using in the rehearsal hall and it was made up of chunks of old New York Times stuff. Mimeographed, or not ... Whatever you call it. Just printed up. It was from 1967, when I was here. I was going to school here in New York City. There was a story on the Arts page that they were raising the minimum price on tickets to see “Fiddler on the Roof,” the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with Zero Mostel, they were raising it to $6.95.
The cheapest seat had now gone up like 50 cents and everyone was going, “Oh.” That’s kind of ... It’s a different era.
They have more money. Do you have a sense because they’re watching Netflix or looking at Snapchat on their phone, or any of the modern distractions, that the audience that comes to a theater has a different expectation about what that should be?
No, I don’t think so, in our case. I did “Hairspray” for six months, right after Harvey Fierstein, and I went back periodically because friends of mine would be in the show and I’d go and see them. I saw George Wendt do it. It was like toward the end of the run. George Wendt to play Edna.
I was surrounded by people who had seen the movie, who were talking loudly to one another during dialogue, during musical numbers and everything, about how different than the movie it was, and I wanted to kill them all. I wanted to firebomb the auditorium. It’s sort of like, that’s not what you do at the theater. You’re supposed to ...
But it’s what they did.
Well, that’s what they did in that case. I guess it’s just a matter of who are you appealing to?
I saw “Hamilton.” The audience was very respectful, but it was very much a communal thing. It was fairly early on in the run, but clearly, there were people who had gone multiple times and were singing. It was a play, but it was also a concert.
I saw “Rent” the last week of its New York run.
So that’s a different thing, too, right?
Well, it was ... Yeah. It was like “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” It was like everybody was singing along, everybody was dancing in the aisles, mimicking the dance and things.
But you get what it is, and that’s fine.
Yeah. It was fine until the intermission and then I went home.
Oh, yeah. We were seeing it for a reason. My wife was doing a play at Playwrights Horizon, which referenced the show, so we went to see it and it was not my cup of tea.
If you go see Michael McKean in “Little Foxes,” running through July ...
July 2nd, yeah.
Pay attention, stay quiet.
You can do what you want.
Don’t speak up.
No, just ... Yeah, shut the hell up.
Shut the hell up.
Turn your phone off. We do occasionally get a phone, but they’ve been really good. The matinee audiences have been amazing. I don’t know whether it’s just because the play is ... They think the play is going to be an old-fashioned play, and it is ... It’s a 1939 play, but it’s also red hot, emotionally. I just think people are gripped by it and they’re being really good. We haven’t had too many phones and very few heart attacks.
So, if you guys are listening to this ...
Why am I laughing at heart attacks?
If you guys are listening to this, do not check your phone. We don’t want you skipping past the messages from our fine advertisers. We’ll be back in a minute. We’re going to talk about “Clue” for another half hour. See you in a minute.
We’re back here with Michael McKean for part two “Clue” talk. That joke gets funnier each time I make it.
I bet you there’s a website or two that are just “Clue” websites. Just about the movie.
I believe you.
BuzzFeed had an enormous article, it was half the size of War and Peace, about this movie. Mainly, it was about how puzzled Jonathan Lynn, the director of “Clue,” is that this flop has become the most famous thing that he’s done. He did “My Cousin Vinnie.” He did a lot of big hit movies. He doesn’t get it.
When did you become aware that “Clue” had a second life?
Late ’80s, when it started being a big home video thing. I was getting recognized a lot by kids. It’s just continued. People grew up on it. It’s a good rainy day movie.
In my world, when I think of Michael McKean movies that were not successful in the theater and then had a huge second life, I think of “Spinal Tap,” which I actually did see in the movie theater.
What part of the world?
My mom took me, and I remember the clerk, or whoever takes tickets, said, “You sure you want to go to this? No one wants to see this. There’s a Conan movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘Conan’ movie. You could go see that instead.” We went. I think about half the jokes were over my head. Loved it, and obviously have loved it ever since. When did you figure out that that thing was picking up, post movie, post theatrical release?
That film came out in ’48 ... Came out in ’48. It was inspired by a sketch we did in 1948. Came out in ’84. It was a strange thing. It ran out of one theater in Boston for a year and it couldn’t open in Detroit. No one went to see it in Detroit. It was popular in LA. It was popular in New York. Chicago, we had a little audience.
