Rhea Seehorn on becoming the beating heart of Better Call Saul

The actor talks about her long overdue Emmy nomination, what she took away from Kim Wexler's character arc over six seasons, and pulling double duty as director

Rhea Seehorn on becoming the beating heart of Better Call Saul
Rhea Seehorn directing Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul’s “Hit And Run” Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC

It took several years, but Emmy-nominee Rhea Seehorn has a nice ring to it, right? The actor was a standout for all six seasons of AMC’s recently wrapped Better Call Saul, bringing to life various shades of Kim Wexler with unflinching nuance (and an immaculate ponytail, of course). Her character goes from an ambitious rookie lawyer in Albuquerque to a strategic public defender to eventually living a dull life and working at a sprinkler company in Florida.

“What happens to Kim?” was the audience’s biggest concern for years before the show—a prequel to Breaking Bad, a series in which she gets no mention—came to a close. It’s partly because with each passing season, Seehorn’s contributions became more invaluable as Kim progresses from being Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) confidante to Better Call Saul’s beating heart.

The A.V. Club spoke to Seehorn about how she approached Kim’s momentous arc in season six, what it was like to direct herself in “Hit And Run,” and why she chose to submit herself in the supporting Emmy category over the lead.

The A.V. Club: How do you feel about saying goodbye to Better Call Saul and Kim Wexler?

Rhea Seehorn: I feel so proud of what we made and the ending Peter Gould wrote, so that tempers me wishing we dragged it out for four more seasons. I’m sad to see that story be over. I’ll miss playing Kim and working with Bob Odenkirk in that capacity. All of us hope to be working together on different projects; this applies to the writers, directors, and crew. We intend to find ways to work together again. But as for this story, it’s hard to let go of it after all this time because I love everything about it.

AVC: How did you all decide where Kim ends up in the flash forward and how different was it to play her in the penultimate episode, “Waterworks?”

RS: It was a very difficult episode. Peter, Vince, and I had lengthy conversations about who is this new person. She’s not in hiding from the law, she’s still using her name, and Francesca can look her up. But she’s changed her appearance and lifestyle drastically. We thought more about how she’s a shell of a person; she doesn’t want to be seen anymore. Kim wants to disappear. On an emotional level, it’s almost like seeing her interview with Schweikart and Cokely for the job she turned down, and they ask her why she left her small town. She simply says, “I wanted more.” That’s all she’s able to articulate. It’s an Icarus tale where she thinks, “How dare she ever fly that close to the sun?” She doesn’t deserve anything.

Additionally, she’s trying to do penance and ensure she’s not responsible for another innocent person’s death again. That’s the extreme version of what’s going through her mind. She doesn’t even trust herself with what ice cream cake to bring to someone’s birthday party now. At the same time, it’s not new to her. She has been doing it for all the Breaking Bad years, so we had to discuss if she’s actually suppressing being the Kim Wexler we knew, or is she content? Would you call it being happy or just floating down the river? We chose the latter. She’s not happy but has resigned herself to a numbness.

AVC: Kim has tremendous character development over six seasons. But when we first meet her, there’s no way of knowing she’ll evolve into the show’s heart. What were your first impressions of her and how did they evolve over the years?

RS: My first impression of Kim was that she was somebody who we don’t know exactly where she came from, but she rose up in the mailroom and she started her whole life over. I always thought she left something on purpose to reinvent herself. Her vice grip on wanting to be a good person and trying to color within the lines while being attracted to other people and the part of herself made me think she came from some kind of chaos. And, of course, later we found out her mother was an alcoholic. They had never told me all this. I think she probably was around scammers and other things early on and learned she’ll be the person who has to take care of herself. That remained true for the whole series. She goes through a lot of character development, and I was so thankful to be able to do that because not all shows allow that to happen. They also let things come up about her that you find out in organic ways.

For me, what always remained true is Kim had her own agency. I know that was important to Peter too. Her with Jimmy is more real because she’s there by choice. She does not need to be there; she wants to be there. She continually fought against people telling her what she is or isn’t, what she’s capable of or isn’t, and whether or not somebody is bad for her or not. She rebelled against that, in the end, petulantly and too far, but she also offered others around her the same thing. It’s what I loved about her relationship with Jimmy. She tried to enable the thing he said he wants to be and try to help him not be in pain. I do think she is trying to help him be the true him without pain. Even though some people’s takeaway might be that he was trying to make her proud of him, she always was proud of the real him. She mourned and grieved what other people made him feel about himself.

AVC: You really see Kim in control and at her cunning best in the first half of season six. What was your approach for getting into her shoes for these seven episodes when she’s determined to scam Howard?

RS: We’ve seen Kim have her agency all the way back when she’s trying to get her own clients and telling Jimmy, “I save me. You don’t save me.” The reason I bring that up is because for the season six episodes you mention, the work I needed to do was understand that Kim is beginning to act rashly. It’s unlike her. She has such control over how she logics things out. She’s an unemotional person when it comes to problem-solving. It’s an antithesis of Jimmy. If anything, those gender stereotypes are reversed for the two of them. Once she starts insisting upon the scam against Howard, she has her own agency, but we’ve taken what was a character asset and made it a character flaw.

