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Interview with ‘Better Call Saul’ ‘Waterworks’ Vince Gilligan – The Hollywood Reporter

[This story contains spoilers for “Waterworks,” the Aug. 8 episode of Better Call Saul.]

All the stars of It’s better to call Saul directors are coming to an end, with Vince Gilligan stepping behind the camera for the last time to direct this week’s penultimate episode, which follows veterans Thomas Schnauz, Michelle MacLaren and Michael Morris. There’s only one episode left, and it’s written and directed by Gilligan’s longtime and co-creator Saul presenter Peter Gould.

Unsurprisingly, this week Saul is a pivotal episode, whirling around both time and geography, introducing Kim Wexler’s life as a Florida bangs brunette and pushing things into the series’ epilogue with a confession surprising reception and a surprising discovery, featuring guest star Carol Burnett.

Gilligan is a mighty busy man, but he phoned for a quick chat that only covered some key details of the episode including the ending scene, Kim’s airport shuttle breakdown, and what it means. of him taking this final step as director and screenwriter in the universe he created with Break about 15 years ago.

I watched the final scene of the episode a few times to see if in addition to letting go of LifeAlert’s arms, Gene could also press the button, essentially spinning himself in. It looks like Marion does the push, but what’s your approach that gives some ambiguity to the final seconds?

We’ve deviated from the script a bit. The script was written by me, I basically had in mind that she went a further distance and he was further away than her, but then we were on the sound stage and I realized that it is smaller than what I imagined. as I am writing this. There’s not much room to do backups. So I said, “Does it work the way it’s written?” Carol and Bob were very helpful – “What if we tried this? What if we tried that? “So we created it a bit at the end.

For me, she definitely presses the button, but he can stop her. For me, ambiguity or question… Well, the first question that comes to mind when you’re watching is why did he let her push the button? But the deeper question, it seems to me, is how the hell did he get this far in the first place? How did he go so completely from being a good guy to a bad guy that he threatened this sweet girl in the first place? How can you be mean to Carol Burnett, for God’s sake? How can anyone do that?

And for me, I guess in that moment, the clouds parted and he realized, “What am I doing? How in the world have I come this far? ” And he let her go. If the fever hadn’t gotten there and the madness hadn’t subsided, he could have stopped her, but maybe in that moment a little bit of old Jimmy came back. Me too. I hope so. hey, it’s like a breath of fresh air, like a sea breeze here at the end when he didn’t kill a nice old lady, instead he decided, “Hey, let me find some measure of who I am, because I’ve been completely crazy here for the past few episodes.”

When I spoke with Michelle MacLaren, she enthusiastically talked about the awe she felt working with Carol Burnett. What is your own experience with Carol?

I was lucky. My wife Holly and I got to know Carol and her husband Brian [Miller] many years. We met in large part because I was happy to find out that she is a fan of Break, and I just couldn’t believe it when I heard that. Who in my generation didn’t grow up watching Carol Burnett? And it’s just been an absolute pleasure to have known her over the years. But then to be writing for her and directing her, I couldn’t have been luckier! I understood what Michelle meant when she said those things.

She’s just a friend of the crew, Carol is. Her presence is like this wonderful gift. It was a very difficult season to shoot for a number of reasons, some of which were beyond our control – many of which were not within our control – but the crew was exhausted. strength. Then suddenly one day, Carol Burnett showed up in episode 10, and that made everyone very happy. Her presence makes everyone happy. Sometimes, a couple of times a week, someone would ask her to make Tarzan scream and everyone would take out their phones and she would take a sip of water to prepare, and she would scream like Tarzan and everyone will raise a cup. It was just an absolute pleasure and honor to work with her. I have had a lot of luck in my career. I’ve had a lot of big events happen to me, but this is one of the highlights you can count on.

This is a show that has always intentionally lacked a clear moral hero. It’s all about ambiguity and gloom, even in the people we’re supposed to be looking for. When in the process of charting the final stretch of the final season, did you realize that you needed a fully sympathetic character like Marion, and when you realized that, you decided that you both want and can get Carol?

You do everything right and get started. The plotting of these episodes are tiny little steps in the writers’ room. This last season, the writers’ room was virtual, but it was just as tough. You go down one road, and then you come back from where you were headed and you go down another.

