Rhea Seehorn on the "Better Call Saul" boys' club: "I feel surrounded by fiercely intelligent, strong, courageous women"

Salon talks to Seehorn about Kim's back story with Jimmy and playing the show's least reactive character

Published April 6, 2015 10:59PM (EDT)

Rhea Seehorn of "Better Call Saul"    (AMC/Ben Leuner)
Rhea Seehorn of "Better Call Saul" (AMC/Ben Leuner)
If you didn’t already know Rhea Seehorn (from her work on “Whitney” and “Franklin and Bash”), you’ll have a hard time forgetting her after “Better Call Saul,” where she stars as the poised, inscrutable lawyer Kim Wexler, whose relationship with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) falls somewhere between friend, confidante, co-conspirator and lover — and remains all the richer for its ambiguity. In honor of the finale, which airs tonight, we caught up with Seehorn to talk about Kim's relationship with Jimmy, her love of “Breaking Bad” and whether she feels the show is a boys’ club (she doesn't, even if it seems that way).

You’ve been great on the show. Andy Greenwald on Grantland recently called you “the Bacall of basic cable,” which I thought was a lovely description.

What was that publication? Grantland. You know, I’m not reading the press, I’m sad. I would love to have read about myself being compared to Lauren Bacall.

Is there a reason that you don’t read the press?

I don’t because I’m a thin-skinned little baby [laughs]. No — I like to stay kind of open and vulnerable. I know you’re supposed to be thick-skinned in this business, but I’m not. I kind of like to hang on to being vulnerable. What’s been great is, in a roundabout way, and even from people that walk up to me on the street, and from secondhand knowledge, I have heard that people are enjoying the show so much and that thrilled me because we were so proud of the work that we’re doing when we were there, but you never know how it will be received. It’s so out of your hands that it’s a scary thing.

“Breaking Bad” already had such a rabid fandom; were you worried about living up to people’s expectations?

I wasn’t to a degree. Bob Odenkirk has said this well — when I got there, there was a lot of fear and anxiety just preparing for the audition itself. I was a huge, huge “Breaking Bad” fan, still am, and so I thought, OK, it’s like submitting your poem to the poet laureates or something, you just hope that your work’s up to snuff and just hoping that they respond to the way you’ve prepared the character the work that you’ve done.

That being said, once I got to set, and even just having conversations with Peter and Bob, and Melissa and Mark, our wonderful producers, you saw immediately —  and you were told immediately — that this was very much going to be “Better Call Saul Season 1,” not “Breaking Bad” Season 6. Then Bob said something to me once, which he said to the press as well, which is the onus of how are you going to follow up your giant hit album with your next album — it is not on us.

Yeah, there’s going to be people that are just mad that it’s not “Breaking Bad.” But we didn’t carry a lot of that energy onto the set.

So obviously the Jimmy and Kim back story has been such a source of fascination.

Has it? I’m learning all this stuff from you!

I think everyone has been dying to know exactly the nature of their relationship. How much do you know about their love story or their friendship, where it came from?

Well, we did have some conversations about back story. We had conversations about the history of the relationship and as you know, in one of the episodes, you see they had worked in the mailroom together. I think they have plenty of — what’s there on the page, even the first scene that I have with Jimmy in the parking garage, it was thrilling to play volume with such economy of gesture and text. I mean, you don’t take cigarettes out of somebody’s mouth, and put them back in without knowing them really really well.

These were all clues that, when we had conversations, that they wanted there to be a deep intimacy… and the more I would read the lines, the more I would get that they are each other’s confidantes, but she doesn’t judge him, which is a different space, I think, for Jimmy to be in, and a different point of view for the audience, to see both of these people with their guards down. And Kim very much has a guard and a mask of her own, when she’s out and about. So I kind of just took clues from stuff like that, they did not go into detail with me. I had things that I dreamed up, and the things they said to me, and then in the end, you just play what’s on the page. And the directors and the writers on this have been amazing at allowing the breathing room in a scene.

Aside from what the writers may have told you about what’s coming, when you get into character, do you see them having had a past romantic relationship?

I wouldn’t spoil that for anyone, and I don’t know where the writers are going with it, with what they will show, or what’s there. I have my ideas...I mean, certainly they’ve had scenes where she implies that she’s heard the robot sex voice. There’s such an honest intimacy between them at times...I love it. It could be so many things. I think it’s been a lot of places, I think it could go a lot of places, and I wouldn’t spoil anything more than that.

It was the same on “Breaking Bad,” but I have noticed that there’s not a lot of sex on these shows and not a ton of romance. Is that something you would like to see more of in the future?

If they did that, if Vince or Peter ever wrote a full-out sex scene or nude scene or anything like that, I would know for certain that it was integral to the storytelling, there would be no doubt about that. Because you are right, you do not see them using that stuff gratuitously. And it’s been amazing the number of people who have come up to me or written to me to say how sexy the nail salon scenes are with Jimmy and Kim, or the way they look at each other. So it thrills me that that’s the real sexiness of the relationship anyway.

