‘Better Call Saul’ Boss on What Sidelined a Key Cast Member During Season 4, and Why the Show Is Closer to the End

Read on: IndieWire

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 4 Episode 10, “Winner.”]

One of the best achievements of “Better Call Saul” Season 4 was tricking viewers into believing that Gus Fring could run. The reason this wasn’t easy was that Giancarlo Esposito — who has played the ruthless and enigmatic crime boss since Season 3 of “Breaking Bad” — broke multiple weight-bearing bones in his ankle halfway through the production of Season 4, rendering the actor incapable of walking for several episodes.

“It was a hurdle,” co-creator Peter Gould told IndieWire. “Most of all, it was a hurdle for Giancarlo, because he’s a wonderful guy and he should never be injured.”

Esposito is fine now, Gould said, but when the injury occurred several months ago, “once we knew that he was going to be okay, the question was how can we shoot the scenes with Gus Fring, when Giancarlo was really unable to walk at that point in his recovery?”

It didn’t require too much in the way of rewriting. Instead, some creative staging was involved. “There’s one scene in Episode 9 where we had him walking through Los Pollos Hermanos and, as aired, he sort of goes from one position to the other,” Gould said. “Our directors were very, very clever about using body doubles for a few moments.”

That included what Gould called “a Texas swap” in the season finale, which was a source of pride for the production team, because “on camera, without cutting, you switch between a double and the actual actor. The scene between Giancarlo and David Costabile in the super lab, it looks as if he’s walked from point A to point B, but he never did. You start off on Giancarlo, and then you pan over with David Costabile, and then Giancarlo appears in the foreground but in fact it’s actually not Giancarlo, it’s Giancarlo’s double. It’s pretty terrific.”

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Giancarlo Esposito in “Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures

Another moment faked on camera: Lalo (Tony Dalton) is stalking Gus’s operation, and through the Salamanca operative’s binoculars, you see Gus running to an SUV. “Of course that’s not Giancarlo,” Gould said. He praised Esposito for his “great attitude. He is such a trooper. His performance is wonderful and layered, as always. He just didn’t do as much walking.”

On a meta level, it makes sense that this sort of smoke and mirrors would be happening behind the scenes, given the character at the center of the story: “Better Call Saul” continues to track the evolution (or devolution) of Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) into the ever-scheming Saul Goodwin of “Breaking Bad.”

Season 4 brings us ever closer to the full-blown existence of Saul, as Jimmy declares, immediately after getting back his license to practice law, that he’ll no longer be using his real name. “It’s Saul Goodman!” he declares with a smile, stunning his long-time partner Kim (Rhea Seehorn), who’s just come face to face with the extent of his ability to inveigle, and doesn’t like it.

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Rhea Seehorn in “Better Call Saul”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures

“I’m very excited to see what he’s going to do next,” Gould said of what’s coming for the character, “because he has this burst of energy and it’s almost a little bit manic and whenever he’s like that, really interesting things happen very soon. But at the same time, I’m also a little bit sad because he’s going to a place that I don’t think is good for him, as a person, and I think he’s losing, or at least hiding some of his humanity.” He also expressed concern about Kim Wexler’s character. “I don’t think Kim is through with Jimmy at this point,” Gould said, “but I’m worried about what happens to her if she sticks with him as he goes down the path that he’s headed.”

Kim has become a fan favorite (one who fans are very worried about), which makes Gould happy to hear. “Kim is a character who didn’t exist on ‘Breaking Bad,’ and when we started off, everything we did and everything we still do is in relation to ‘Breaking Bad,'” he said. “We started off in the shadow of ‘Breaking Bad.’ Now we’re an extension or a variation, but it’s in the same universe. So the fact that people are so attached to Kim is really meaningful.”

He recalled a recent moment in the writers room for the show. “I said, ‘In some ways, Kim Wexler is this show’s Jesse Pinkman,'” he said. “In that Jesse, for all his faults, never lost his humanity, and as the show went on I think a lot of us felt more worried about Jesse than Walt. Walt, at certain points, felt like a lost cause as a human being. I mean, he was fascinating, you could not take your eyes off him and you were always wondering how far he was going to go to next. But mostly I was worried about Jesse and I think… in some ways the dynamic is very different, obviously. But I think there’s a little bit of that in this show.”

Speaking of innocents who suffer within this universe, Gould did promise that fans can expect to see more of Gayle (David Costabile), seen in the Season 4 finale excited about the possibilities of cooking in Gus’s half-finished lab.

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring, David Costabile as Gale Boetticher - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Giancarlo Esposito and David Costabile in “Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures

“Usually when we approach things, we try to think about what should happen in the story, and then find out if the performer’s available,” Gould said about the process of reuniting former cast members. “David has gone far out of his way to be a part of this show, and it’s so flattering that he does because he is a brilliant performer. And he and Giancarlo together are magic. Boy, I think we should see some more Gale, I really do.”

It’s a given that Jimmy will be back, of course, albeit using his new name in at least a professional capacity. What’s in a name, though? In 2017, as Season 3 was airing, IndieWire asked Gould what name the writers used in the writers’ room when referring to the main character of the show. “I remember in Season 1, when we were carding out the first few episodes, [co-creator Vince Gilligan] would write the cards,” he said at the time, “and at that point, the first episode or so, he was Saul.”

But that changed quickly over the course of Season 1, to the point where, during Season 3, Gould said that “I’m going to think of him as Jimmy for a long, long time.”

Now, as the writers’ room currently works to develop Season 5, that hasn’t changed — the name they use is still “Jimmy.” But after the events of Season 4, Gould said, “we have to do a lot of serious thinking in the writers’ room about what it means to be Saul Goodman. What is the essence of saying that this man is now Saul Goodman?”

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures

For Gould, what he thinks it means connects to “what he’s willing to do. Is he willing to hurt people and have people injured in various ways for his own well being and wealth? That’s the question, and I think the question is how far is Jimmy McGill willing to go to get what he wants? And if he’s willing to go to certain dark places, maybe that’s what makes him Saul Goodman.”

Gould admitted that when he and Gilligan began making the show, “we’ve been assuming that we would get to this point a lot sooner,” he said. “We knew, starting the show, that Jimmy McGill was eventually going to become Saul Goodman. I really didn’t think it was gonna take 35 episodes before he started using the name continuously, and then in Episode 40 he would say ‘I’m gonna practice law under this name.’ I would not have believed it would’ve taken so long, but the truth is the character just wasn’t ready. We had to experience all that we experienced to take Jimmy McGill up to this point.”

Here’s what matters, about Jimmy now being — at least in name — Saul Goodman: “I think it means we’re closer to the end of the story,” Gould said, “than we are to the beginning.”

“Better Call Saul” has been renewed for a fifth season by AMC.