A long career in sketch comedy taught Bob Odenkirk to live in the moment.
AMC's Better Call Saul, which begins its third season at 10 p.m. Monday, didn't change that.
"It is the job to be present in the moment and not think about where you go, where you end up," Odenkirk said when I asked him, during an AMC press session at the Television Critics Association's winter meetings, about juggling the time lines of the once and future Saul.
(First, though, the Mr. Show co-creator joked, "I’m not very smart, and that helps me a lot. A brain injury is a great thing to an actor. I wasn’t just dropped on my head as a child. I was thrown on my head.")
Odenkirk has turned down the chance to see outlines for future episodes. On the job, he tries to ignore what many fans of the Breaking Bad prequel can't help but think about: That Jimmy McGill, the endearing but ethically challenged lawyer Odenkirk plays in Better Call Saul, will inevitably become Bad's Saul Goodman, who put the criminal in criminal lawyer.
Waiting even farther down the road: a post-Breaking Bad life, so far glimpsed only in black and white, in which Odenkirk's character works at a Cinnabon in Omaha under the name Gene.
Approached by a few reporters after the session, Odenkirk returned to my question.
"There’s so many things I want to say when I get that question about being present. The experience of this is really kind of different and unique to me, in my life. It’s almost like you were doing your journalism, and somebody saw one review of one thing you did, a play, and went, ‘Would you mind becoming the main theater critic at the New York Times?’ And now suddenly you’re at every Broadway show," he said.
After so many years in comedy, "it’s a weird transformation to be allowed, and encouraged, to make. And I’m thankful for it, and still surprised by it.”
He has mixed feelings about Jimmy's transformation.
“Sometimes, when I’m getting into the hair and the suits, I’m like, ‘Huh. This guy still?’ ” he said when another reporter asked him what it was like as a sketch performer to play one character for so long. “But this character’s changed so much. Jimmy McGill, while he’s Saul Goodman and you see the qualities of Saul in his arguing and his mental gymnastics, he’s a different guy...And he’s mutating. And I know for some people it’s gone slow. It’s speeding up now.”
A few weeks earlier, he’d read a scene “and called Peter [Gould, the show's co-creator] and said, ‘Well, I’m reading Saul now.’ And it wasn’t the whole episode, but this scene…that’s Saul,” he said.
“I feel bad to say goodbye to this guy, Jimmy, who I like so much," he said. "Saul, he’s a lonely, angry, selfish person.”
Odenkirk still has dreams for Gene of Omaha, though.
“I hope we get to see him reconstitute a life. Leave it to these guys [Gould and co-creator Vince Gilligan]; it’s their choice. But ... I don’t want him to end up a drone, unhappy with his life,” Odenkirk said.
“It would be a great counterpoint to Breaking Bad. We saw Walter White [Bryan Cranston] go downhill. It’d be great to see this character take the experience and life lessons he got and find more of a peace, or a better person he could be," he said. "I pitch that to them all the time."