The work I did was figure out how to progress down that rabbit hole of somebody who has begun to not look at the full picture, the collateral damage, and the full consequences of her actions. It’s extreme compartmentalizing and believing in the Machiavellian tasks she’s doing. And at other times, understanding she’s hurting someone and thinking, “It’s fine, he needs to be knocked down a peg” and being cruel about it. When Howard comes over to the apartment in “Plan And Execution,” she’s quite smug. I needed to handle that change incrementally. I just tried to increase her impulsiveness. The subtext we saw for so long, where you’d see her brooding over decisions she had to make, and sometimes being at odds with what she’s showing everybody, started to condense and be less than because she was acting without thinking about it. She’d implode if she sat with what she was doing long enough. And it’s exactly what she was forced to do after Howard’s death.

AVC: You directed “Hit And Run” (season six, episode four). What was that experience like, especially directing yourself because Kim has a major arc in it?

RS: Some people asked me after the episode came out, “Wow, you really wanted to direct yourself in some heavy scenes?” But I didn’t choose the episode. What directors are available when is a huge jigsaw puzzle for any episodic series. So I got the episode I got and thought the same thing about Kim’s major scenes. Peter Gould and everyone else on the show set up an infrastructure to make it possible for me to do this and to set me up for success. Everything from giving me the script [before] the fully polished one was ready, so I could prep as an actor and get that done and learn all the lines. We also had some locations thing to solve. We would also shoot out of sequence, which meant I would direct for two days and then have two days off. They really set up a system where I could take care of technical things.

It’s hard to direct anything episodic, no matter what. Directing a show like Better Call Saul is not a beginner director’s show. I had no business doing it. [Laughs] If you’re not in the industry, you don’t necessarily realize how much prep goes into directing an episode. And I was also shooting scenes, so there was a lot of having to figure out, “Okay, when is Rhea available to do the fitting for Kim and when is she available to look at the fitting for the people she’s directing?” It was a dance. I couldn’t wish for a better support system that wanted me to not fail and protect that it was my episode.

This is the first year Better Call Saul had alternating directors of photography, which is a big deal. My director of photography, Paul Donachie, was invaluable. We had a producing director for the first time, the wonderful Michael Morris, who has directed multiple episodes of the show. He totally respects and understands how I approach my work, like what shades I’m looking for from Kim or why this scene needs to help be a cog in the wheel for XYZ story. Also my first assistant director, Angie Meyer, was pivotal. And it was her first season with us. In the end, the most important thing to me was to do everything I could so that when I sit down in the scene with an actor, they only get me playing Kim Wexler. It’s unfair for them to feel like only the director is watching them.

AVC: “Hit And Run” also got you the long overdue Emmy nomination. It’s a common sentiment online, including at The A.V. Club, that you were snubbed for the past five seasons. What was seeing all those reactions like?

RS: Some of the reactions were funny. Of course, the awards are not supposed to be everything. They’re not always a meritocracy. People who are great don’t always get them, or people you didn’t think were great do. I’ve never seen anybody nominated in my category and thought, “That’s ridiculous!” The snub thing is weird because who were you replacing if you were snubbed, right? There’s just a lot of great work out there. You do get hopeful. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wondered what it would be like to get nominated. And then the press, critics, and fans start also saying they’re waiting for the 7 a.m. announcement on nomination day. Then you don’t get it, so you just say, “Okay, guess I’ll go back to making my oatmeal now.” So you sort of let it go. It became a dance of being afraid of being hopeful, but the letters of love for my performances that were coming in without even getting nominated felt amazing. I was overjoyed this year, but I was touched by the outpouring of other people being so excited. I never thought it would be a public sigh of relief.

AVC: Another common sentiment is that you should be in the Outstanding Lead category and not Supporting. It might have to do with the dynamics of how the Emmys work, but had you considered submitting for that instead?

RS: Yeah, people should know it is my decision. I know people think, “How dare they not call her the lead of Better Call Saul?” or think it’s sexist or it’s politics. It’s nothing of the sort. I chose—and so did all the male supporting actors—from the very beginning to identify as supporting of the Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Gene Takovic story. I understand that in the end, I ended up being the woman who had the most screen time of any other woman on the show, and I often had A stories when supporting actors usually have B stories. I could sit there and do the math on the number of hours and say I should be in the lead, or I could say I’m the female lead, but I chose to identify in support of what is ultimately a Saul Goodman origin story. For me, it doesn’t belittle or diminish the work I was doing in any way. I didn’t want to shift it when I started getting more screen time. I’m not ancillary to his story, but I never was, even when I had much less screen time. As we just said, Kim has her own agency. They wrote a character who isn’t just reactionary to Jimmy’s life. People are mistaken if they think that’s what supporting actors mean.

AVC: At this summer’s Television Critics Association panel for Better Call Saul, you joked that Bob is jealous of how people take Kim’s side over Jimmy’s. It’s kind of true that the audience often took sides even though they were together for the most part. Why do you think that happened?

RS: [Laughs] To be very honest, it really was in jest. Bob and I joke about it a lot. His character constantly makes ridiculous errors of judgment, but when Kim made them, the response tended to be, “Well, she was pushed to the limit and she had to.” We had a good time with that. So often, people might dislike someone getting in the way of the protagonist, and I’m sure some people dislike Kim.

AVC: That seems impossible.

RS: Ha, I don’t know about that. but we just had fun with, “Well, how come her morally questionable decisions are not seen as a tragic downfall?” Ultimately they are, because look at what happened to her life.

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