But for the most part, it was not a big success. It was a low-budget movie. It didn’t have any huge stars in it. It was kind of, “Here. Drop your money down here. We’ll entertain you. You don’t know what we’re doing here, but we’re going to entertain you.”
It just took on its second life, I think, largely because a lot of rock-and-roll people started talking about it.
When did you start hearing this movie we made a couple years ago that no one went to see, it turns out that so-and-so likes it and ...
We started hearing that right away, but that didn’t really turn into numbers until it became apparent that a lot of music people had it on their buses and felt referenced by it and warmed to it.
So this movie set the template for lots of these mockumentaries, many of which are made by Christopher Guest. The way they’re almost always described is, these are mostly improvised, not scripted, and then you guys do this brilliant, sort of on-the-spot stuff, which is great. I was Googling around and saw a 20-minute demo you guys had made a couple years earlier. I was really surprised, because so many of those scenes are in the actual movie. So you went back and remade them with the same dialogue?
It was more like this 20-minute version was a demo of the process. We didn’t want to write a screenplay ... Someone had given us some money to write a screenplay. Not a ton, but it was an experiment. We were with a company. They were actually going to do this film, but we said rather than write a screenplay, we want to show you what we want to do. So we made this 20-minute thing, all improvised, with five songs, I think, and a couple of big gags that we ...
You have Harry Shearer walking through the ...
The metal detector. Yeah, yeah, exactly. We had Richard Belzer instead of Paul Shaffer. It was just who was available to work for free during an actor’s strike, or a writer’s strike, something. Yeah, it was funny. What we wound up with was a sales tool that got us in the door at Embassy Pictures and that’s who made the film.
Do you think about ... I always like to bring things to 2017. Do you think ... What happens if you wanted to make that movie today? Is it much easier, because you just take an iPhone and scrap together ... You don’t need a script at all. Well, you need a script, right?
But, presumably, you need fewer resources to make that movie, but it may not get any distribution at all.
That’s quite possible. It is different now. But then again, 50 years ago or so, Paul Simon went into a studio and made “The Boxer” and took forever and spent a lot of money on this one single and then put it out. They did very well and, of course, the next album that came out was a big hit and all that stuff. That’s how it worked then. You can’t spend $100,000, or whatever it would be in the equivalent money, now, on one single.
Unless you wanted to incinerate that cash.
Yeah. Unless you’re Paul Simon, or someone who’s just got as much money as they want and feel like playing the guitar. It’s a different world.
Can we play a second of one of your most famous scenes?
David: I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. All right? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.
Ian: I really think you’re just making much too big a thing out of it.
Derek: Making a big thing out of it would have been a good idea.
Ian: Nigel gave me a drawing that said eighteen inches. All right?
David: I know he did, and that’s what I’m talking about.
Ian: Whether he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem. I do what I’m told.
David: But you’re not as confused as him, are you? I mean, it’s not your job to be as confused as Nigel is.
Ian: It’s my job to do what I’m asked to do by the creative element of this band. And that’s what I did. Come on.
Jeanine: The audience were laughing.
Ian: So it became a comedy number.
David: Yes it did! Yes it fucking well did, and it was not pleasant to be part of the comedy onstage. Backstage, perhaps, it was very amusing.
Derek: Maybe we just fix the choreography. Keep the dwarf clear.
David: What do you mean?
Derek: So they won’t trod upon it.
People must recite this stuff to you daily, right?
I’m not going to play it for you, instead. You ever tire of people quoting Stonehenge, or anything else, to you?
No, not really.
I didn’t even set that up, because I know that everyone listening to that understands what they just heard. How much of that dialog do you recall being improvised?
All of it.
All of it.
All of it.
From ground one. They just said, “The bit is …”
Yeah, it’s this situation. This is ... We had this debacle with the mini Stonehenge and this was a band meeting. It was the band meeting that resulted in the firing of Ian Faith, their manager. So we knew that’s what had to happen. They knew that this had come to a boil onstage. This is just post climax and that’s what happens in the scene, so, action.
How many versions of that do you think you record?
Probably three, and it was mainly for camera position, because we were doing it like it was a handheld documentary.
So it’s not ... One of the things I remember hearing about “Spinal Tap” is that you guys had recorded hundreds and hundreds of hours and the two-and-a-half we’ve seen is whittled down. I’m assuming there’s many, many other takes, but you’re saying, no, you guys just know what you’re doing.
Yeah, because Job One was to put everything into it, to make an assemblage that had a chronological version, a told story, using everything. But there was tons of stuff that just wasn’t going to go in there.