All right, I’ll stop trying to get you to profess your great love.

[Laughs] My love of nudity!?

No, no, for Jimmy!

You know, I absolutely think the love goes both ways. At a given moment that takes different shapes; it does all of our lives.

Kim is sort of a mystery to us so far. She’s kind of a cipher. She’s a mentee to the older partners at the firm, and she’s a sort of sister-slash-lover to Jimmy -- she fills a lot of  roles at once. Do you think we’ll see more of what drives Kim and what gives her agency going forward?

I’m not entirely sure what’s coming, and I sort of enjoy being a bit enigmatic as a character, and being someone who’s as much about what they don’t say as what they do say, and being less reactive and less emotional than many of my male counterparts in the scene, because I love that juxtaposition, and that switch of stereotypes.

However, I don’t think that she just fills in the hole. People might project on her what they want, but I think that Kim is extremely ambitious in her own right. I love playing that, like the scene where she turns down Jimmy for the corner office — I’ve never gotten more tweets in my life saying “take the corner office!” But that scene was so lovely in that there’s great love there. There’s apology for hurting someone that I care about, but its not an apologetic scene. And that’s because Kim has her own agency — she, at that time before the Kettlemans ruined everything, had her two-year plan and was doing very well at Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill.

I do think she’s an extremely pragmatic person, she owed time and money to HHM for putting her through law school.

Kim seems like a very strong, morally upstanding character, but we know that no one on these shows are quite as they seem. Are you hoping or do you think there’s a chance we’ll see her "break bad" in the future?

First of all, she doesn’t judge Jimmy, which is different than some other people’s points of view on his practice of the law, or what he does, which is very black-and-white.

They give me these moments where I tell him: Don’t make it personal about Hamlin, with the whole billboard episode, do what’s best for you, make your own thing. But then she smiles when she sees he’s pulled off this amazing stunt with a guy falling off a billboard. And I think she enjoys him, and I think that the people she thought 100-percent defined what’s good have started to crumble around the edges.

She is taking it all in, and Hamlin was very quick to kick her to the curb when she lost the crazy-ass Kettlemans, through no fault of her own. And now Chuck is doing what he’s doing, and she’s well aware in those scenes of the pain that it causes Jimmy, obviously. But I don’t know -- what do you want? It would be exciting to see her grapple with all these things. I don’t think she’s just one thing. I mean, she won’t even admit that she’s friends with Jimmy, when it hinders her ambition in the beginning. That’s not a very nice thing to do. And she’s not doing that anymore. Where her trajectory will go, now that she’s been shaken up a little bit, I don’t know.

It is nice to see relationships built on positivity. So many relationships on "Breaking Bad" were like this diseased fungus, waiting to destroy everything.

It’s exciting for me when I read it on the page and then take the time to find the windy paths of some of our scenes. I love that it, like any great relationship with long history, is usually not defined by one label. I think most people would struggle to define their whole relationship with just one label — like: my girlfriend, boyfriend, brother, sister, confidantes, whatever — but in those moments there’s true joy in each other. But they also have fights, and I do think there’s a sexiness to their relationship and an honesty.

It''s been really fun for me to see that be portrayed as interesting, and, like you said, not like a super-troubled parasitic relationship.

“Breaking Bad” did not have a lot of female characters and neither does “Better Call Saul.” You’re sort of the only woman in a leading role. Do you ever worry about the sort of backlash that Skyler received on “Breaking Bad,” in the sense that these shows are sort of boys clubs?

Hmm. I didn’t have cable when “Breaking Bad” started, so I came to it late and kept waiting for a friend to watch it with, and could not find a single person who was not already into Season 3 and didn’t refuse to start watching it from the beginning. So I started watching it on my own, and I was a little outside of all of that stuff that people told me about later, and the vitriol of — well I’m not going to go into it, but I don’t think it deserved much, I think it was unwarranted, in my opinion. But I thought those were incredible female characters on that show, and they were played by such tremendously talented women.

So as far as my role on “Better Call Saul,” I am thrilled with the three-dimensional female that they’ve created, who is not just reactionary, who has her own trajectory that is, to me, just a very real, honest character.

When I look around and I’m up there playing those scenes, and Jennifer Hutchinson wrote it and Larysa Kondracki is directing it, and Melissa Bernstein is reminding me that Vince and Peter very much want this strong spine of a woman who very does not have to apologize for her actions, and my incredible, crazy attention to detail, props person Trina is there. Much of the crew is strong females, many of the writers, many of the producers, and Nina Jack is kicking ass everywhere. I wish people could see that too, because I do not feel like the only lead woman on that show when I’m on set. Far from it.

It doesn’t feel like a boys’ club when you’re there.

No, I feel surrounded by fiercely intelligent, strong, courageous women on that set.

By Anna Silman

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