Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in "Better Call Saul" (Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

What would Kim Wexler wear? Rhea Seehorn on her iconic ponytail, Marshall's separates and class

Salon talks to the "Better Call Saul" star about lawyer fashion, work, and why even she has to re-watch episodes


Mary Elizabeth Williams
August 19, 2018 3:00PM (UTC)

A lot of people are worried about Rhea Seehorn. Or to be accurate, they're worried about her character, the enigmatic Kim Wexler on AMC's "Better Call Saul." As Wexler, Seehorn has little back story and none of the predestined fate of so many of her costars. And while fan theories about her abound, Seehorn is happily enjoying the present, even if she does always check to make sure her character is still alive at the end of the episode.

This season hit the ground running. There is no slow build this time, and the game pieces feel like they’ve really moved around a lot. It’s the fourth season. You know these characters. You know this world. What felt different for you this year going in?

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We do know the characters a lot and the creators, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan, have always encouraged us to talk about our side of the collaboration of it. That being said, it’s fairly rare on TV, but they do long-form character arcs. As well as you know your character, they still can change.

This season for my character, there was a lot of change and you started seeing some of that, this starting to lose an ability to completely be poker-faced all the time. You know who you are, but you also have to accept that they have characters change for internal reasons as well as external reasons and circumstances changing them, which is very exciting. It’s exciting because it’s challenging as an actor that you can’t get comfortable, and you’ve got to stay present.

We pick up right where we left off from last season, and my first thought was, “How do you grieve somebody that you couldn’t stand?” Because “grief” has a huge question mark in this whole season, and she’s trying to be a supportive rock for Jimmy as well.

Kim, where we left off from season three, she is struggling with questioning banking law and you see her start to say, “I’m not sure this is what I got into this for.” She also still has ill-gotten gains in Mesa Verde that you could say she doesn’t deserve. She worked for them, but then of course Jimmy cut and pasted the numbers and all of that. Now we have this huge character, Chuck, that she started to feel guilt about his takedown. Technically, I believe that Kim thinks he definitely shouldn’t be practicing law, and she’s not responsible for his illness and psychological issues, but there’s still a lot of guilt. I went into it thinking, “Well, the only person she has ever been vulnerable around, and OK to be vulnerable around, and discussed that she’s having some mixed feelings, was Jimmy. And he’s shutting her down.” Not shutting her down as much as receding and getting quieter and quieter and quieter in the grief.

That was my starting point this season is, what do you do with someone who already, barely, was able to reach out if they start having to rattle around in their own head alone? I think we start seeing the consequences of that.

Rhea Seehorn on Kim Wexler's iconic ponytail

Watch the full "Salon Talks" interview with the "Better Call Saul" star

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The way that this story is created, the way that this and "Breaking Bad" work, really made me think of what Alan Rickman must have had to go through playing Snape. For several of the movies, he didn’t know what side Snape was on. He really didn’t know, “Am I playing a good guy? Am I playing a bad guy?”

Good point. I wasn’t sure where you’re going with that parallel. I’m often compared to Alan Rickman. I wish.

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You know who you remind me of? Legendary English actor Alan Rickman.

He was amazing.

You’re in that world now. How do you make those choices about Kim?

Right. You don’t know the end result. Let’s say in a play, you see where you end and normally, you would say, “Well, what’s the most interesting journey you could take from A to B? If B is this, then where should A be? Who were you when you started this journey? Now, you can craft this storyline to be the most dynamic that you can.” With this, yes, I don’t know the end point. I don’t know the end point for my character or for the storylines she’s involved in.

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We know the "Breaking Bad" storyline. But to me it’s incredible and magical that Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan and all of our writers have managed to make a world where you still keep supposing other possibilities even though we already all saw "Breaking Bad." You still hope that he can sometimes redeem himself in moments, Jimmy and Saul.

There a lot of theories about what happens to Kim and I don’t know. I make sure I’m not dead in all the scripts first. Patrick Fabian and I just flip and then we tell each other "I'm not dead! I'm not gonna die!" Then we actually sit down and try to do the work.

I want to ask you about that, because people are very concerned. There’s so much concern for you out there. There’s a Vanity Fair article. People are writing these long think pieces. There are all these Reddit conversations.

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I heard about the Reddit conversations. I’m afraid to go on that because people really like say horrible things about people. I don’t ever read chat rooms, because if you've got sixteen nice things, number seventeen is always the person that just wants to be contrary.

You got to know when to leave the table when it comes to that.

Yes. Whitney [Cummings] used to tell me, “Just don’t scroll down.” That’s how you handle social media: Don’t scroll down.

