After their “Better Call Saul” cameos were teased by the show’s co-creator Peter Gould before the start of the sixth and final season, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were finally back as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman Monday night.
The two Emmy winners reprised their roles for the first time on the “Breaking Bad” prequel, just a few years after they shared the screen briefly in “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.” After fans theorized about when Walt and Jesse would show up, they were introduced during a flashback to “Breaking Bad” Season 2 Episode 8, an episode titled “Better Call Saul,” which introduced Bob Odenkirk’s character.
That 2009 episode of “Breaking Bad” was also the first time we heard the names of the characters Lalo and Ignacio, but at the time they were just throwaway lines from Saul and never addressed again. Now, these lines have new meaning, as “Better Call Saul” has unraveled the lawyer’s messy involvement in the lives of Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) and Ignacio “Nacho” Varga (Michael Mando) throughout six seasons.
Thomas Schnauz, the writer and director of Monday night’s episode, revealed to Variety that there was never a concrete plan for Cranston and Paul to appear in “Better Call Saul,” but their schedules aligned during production for Season 6. He also explains why he didn’t have Jesse say “bitch,” teases a new persona for Saul in the final two episodes and defends why they didn’t do much de-aging on Walt and Jesse, who are reprising a “Breaking Bad” episode shot 13 years ago. (Paul, now 42, jumps back into the role of recent high-schooler Jesse.)
What was it like having Cranston and Paul back in character in the RV?
It was a crazy, time-warp flashback. Everybody slipped back into it like we were doing it all along. Bryan and Aaron got right back in the roles with very little direction needed. Before they got to Albuquerque, they asked for a review of where the characters’ heads were in this timeframe. They went through a whole range of emotions over several seasons, and this is very specific to Season 2. I told them it was set in the world of Season 2 Episode 8 between the kidnapping and their Jimmy In-‘N-Out (Jimmy Daniels) scheme.
Bryan and Aaron were only available together at a certain time. We had this very small window, so even though this was Episode 11, I had to write it way earlier, and we shot it while Vince [Gilligan] was shooting Episode 2. Our team recreated the RV set and put it on stage on airbags so it wouldn’t move.
Was there always a plan for Cranston and Paul to appear in “Better Call Saul”?
We didn’t really have a plan. We didn’t know for sure if we were going to bring back Walt and Jesse. Part of the way of making ourselves feel better if we hadn’t done it was telling ourselves, “Walt came back in ‘El Camino’ with Jesse. That exists, so if we don’t get to it in ‘Better Call Saul,’ that’s OK.” But I think we all desperately wanted them to come back at some point for some reason. We didn’t know how or why, but finally when we got talking about these later episodes, we thought we should. The parallels between what Saul Goodman was going through when he chased after Walter White and when Gene is chasing after these scams he’s doing in Omaha, it felt like a good time to flashback to those scenes and address the Lalo question.
Were there any conversations about de-aging them?
There’s only so much you can do before it starts looking ridiculous. We don’t do a ton of de-aging on the show. There’s a little bit of stuff on the guys’ faces to take a few lines out here and there, but other than that, Aaron is not going to look like an 18-year-old kid or however old Jesse was during this time period. Giancarlo [Esposito] and Jonathan [Banks], as you’re watching “Better Call Saul” you kind of forget how they looked back then, until you start cutting scenes back and forth and you realize, “Jonathan, who I would’ve imagined looks very much the same as he did in ‘Breaking Bad,’ looks very different in the scenes back to back.” I do sort of dread people cutting this scene into the world of “Breaking Bad” and trying to match the way they look then and now, but it’s not something you can worry too much about. It is what it is. We’re telling a story and you can roll with it or you start picking at: “He looks much older than he did in the original scene.” We decided to go for it, and I’m glad we did.
We got Jesse calling Walt a “dick” in the episode. Were there any other classic Jesse lines you wanted to include?
The temptation is to get him to say “bitch.” How do we do a Jesse scene without saying “bitch”? It just felt like as I was writing the scene — it felt forced. I was glad to get “dick” in there, but “bitch” felt like a bridge too far.
Francesca said the DEA found Jesse’s car near the border. Was that Todd’s El Camino or Skinny Pete’s Ford Thunderbird?
That was Skinny Pete’s car that Badger drove off and left for him to throw the scent off. That’s the car they found, and [the cops] think he went to Mexico. Alaska is where he actually is.
So things are still good for Jesse?
Things are still good for Jesse as of the episode you’re watching.
Did you shoot any actual dialogue for the scene with Saul calling about Kim in the phone booth?
Yes, there’s a scene written. What he actually says, it will be addressed in a future episode. We’ll know some more details of what’s spoken about. Because we had just gotten a very long phone call with Francesca, we decided, “Do we want to do another phone call?” Then we started talking about how it’d be interesting to not hear the details of whatever news he heard about Kim and leave that for later. Something upset him — we don’t know exactly what — but we’re going to see how he deals with that pain.
As Gene, Saul really resembles Walter White with the mustache. How intentional was it to have him channel Walt in that way?
We didn’t intentionally try to draw any visual parallels between how he and Walt looked. The Gene look was established in the teaser for Episode 1 [of “Better Call Saul”], that’s just what it was. It’s funny that he does give a Walt vibe with the way he looks. Some of the lines I was writing, they echo Walt trying to stay in control. Two guys struggling to maintain power after these threats — you couldn’t help but have parallels between them.
We see so many different versions of Saul throughout the show: Jimmy, Gene and now Victor. Will we get a new persona of Saul in the final episodes?
I’m hopefully not giving anything away, but I feel like we see a whole new character at some point. There’s a version in a future episode where Bob walks on screen and it looks different than we’ve ever seen him before — and it’s great.
This interview has been edited and condensed.