Cherie Currie of The Runaways was an actual character in the movie. She’s the singer of one of the bands that opens for them on the road and bangs everybody in our band, except the drummer. It was one of those things that if you have a little bit of it, you gotta have more, so they had to pare it back that way. We wound up with a 90-minute movie, which is a good length for a comedy, in everyone’s opinion, really.
It seems like you guys created that genre of comedy and mockumentary. Was there something you were modeling it after?
We saw a lot of the real thing. We watched the Led Zeppelin movie. We watched a couple of Grateful Dead documentaries. “Last Waltz,” of course, which is kind of where we got to the presence of Rob Reiner’s character having a little screen time. That was kind of lifted from Marty Scorsese in “Last Waltz.” We never quite got to the levels of pretension that the Led Zeppelin movie had, with knights and wizards and shit.
Well, we gave it a shot.
It’s this fake documentary style, where you’re not winking at the camera, you’re playing it straight. The characters are ridiculous, but they don’t think they’re ridiculous.
Well, that’s what a farce is.
Yeah, but now it’s ... That style of movie, it’s very much associated with Christopher Guest, but other folks do it. I don’t think I’d seen that before. I think most people hadn’t.
Not really. I worked with Gena Rowlands shortly after we did “Spinal Tap” and she was married to John Cassavetes, of course. I talked to her. I was on the set one day and I said, “Has John ever seen this movie, ‘This is Spinal Tap’?” She said, “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.” So I said, “Well, I’d really love for him ... Just to get his reaction,” because he did improvise his films in rehearsal and then nailed them down in a script. So, in a sense, the cast cooked it down and it became codified on the page.
Mike Leigh works in a similar way in a lot of what he does, and then he does a polish. I think Cassavetes did as well.
Not as funny.
Well, no, no. But, anyway, it was nice to hear that he really liked it a lot and was flattered that I had made that connection with his work.
And then, Christopher Guest has gone on to make a bunch of these in that style. You’re in the repertoire. Did you know that was going to be a thing he was going to do? Did he say, “I want to make a bunch more like this?”
No. I went to see “Guffman.” Like I say, I had a couple of songs in it. I thought it was an amazing movie. It’s one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen. Then, he said, “I’m going to do one about dogs,” and that sounded like fun. He said, “I’m going to pair you and Michael Higgins up.”
I had not yet met Michael at the time. We had a hilarious lunch. We said, “Okay, we got this.” He’s the balloon, I’m the string. That’s our relationship. It really became very easy, because for one thing, he’s got a great improvisational ear and brain. It was a lot of fun.
I was just listening to him complain, on Marc Maron’s podcast, that’s now what he’s pigeonholed with. I thought that seems like a pretty good pigeonhole to be in.
Well, it’s different though, if you get cast in something where they want you to be the Yoda.
Do the same thing.
No, where they want you to help everyone else do it. It’s like if your brother’s an alcoholic and your parents call you to help straighten him out because you don’t drink anymore. It’s kind of like that. I can’t wave a wand and make this guy improvise better. All I can say is, “Relax. If you don’t have anything to say, shut the fuck up.” That’s the technique, by the way, boiled down.
Wait. I missed that. Repeat the technique?
If you don’t have anything to say, shut the fuck up. But, relax, and listen, and if something does occur to you, by all means ... But there is different levels.
Catherine O’Hara’s one of the most amazing, wonderful actress, but she’s an amazing improviser. She really is. She stays right on the crest of the wave. Jennifer Coolidge, of course. Fred Willard, like I say. It’s like a window into another universe with Fred.
So you didn’t do the last one of these. It was on Netflix.
“The Mascots.” Yes. It’s very, very funny.
But if Christopher Guest calls you and says, “We’re doing another one” ...
Yeah. Sure. No reason not to. Listen, Chris and I have been friends for many decades. I’m not even going to tell you how many.
We can Wikipedia it.
Yes, you can.
We’re going to take another quick break here, so we’re going to hear from our sponsors.
I’m back here with Michael McKean. You guys are involved in this lawsuit that Harry Shearer started?
I can say no more.
You can say no more, but I want to ask you a question. Not about the lawsuit, but it is about the lawsuit. Maybe you’ll say no more for that one, too. One of the reasons that people don’t end up suing giant media conglomerates for back pay, essentially, is they’re afraid that it’s going to hurt their career in some way. Did you consider that before you signed on?