If you’re on social media, the thing where it says, “Load more content,” or, “Do you want to see more replies?” The answer is no, you do not. You definitely do not.

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I’ve gotten to a place where I’m better at curbing your ego, which usually happens when you’re feeling super small and scared about whatever you’re seeing and you want to go read, “Oh, I hear there’s a really good article about me.” I’ve gotten better about knowing that’s not going to end well usually. But I do like communicating with my fans. On Twitter, it’s very hard to not scroll because I try, once or twice a week, to go through and just randomly answer some follower, some question they had, or they’re just like, “This is my cat.” I’m like, “Tell me about your cat.” I do love cats, but that is hard because, then, you start to see everything and you mute or you block. It’s a weird thing. There’s so many pros and cons of people having that kind of access.

That one-on-one access. And you put yourself out there. Your Instagram, you have pictures of your family. People love Kim and people love you separately. They’re very invested in what’s going to happen to [Kim].

There was a piece I just read today about the show. It was about that you watch these characters, you know they’re what going through, but you don't know where it’s going to end and with Kim. And there has also been some talk about Kim maybe going another way and getting a spinoff.

Well, given her missing and very enigmatic backstory stuff, that when there are clues, it definitely seems to me like she ran from something. Like she needed to get away from some lifestyle or thing. I think she wants to believe that if you work hard enough, you can always save yourself and make everything right; but her insistence and her vice-grip on that, to me, reeks of somebody who is terrified to backslide.

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I was telling Peter Gould this year, that sometimes I feel almost Kim is metaphorically, not literally, an ex-addict who can’t stop hanging out with addicts. There are some parts of Jimmy’s behavior that are almost like being in love with an alcoholic and she just keeps playing with danger. Luckily, they don’t write Kim as a completely ancillary character to the man. She also seems to have her own trajectory, and her own ambitions and her own backstories, which are not all apparent yet.

Yes, I did hear the spinoff stuff and I try not to dream too hard about that one.

It wouldn’t be too bad.

It would be interesting just because I’m so curious about her, but honestly, no. It takes every ounce of my intellectual stamina to keep up with the people I work with on this show. I don’t spend a lot of time dreaming about another one.

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It must be really interesting now you’re in your fourth season of playing her, and people know who she is and they’re invested in her. But you came into this in a world where so many of the other characters were so intimately known. She’s this enigma and she’s also the only primary female character in this world. How did you feel walking into that?

It was formidable to walk in an audition for those people for sure, and also the majority of the crew, and the behind the scenes people from executive producers to all the head writers. Not all of them now, but in the beginning.

There’s a ton of people involved behind the scenes as well that are all from "Breaking Bad" too. It did feel like a club and I didn’t know if I would feel like the odd man out, but it never was that way. They were very encouraging that while there are obvious parallels between these two stories, that "Better Call Saul" is its own thing. It was never meant to just look like "Breaking Bad" season seven.

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It was scary, but then, you have to understand that also some of the fear was taken away by the fact that it is a new character. I almost think it would be worse if she existed in "Breaking Bad" and I was they hired a different actor to play her five years earlier.

I had to create somebody from scratch that you don’t know anything about, so there can’t be an expectation of me either if that makes sense, other than don’t suck because you got the job so pull it together.

It was scary in some ways, but I held all the creators of "Breaking Bad" in such high regard for their craft, and their ability and what they offer actors. Really, they trust them a lot, and they challenge them, and it’s just really beautiful storytelling, dense storytelling, going on. I don’t know why, but I had a much more underdog way of going into it. I just thought, “Well, they’ll just get whoever they want.” They probably have like three people they already want, and I would just like to go in there and come out with a character that I love.

And I did, with the audition pieces for Kim, enjoy the experience of showing a portrait you made up for Vince Gilligan, and Peter Gould, and Melissa Bernstein, and Mark Johnson, and Tom Schnauz, and Gennifer Hutchison and just these towers of creators, storytellers that I adore. I actually think that’s why it felt not as scary by the time I did the screen test with Bob. I thought, "I’m just here to show them a little piece," if that makes sense. I wasn’t very result-oriented because I thought there wasn’t a chance in hell.

You know what, that sometimes is the best way to walk in, when you’re just like, “What have I got to lose?”

Yes. I know Patrick Fabian and has said, originally, he went in thinking, “Well, there’s no chance I’ll get that, but I really hope that I can show Sharon Bialy, our fabulous casting director, and Sherry Thomas that I’m fit to do a couple of lines on 'The Walking Dead.'” He was were hoping AMC could do like a guest star on something and then, he got the Hamlin part and he’s brilliant.

