In episode three of Better Call Saul, “Nacho,” after whom the episode is named, we get to see more of Michael Mando — the aforementioned Nacho. Mando chatted with Rotten Tomatoes about shooting the impressive desert scene in “Mijo,” fitting Better Call Saul into the Breaking Bad universe, and taking long bike rides with Bob Odenkirk. [Warning: Spoilers for the first three episodes within!]
Sarah Ricard for Rotten Tomatoes: I spoke with Raymond Cruz last week and he was telling me how he had to keep his role a secret which got me thinking about how difficult it must be for people on this show because you can’t really tell anybody what’s going on.
Michael Mando: I think you’re absolutely right. I’ll give you an example. When Tuco was on the show, anything that would sort of hint that it was Tuco was blacked out, and when I read the scripts for the first time, I did not know it was Tuco. I found out either the night before or during the scene that this was actually Raymond Cruz who was going to play Tuco. So, you know, you kind of show up in the desert and you’re a little nervous to ask why these things are blacked out, and you see this wonderful character staring back at you in the desert, and you realize, ‘Well, it’s all business from now on!”
RT: That scene with all of the negotiating in the desert is our first real introduction to Nacho and it was so intense for viewers at home. What was it like to shoot that scene?
MM: I have to give a very warm shout-out to Michelle MacLaren and to commend her for shooting this scene. It is a whole act by itself and she had to shoot it in two days. We were chasing the sun and we had to constantly move around so that the shadows would be in the right place. It was an epic shoot for her and she is such a consummate professional. During all that chaos, she was patient and generous to work with me to help me find and get to the heart of who Nacho is and to try a few different alternatives. I really hope you print this. I can’t thank her enough for laying those first bricks with me. I’m so grateful for her and for Bob [Odenkirk] and for Raymond. I had just met Bob. It was my first time speaking to him in my life and he was tied up on his knees and the sun was in his face and there were sandstorms hitting us. And during all of that, Michelle and Bob and I really worked on getting to the heart of this character that no one’s ever seen before. It was such an endearing experience to work with Michelle MacLaren, Bob Odenkirk, and genius writers like Vince GIlligan and Peter Gould.
RT: Bob Odenkirk was known for years for his far-out comedy like Mr. Show, but had you ever seen him do comedy before? Or was Breaking Bad your first introduction to him?
MM: You know what’s funny? I actually grew up sort of everywhere, so my understanding and familiarity with popular culture is very limited, so I wasn’t familiar with Bob’s work outside of Breaking Bad. I was lucky to get to know him as a person first and then to get to know his work. I immediately felt a warmth with him and I immediately loved him right away. Bob became a mentor to me in many ways — a show business big brother to me — and he was responsible for me moving to L.A. He took me on these long extensive bike rides that bordered the New Mexican desert and we had these amazing talks about philosophy and comedy and books and acting and business and love and family life and I have to say that I’ve been so grateful to work with people that I not only respect very much, but I admire and call friends.
RT: I can hear the gratitude in your voice. Now, I knew you from Orphan Black as Vic, who — even though he was a scary thug — was a very funny character. I’m wondering: are we going to see more of that humor that we know you’re capable of, or is Nacho going to be mostly menacing?
MM: I think what’s interesting about Nacho is that he’s extremely ambitious. He’s very intelligent and he also has a moral code. He almost has an honor among thieves. Within that moral code, there’s this rational justification for violence and I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg for who Nacho is. He’s a guy who holds his cards extremely close to his chest. It’s like going on a first date with him and he won’t tell you anything about himself… I truly hope that Peter and Vince, as they start layering up the onion, will get to the heart of who this guy is, and I think that beneath all that, there is compassion and humor and… vulnerability that is reserved for people he is extremely close to. I don’t think he’s let anybody in that close yet.
RT: It occurred to me that this show, like Breaking Bad, is a story about transformation and it looks as though Nacho’s character is going to play in that transformation from Jimmy to Saul. Can you talk a little about how these characters are going to inform one another?
MM: Absolutely.. I can tell that, being a player, my personal feeling is that Jimmy and Nacho are the kids in the sandbox that nobody’s playing with. Nobody’s playing with Jimmy because nobody thinks Jimmy is good enough. And nobody’s playing with Nacho because their parents told them not to… I could be wrong, but I just feel that when they interact with each other there’s this really profound sense of wanting more than the cards they’ve been dealt that somehow binds them together. It’s almost like looking into someone’s eyes and thinking, ‘This person is going to understand the depths at which I’m finding myself.’ This feeling of drowning and no one helping you out. They are two people who want more.
RT: Better Call Saul is self-standing but obviously has its Breaking Bad rewards. How do you relate these two shows to each other?
MM: I feel like Breaking Bad is this beautiful monument that’s standing alone and it’s completely self-sufficient and that, within that same land, they’re building this other monument, and these two monuments have tunnels that are intertwined under the earth, they have bridges, they maybe have common rooms, and at the end of the day — hopefully, this show goes on for a couple of years — you will go by a corner on a street and there will be this gigantic monument that is the Breaking Bad building and the Better Call Saul building and, if ever it’s freezing outside, you can walk in both buildings and never get out.