Have you felt any effect since you signed on?
I didn’t even say I have signed on and now I’ve said too much.
I think I read a public statement ... All right. Anyone with access to a computer can figure this part out, the part that Michael McKean doesn’t want to talk about.
You could read a public statement that Comey was fired for something other than the Russian investigation. That’s a public statement.
Yeah, but listen, if Sarah Huckabee Sanders says it, it’s obviously true.
Oh, my lord.
Should we talk about “Saturday Night Live” for a minute?
Okay. I was on for a minute.
Yeah, a year.
Uh, yeah. A year. A season and change.
A season and change. Did you leave because you wanted to leave?
No, they cleaned house, but the main year I was on, it was ... Not all the elements were gelling. Let’s just put it that way. There was a guy who used to write a column for a New York newspaper and every Monday, he would say, “Take this show off the air. It’s terrible.” It was a little demoralizing.
This is one of the recurring stories about “Saturday Night Live,” is that every year, very often, it is declared dead.
Right. Every four or five years, yeah. It’s like, listen, there’s always time for another renaissance. I remember a few years back, when Taran Killam popped up and you go, “Okay. Now they got this guy.” This is a versatile guy. He’s naturally funny and totally committed to what he’s doing.
Whereas Chris Elliott, who was on the same year I was, it was not a marriage made in heaven. Chris is a very special talent and one of the funniest men, I think, in the world, and it just didn’t gel.
Was that one of the years that Lorne Michaels was not involved?
No, Lorne was there.
Lorne was there. He was there.
Absolutely. You bet, yeah.
So could you guys tell, when you get there that fall, that, “Oh, this is not gelling”?
No, no, no, you still ... You try.
You muddle through it.
You do what you can. A lot of it depends on who’s hosting and what that trend is like. When the season started, we had already signed — We. Like I was running the place. They had already signed David Duchovny to host later in the year and about half the people on the show had no idea who David Duchovny was. I was like, “‘X Files,’ man.”
Dude, get with it.
That’s like one of the best shows on TV. At the time, it was revolutionizing how TV looks. That was like, “Hey, let’s do a really great-looking movie every week.” That’s where I first met Vince. I did a couple ...
Do you consider yourself a professional observer of that show, having been on it?
No, no, and there are whole stretches that I have not seen. I haven’t seen every episode of the “X Files,” but it’s a great go-to show when I’m going, “What else is on?”
Wait, are we talking about “Saturday Night Live”?
No, I’m talking about “X Files.”
I was thinking about “Saturday Night Live.”
Having been on it, do you pay attention to how that season is doing?
Yeah, I watch. Listen, if there’s funny people on ... I remember the first time I saw Fred Armisen, I said, “Wow, okay, we’re thinking outside the box here. This guy is not like anything else.”
Do you ever trade notes with any of the cast that’s coming through? Or they don’t want to hear from you? Or vice versa.
No, it’s fun to run into people who have had experience on the show. But I was on 20 years ago. It’s just different now.
This year, because of Trump, and really because of Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy, it’s a very much more topical show, at least in parts of it, than I think it had been in the past.
That makes sense to you? It’s a good idea, or do you think it should be a little less on the nose.
Listen, what it should be is as funny as it can be. It’s like, beyond that ... And that’s mysterious. You don’t really know what’s going to work and you just give it a shot.
If you could pick any other show to work on besides “Better Call Saul,” what would you want to work on today?
Oh, god. I don’t know.
What do you like watching the most?
I like watching ... I just like stumbling upon things. Annette and I are kind of like that. She’ll flag one down and say, “Which ...” I’d be in New York and she’s back in LA, let’s say. She and one of the girls, one of our daughters, would watch something. “Oh, you’re going to dig this. You’re going to like this.” I give everything a shot. I try never to decide what I’m going to like.
What’s stored up in your Netflix queue, or the equivalent of it?
I have a last episode of “Bloodline,” last episode of Season Two of “Bloodline,” to watch, which I like very much.
I didn’t try the second season because I didn’t finish the first season. My wife liked it. I assumed everyone was dead at the end of the first season.
Okay. They found some stragglers.
Ben Mendelsohn is, spoiler alert.
He’s the best.
He’s also in the second season a lot, because there’s a lot of flashback, a lot of stuff like that. He’s such a cool actor to watch, but the whole cast is great. It’s a really, really well cast show.
