Better Call Saul‘s Kim Wexler is one of the best characters on TV (past or present, male or female), bar none (don’t @ me). Last season of the hit show saw Kim (played by the award-worthy Rhea Seehorn) unravelling from exhaustion and then taking stock of her life following a self-inflicted car accident. In the fourth season (premiering tonight on AMC), she faces her own guilt and grief following the death of a major character (*spoilers ahead*).
In a phone interview, the intelligent and down-to-Earth Rhea Seehorn spoke to us about Comic-Con (from which she had just returned), Kim’s work ethic, directing, and working with Michael McKean.
Brief Take: How was your first Comic-Con experience? I have to say that I loved your red power suit. I want one in every colour!
Rhea Seehorn: It was such a great suit! It’s by Smythe. Comic-Con was incredible! I’d never been to any of those kinds of events. The only thing that I would do differently next time is that I’m going to bring a disguise just so I could walk around on the floor because I really wanted to actually see everybody. And I wish that I could have had a section of time to sign fans’ things because the fans were incredible! Unfortunately we were scheduled minute to minute to minute so we couldn’t stop along the way at all. But being there with the Breaking Bad reunion was awesome too. Anna Gunn I hadn’t gotten to meet yet and she was even more beautiful in person. She was so smart and I think her performance as Skylar is just one of the best I’ve ever seen on TV. I just love the fans and I try to stay active on social media too and be as accessible as I can to them.
Fans feel a great intimacy with my character, which has been so fun. The variety of people, men and women, it’s almost been surprising to me that every walk of life feel a connection with her. They love that she’s strong and they very much identify with someone trying to get ahead on their own. I think they respond well to what we very purposely set out to do – to show someone who’s really trying to get a foothold in the middle class and working very hard for themselves. Limiting her costumes, her jewelry, her hairstyle, the elements that are in her apartment, all of these things were by design. Some of the best comments I’ve ever gotten are from people who really love the basement scenes, where she’s highlighting things all night. There was that one beautiful montage with the Post-its. They love that somebody is actually working for themselves, you know what I mean?
BT: I find that in my discussions with people about Kim, they really respond to her work ethic. As women in particular, we’re conditioned to work hard, keep our noses down, don’t make waves, and we’ll eventually be rewarded. And yet, as Kim learns, and as many of us learn, that’s not always the case.
RH: Right. I had a man recently talk to me about that feeling of, for whatever reason, no matter what I do, there’s always this gate. There’s always this gated, upper echelon office that I’m not being let into, for whatever reason. Sometimes that’s access to education. I didn’t go to an Ivy league school myself and I think that sometimes people feel like the wealthy will just protect the wealthy. I think that’s part of Kim’s frustration as well. She continually is this very pragmatic, hardworking person, but at the same time has that idealism that there’s nothing you can’t work hard enough to get yourself out of or into, that I do think people still feel in their hearts – we all keep hanging onto that. I think that plus I play so many scenes where Kim chooses not to show her cards and it’s quite silent, and not letting people in on what she’s thinking. She’s the audience’s portal into the story and people feel very protective of her in this really wonderful way. Protective, not like a damsel in distress, protective in that she is their eyes and often their access point into the storylines. They can understand her point of view, and when she does try to help Jimmy it’s usually to help him be what he says he wants to be. But she doesn’t let go of her own dreams either! What I love is that it turns out that when you write multi dimensional female characters, not just ancillary, ones that have their own motivations and obstacles, you actually make everybody more interesting. [laughs] Who knew?! [laughs]
BT: I love that Kim and Jimmy’s dynamic has changed over the past few seasons and so much of that is conveyed through non verbal body language between you and Bob Odenkirk. In the first season you looked at him with such pride and adoration, for lack of a better word, but then last season and from the three episodes I’ve seen from this season, you look at him with skepticism and distrust. Can you talk a little about crafting that relationship over the years with Bob?
RS: I wouldn’t say that she looked at him with love in the beginning. I know the first scene in the parking garage where he’s essentially asking her to help him when he was upstairs in Hamelin’s office storming the gates and she says, “you know I can’t” and just leaves. I do think she always has boundaries, which I appreciate. But she does love him for who he is. Every time she’s supposedly, quote unquote lured into some of his antics, they’ve always written and allowed me to play that there’s sort of a lack of shock to it. It’s almost as though it’s a part of her history or past that she understands on some level. She has her own levels of complexity. With Jimmy, and with Bob playing him, certainly more and more, there are things that she finds questionable, especially as we’re heading towards the Breaking Bad world. I think they did a smart thing, in this season as well, in showing Kim’s difficulty with her own duplicitousness of what she really wants and how she defines herself. This upset has caused Kim and Jimmy to have scenes this season that are more intimate and honest than any other season and a real relationship. It was funny to me that they felt very dangerous. In the show that we’re in, two people sitting down talking quietly and honestly felt extremely dangerous. [laughs] But there were other times when they were two characters on two different planets sending out light signals and the other one just can’t see them, which is tragic.