Dan, the short answer is I don’t remember exactly when we came up with anything! It’s the pain of giving birth! But it seemed true and plot-interesting that the guy who looked like he was going to be in big trouble with Gene Takavic turned out to be no big deal, but then that guy’s mother became, according to many way, the character is more interesting and definitely a more formidable character. It just feels right.

So when we found a character of a certain age, we said to ourselves, “Who should we put in this role?” I was friends with Carol and I said, “Guys, should I ask Carol?” And everyone just said, “Oh my God! You think we can get her?” And luckily she said yes. Everyone was so excited when the idea of ​​Carol Burnett came up.

Skip to Kim in this episode, starting with the shuttle ride. She goes through the entire series’ worth of emotional journey in just one shot. Why does that matter in a shot and how many times have you made poor Rhea Seehorn do it?

Well, I always wanted it to be just a single shot and it was really a single shot. It’s a rental car shuttle, currently in use in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you’re visiting the beautiful Duke City and you rent a car, the odds of you taking that bus are probably pretty good. We drove around in a big loop half a mile or a mile long. We did that twice. We did it twice. I feel so guilty asking Rhea to do it twice, but I’m so neurotic and I never want to do something just once.

We could have used it the first time around, because she was excellent from the start. I think we used the second shot, but we had four cameras locked in this moving bus and I was squeezed between them to the side, just three or four feet away from her. She just does it and she’s amazing, but it’s just one shot, just two different angles of the same shot.

Yeah, that’s the kind of scene as a director, you don’t want to break it up into pieces and make the bad actor do it over and over. You want to have that as a person. And, like I said, we had it as one and we had it the first time, but I only had to ask for it again.

As you and cinematographer Paul Donachie approach Kim’s life in Florida, the contrast you want to draw between Kim’s Florida nightmare and Gene’s Omaha nightmare, two different versions of black purgatory What is this white?

Interesting. We were limited by having to be in Albuquerque the entire time, even though Albuquerque was, it turned out, twice as much as Omaha, Nebraska and Merritt Island, Florida and Berlin, Germany and many others. It doubles up extremely well! In the Florida case, we shot at a house right in the middle of Albuquerque, New Mexico where our amazing digital effects house, Rodeo, created amazing digital blur paintings all around. .

Its look, we tried to make it look as hot as possible. Paul is a bit handicapped by the fact that all of this, Omaha, Florida, and Albuquerque in this episode, all have to be in black and white. I love black and white. So funny. Be careful what you wish for. I’ve always wanted to shoot in black and white my entire professional career. The last time I photographed in black and white was at NYU Film School. Be careful what you want, because you want some color in Florida! But then again, I guess you’re not, because her life is purposefully bland, so black and white Florida is probably the right way to go after all.

Paul used some great tricks to make it look hot. Some moments are just an overexposure, with highlights getting a little hotter, things like that. It was fun to play with the different looks of all these places.

To wrap up, I talked to Peter Gould about how, because of the pandemic, you could have been much more ready this season, especially in the writers’ room, than originally intended. . With a little distance from the end of production, is it important to you that you can take that extra time to say goodbye to the world you’ve created?

It is just wonderful. It’s not necessary for anyone other than me, but selfishly it’s just a great, great show and I want to be in it, not just in the final season, but throughout. If I could clone myself while I’m doing El Caminothe movie we did, if I could just clone myself and stay inside the whole process It’s better to call Saul, I will do that. And again, not because it is necessary! Peter did a great job without me, as evidenced by the show just keeps getting better and better even after I’m gone. That’s a bit of a wake-up call for me! [laughs.]

I don’t have to be there for anyone but me, but man! I had a great time last season. I didn’t know that it was important to me. It is just fun. I don’t feel motivated to do that. I just want to do it for fun and because I love the show. I’m a huge fan of the show and I’ve been very fortunate to have directed three episodes in one season. I’ve never done that before. The most I’ve done in any TV season is two-episode live. Getting to direct three of them and write one? It was the first episode of TV that I wrote all by myself since the last episode of Break. This is my first time not writing as shared credit with others.

No need for that and I wouldn’t even call it bragging rights or anything. I just realized it was fun to just get one for myself, but even that is misleading when I say that. I don’t have one for myself, because all these episodes are broken by the writers. It is very much a group set. You’re never really alone when it comes to writing one of these or when you’re directing it, which makes you even more awesome when it’s a collaborative effort.

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