Back to “Better Call Saul,” just to wrap it all up, it’s a remarkable show for a bunch of reasons. One is the pace of some of the individual scenes, really slow. They’re great and I really like that I’m watching. It also strikes me that, “Wow, this is an extraordinary thing.” Do you guys talk about that, how deliberate ... I don’t know. You can find a lot of different adjectives for it, but it’s unlike almost anything else that’s on TV.
Well, we’ve seen a few episodes of this show, so we know sometimes, it won’t be choppy. We know that it won’t be choppy. We know that every scene plays out. You see a lot of shows, comedy and drama, where scenes don’t really end. Not just TV, movies as well. Scenes don’t really end. They’re short and they cut off and go to the next scene.
It’s not what Vince and Peter do, really. It’s not the way these shows are written. They like shows that concentrate on process. They like watching Jonathan Banks, for 20 minutes, not saying a word and setting up the sneaker gag. With something like that, it’s like, “What the hell is he doing?” Just watching it unfold like that is just inherently interesting.
There’s a movie called “Rififi.” Do you know this movie?
It’s a French crime thriller about these guys breaking into a safe, to steal diamonds or something. It’s been ... A lot of stuff has been lifted from it. It’s from the early ’50s, mid ’50s maybe. There’s a sequence in it that’s 25 minutes with no dialogue. It’s just the process of getting through these ...
I get process and I get no dialog.
And I can think of some of my favorite episodes of “Breaking Bad” watching Jonathan Banks go around and set up stuff. The first episode of this season is, a good portion of it, Jonathan Banks sitting in his house, waiting.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
He’s not ... The process is, he’s waiting. And you wait and you wait. I think, “Wow, this is something you can do when you’re really confident,” both in your filmmaking and the fact that you’re not going to get taken off the air.
Also, if you’ve got Jonathan Banks sitting in the middle of your shot, it’s already interesting. He’s one of those guys who’s like, the less he does, the more power he has. One of my favorite things ... Last season, I went out to dinner with Jonathan at one point, and he took a bite of his food and it wasn’t good. It just wasn’t good.
You don’t want to serve Jonathan Banks bad food.
No, and he just ... I can’t ... I’m on audio only here, so you have to just imagine if Jonathan Banks doesn’t like what you just put down in front of him. He’s going to give the waiter a look that is going ... He’s going to look at you so hard, your library card’s going to expire. It’s that thing. He’s so much ... He’s such ... He doesn’t like me to say this, but he’s a lovely guy. And he is America’s favorite badass.
He’s great. So are you guys conscious, like, “This is a cool thing we get to do? If we were doing this somewhere else, we couldn’t do this”?
Absolutely. That goes for ... This last episode I haven’t seen, but it was on last Monday, with all this courtroom stuff and all this high tension and concentration and everything. We don’t ever think about it while we’re doing it, because we’re too busy doing the acting part. But we also know that because it’s Vince and Peter in charge, and Melissa, and Nina, and our other producers, who are all just eagle eyes, we know it’s going to hit the air looking good and that they’re going to do what needs to be done.
I love the idea that almost everything we do winds up in the show. A lot of times, you’ll say, “Oh, we didn’t use that scene.” There’s very little extraneous. The writing is so good and the writing is done by people who know what they want to see. They hire the directors who will do that. We’ve got some wonderful directors.
Have you done anything with them where you said, “I don’t think this is going to work. I know you guys know what you’re doing, but this isn’t going to pan out”?
No. No. I pretty much understood. There were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure quite what they were doing, but as long as I ... You know what? It doesn’t matter so much if I don’t know what I’m doing. It matters if Chuck doesn’t know what he’s doing, and I never had any questions about that. It was real pliable, because they were very straight with me.
I’m dying to ask you a question about that show, but I really don’t want to spoil it, so we’re going to do that part off air and we’ll leave it there. Go watch “Better Call Saul.” Go see “Little Foxes.” We don’t care when you binge. Happy you listened.
You can’t binge theater. Remember that, folks.
Yeah, you gotta see it live.
Don’t even try it.
It’s terrible if you go there and it’s ...
Although Rosie O’Donnell came and saw two in one day. She wanted to see both ladies.
Oh, she ... So you can binge, if you’re Rosie.
You can. Well, sure. Like I say, $6.95 used to be a top ticket price.
Things change, things are the same. Michael, you’re great. Thanks for coming.
Thanks so much.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.