BT: Speaking of tragic, Chuck’s death comes as a shocking blow to Kim and Jimmy in the first episode of this season. What was it like working with the incredible Michael McKean?
RS: He’s so nice. He’s such a consummate professional and you learn so much from being in scenes with him. I absolutely love acting with Michael and love him as a person as well. I’d worked with him before and I’m excited to work with him again. He’s great! Chuck was such a great character. Those who were personally and artistically, meaning within the show, you feel the absence of him, it’s quite weighty. [laughs] This monumental character who’s now gone, who some of us didn’t know so well, I mean as characters, and for others there was no love lost, for Jimmy especially, he has a horrific history with him. But Kim couldn’t stand him by the time he died and yet she felt guilt and she felt conflicted. It was an interesting time, grieving someone who met such a horrific end. You start to mythologize them and your anger dissipates into confusion and guilt, and also there’s a convenience in linking your failures to a thing or person and then that thing or person is removed and you don’t have that obstacle. You’re then bouncing around in your own skull and asking yourself some hard questions.
As a person he’s just a tremendous actor. I’ll never forget having the scene with him where she’s working all night, and the audience sees that, then she comes upstairs and Chuck is in his office at dawn, surprisingly, and the first thing that he says is “can you grab me some coffee?”, and she just stares at him. [laughs] But then the scene follows into her asking him “I want to know if I’m a pawn here”, because Jimmy keeps telling her “this is all a game”, as we talked about in the beginning of this conversation, this idea that there are so many forces at work here that have nothing to do with your actual ability, it’s frustrating and horrible. So she’s asking him that and instead he decides to respond with a monologue about how as children he couldn’t stand Jimmy and Jimmy stole money out of the till of his Dad’s store. It’s such a bizarre way to not answer Kim’s question! In some ways it’s sympathetic and sad, but in other ways it’s petty and ridiculous and it’s also horribly offensive and rude that you couldn’t even focus on Kim’s career long enough to answer the question. I mean is now really the time to give a monologue about yourself?! [laughs] And he’s doing the monologue over and over again, take after take, brilliantly so, slightly different each time, as a great performer would. Then he told me afterwards that it was one of his favourite scenes because he said “I couldn’t do it the way I planned on doing it in the hotel room”, which is always a gift, when your scene partner causes you to discover new things. He said he was totally expecting Kim to have a different reaction. He said “I don’t know why, I thought I could win her over”, but I would not give him anything. I think that’s very much like Kim – she just will not give you the pity party that you want and often won’t give people the audience they want. It made him alter the way he was doing his monologue and we had a blast. Kim had no lines, it was just his monologue, but it was still a scene.
BT: Speaking of phenomenal actors and fellow AMC family members, you were recently in the film I Hate Kids with Julie Ann Emery and now you’re set to appear in her directorial debut. How did that collaboration begin?
RS: I love her. Of course I knew her as Mrs. Kettleman first, one of the most beloved cuckoo pants characters ever on Better Call Saul. I just adored her and we became fast friends. She’s an incredibly talented, powerful, smart, generous, genuine and very funny woman who I just hit it off with right away. I can’t wait for her to direct me on In Other Words! We haven’t started yet but I look forward to that day. I shadowed Michael Slovis on directing Preacher in New Orleans and watched Julie Ann work for a couple of weeks there, as well as a few of the other characters. She then invited me to Habitat for Humanity, where she volunteers at all the time, and we actually framed walls, which is something I’d never done in my life but it was a blast! Now she’s off in Spain or Italy playing George Clooney’s wife in Catch-22. She’s a great woman to be around and I highly recommend working with and watching anything she does.
BT: Your short film that you co-directed and wrote, How Not To Buy A Couch, are there plans to bring it on the festival circuit?
RS: We are taking it around to film festivals! Anna Ramey, my co-director, and I are taking it around to film festivals right now. And I’m in post right now on my second short that I directed solo and I just started editing that. It’s very cool. I love it! I will try to get it posted somewhere soon so that the fans can take a look.
Better Call Saul returns for a fourth season tonight at 9pm ET on AMC