Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul producer Peter Gould answers our questions - and yours
There's no point in explaining how huge Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are, we know how the shows are unprecedented in their success.
What's more interesting is how a team of people keep creating hit episodes - Breaking Bad had 62 of the beautiful buggers. And how important it is to recognise the writers in the process as significant as the cast, if not more so.
Speaking from his patio at Toluca Lake in the San Fernando Valley of LA on a 'very sunny, charming afternoon', writer, director and producer Peter Gould chatted about everything from the early days of Breaking Bad to what it feels like being partly responsible for crystal meth being implanted in the Smithsonian.
And more importantly, what's in store for Better Call Saul...
Did you ever imagine Breaking Bad to have such a profound effect on American Culture?
No, absolutely not. It seems a little bit unreal to me because we were doing the same job we were doing when people weren’t paying attention; sitting around a table with a bunch or writers working out the story, working on set with actors...it's all really the same but there’s now a wonderful feeling knowing people are watching and digging the show, but it still feels a little bit unreal.
For television, for the most part you don’t see your audience. Twitter is the best tool we have to know that people are watching and paying attention and caring.
How worried were you when it came to writing Better Call Saul, when you knew it was to be a spin-off to Breaking Bad?
Worried isn’t the word - I was terrified! Breaking Bad had exploded and gone beyond what any of us could have anticipated.
In the early seasons of Breaking Bad, I was the great optimist in the writers’ room, I’d say things like ‘there are going to be Walter White dolls y'know' but none of us really believed it. Everything beyond anything I predicted, it all actually happened, it’s winning the creative lottery. Part of it is sheer luck as there’s a lot of wonderful, worthy shows out there that don’t get the same attention that we’ve had, but believe me we’re very, very grateful for it.
The idea of doing a spin-off with a very different kind of show - as we didn’t want to duplicate what we’d already done otherwise it can become a bit like navel-gazing which can be destructive - I was biting my nails when Better Call Saul came out. A part of it was personal because Breaking Bad was Vince Gilligan’s, it was his show and he ran it brilliantly, but of course Saul was a show we were doing together so if people didn’t like it, people were going to attribute that to me.
Describe the writing method for Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, did they differ much?
In the early days we had a lot different thoughts about what the show might be, but once we worked out the overall direction, the work flow was very similar to Breaking Bad. It’s a bunch of people sitting around a table banging their heads together eventually coming up with a very specific outline for the episode and the writer goes off and writes it.
The big difference for us is that we were very, very lucky to have continuity with writers who had worked on Breaking Bad, and we were also very lucky to have new writers, which changed the chemistry and it was one of the things that made it a different show.
JOE reader question: When you made season 1, did you have the ending (season 5) planned out?
— Justin Hardy 💙💛 (@Hardyboy79) November 12, 2015
I can honestly say no, Vince didn’t have one. We spent six years discussing how it should end and what the proper ending for it should be.
And how about Saul, do you know his fate?
I don’t want to give anything away but we have talked about where the show ends and our thinking has evolved a lot on that. When we started the show we had one ending in mind and now we have a different idea, because I think our understanding of the character is more nuanced than when we started.
You know what, Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill was smooth clay and now we see a lot of nipples in that clay, which have pointed towards a different conclusion. The goal is trying to tell a coherent story over the course over whatever number of hours it’s going to be….
Breaking Bad was 62 episodes in total, we’re trying to do that again but in a very different way.
JOE reader question: When you wrote the "Five-O" episode of Better Call Saul, did you know then you'd done one of the great TV episodes?
Hahahahaha! Of course it was Gordon Smith’s first produced episode of television. He had been Vince’s assistant on Breaking Bad that he had become a writer on Better Call Saul.
We spent time talking to the characters; how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman, how Jimmy McGill got to Albuquerque…likewise we spoke about Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and how he got there. We came up with these very elaborate back stories...we were very excited. There were scenes that were considered for that episode that maybe we’ll revisit later.
We just knew we were excited about it and hoping Jonathan would get recognition for it, and of course he got the Emmy nomination.
What advice can you give to aspiring writers?
I would say you need to write a lot of bad stuff before you write the good stuff. And getting actors to read your stuff aloud, you learn so much from that.
You always want to feel like you’re learning from the experiences you have. The individual piece of writing isn’t the goal, they’re the bridge to the next thing.
What does Bob Odenkirk smell like?
He smells like cinnamon and genius, he smells like talent.
Is there a story that sticks in your mind from Season 1 of Better Call Saul?
The very first day of being back in Albuquerque. I remember vividly we were shooting in the skate park and Bob had a monologue about Slippin' Jimmy which turned out to be even more important to the show than we knew.
We’d been thinking about the show for practically a year and I couldn’t tell if it was going to work - until that moment when I saw Bob in that crazy suit doing the monologue in 100 degree heat and all the Breaking Bad crew stood around me, I suddenly had this feeling in my gut that it was going to work. That is one of my fondest memories.
Is any of the show improvised?
There really isn’t a lot of improv on the show. We work really, really hard on the script and the cast respect that. I know there’s a lot of shows that it works really great but it isn’t a method we’ve used.
Our story is so detailed that if the actors start improvising, they end up taking it in a direction that doesn’t really add up to the story and lucky for us everybody understands that.
JOE reader question: Are Jesse Pinkman and Mr. White making a return for Better Call Saul season 2?
@JOE_co_uk are pinkman and mr. White making a return for better call saul season 2?
— 🄳an (@CruzCFC12) November 12, 2015
Wouldn’t that be great! Well, this week a lot of us were in Washington D.C, this was a very touching moment for us, the props from Breaking Bad were put into the collection of the Smithsonian so a lot of us gathered there.
Vince and I got to see Dean Norris, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston and it was a very moving ceremony and then we got to do a lot of drinking afterwards and I tell you, I’d love to see those guys on the show, so you never know…
It must be very surreal seeing the artefacts from your show in The National Museum of American History?
The little bags of blue meth in the same museum that had Abraham Lincoln’s inkwell, (laughing), I mean surreal is an overused term but this is definitely nothing like reality.
Which shows (other than your own) do you watch when you get home?
Haha. I tend to watch comedies after a day of making drama. I love comedy. I've been watching old episodes of Alan Partridge’s Knowing Me, Knowing You, Amy Schumer, Fargo, Halt and Catch Fire and Silicone Valley, they are the shows I love.