Just be that guy behind counter, “Here’s your cigarettes,” and that’s good enough.

One of the things that makes your character so resonant and makes the whole universe connect with people is that it is so much about these issues that people face that we don’t talk about, which is, to me, exhaustion. Your character, her recent arc has been about exhaustion, which is a thing we don’t really talk about. What you’re driven to do and who you’re driven to be, literally and figuratively, when you are just in a vulnerable place and the vulnerability is coming from fear or from just being tired.

Just so tired, yes. I have a lot of people that do love Kim, the fans that talk to me. It’s a wide swath of people, both genders, and a lot of different age ranges and walks of life. And at first, it seemed odd and now, it doesn’t really seem odd at all to me. It seems awesome.

The idea of watching someone, not just lip service, but actually watching someone work that hard to try to get ahead, and get squashed down and try again, and to work yourself into fatigue, and to really deal with what that can do to a person, what it can do to a relationship, they they identify with that.

And also I think, finding Kim very accessible as well because this is someone who desperately wants to believe that if you work hard enough, you’ll be all right. I think, right now, particularly in the word and all the upset, there are a lot of people that they feel that way. They feel that putting 65 hours, they want to know that that amounts to something. “Does anybody see me working in doc review? Does anybody see how hard I am trying to make my world right?” I love that people do respond to that. They actually love sitting, watching her highlighting things in doc review, and working hard for things, and the fatigue and the psychological toll that that can take. It’s good. It’s really nice.

It’s such an American concept, this idea of the meritocracy. This idea that, “Yes. If I work harder than everybody else, I will get further than everybody else,” and, “If I’m a good person, good things will happen to me.” And this a show that also shows it doesn’t really always play out that way.

Exactly.

Part of that, that I also know people are obsessed with and love, is how that translates into the look of these characters. For you, it’s your dress, the way that you are put together. The earrings, everybody loves the earrings. There was just a piece about the ponytail, but there’s been a lot of talk. You said at the Vulture Fest that people talk to you about the ponytail like it’s a separate entity.

All the time.

The ponytail… it’s like the Superman suit.

Yes, and Trish Almeida created that look, and maintains that look and its entire persona. When it starts to drag a little because Kim’s becoming unraveled, then it’s more tightly coiled. This season, you see how detailed they got with what could somebody do with it one-handed, because of the cast.

I was impressed with that because I broke my arm last year and I was going on YouTube looking at tutorials of how to do a one-handed ponytail.

She has the perfect ponytail in the funeral for the opener of this season and the idea is that she went to a salon because she knew she’d be in front of all these law aficionado people and bigwigs.

Then, she’s wearing a barrette.

For the rest of it. Just perfectly, that once, but then after that, it’s a low ponytail. There were discussions about like how much do we think Jimmy could help and most of like were like, “Not much probably.” We were trying to figure that out, but there’s also an unraveling versus when she’s very tightly coiled and what is she letting go of. It became this entire symbol thing. The makeup also was this beautiful transition from obvious symbols of being wounded and being knocked down to lightly faded. When does she try to cover it up with makeup? When does she just let everybody see it? Jennifer Bryan started the costume stuff to your point about working class and we sat around. Trish, who did the ponytail, she was involved.

We were talking about like who are the working women that we knew that were trying to get a foothold in the middle class. I said, “The ones I grew up [with], they never changed their hairstyle ever. They didn’t change their purses. They didn’t change their jewelry.” Jennifer Bryan was thinking the same thing. You can tell when someone on TV who’s supposed to be struggling to pay back loans is clearly wearing a Gucci suit, or tailored to perfection.

We started off with separates that were actually mismatched. It was like two jackets, three skirts, two pairs of shoes, and the navy blues didn’t even match. I remember Jennifer saying, “I feel like she probably has to go to Marshall's and she’s trying to fit in.” It just touched me so much that anybody that works on that show, they’re coming out from storytelling point-of-view. It is not aesthetics, which are often put on the female characters more than the male characters as far as just attractiveness, palatable, likability, sexiness and all of that. There were just none of those discussions. It was all about, who is this person, and what are they trying to do, and what are their goals?

I think Kim is very proud of being a woman. It was never about trying to never wear skirts or be manly-looking and that kind of thing, but it was about pragmatism, which I think is a huge leading factor in her character traits. I was like, it needs to be off the face in a way she can do quickly.

Then, the ponytail… and it was curled slightly and it just kept coiling and coiling the more she was trying desperately to maintain control and then, it started unraveling and yes, now, people ask about it a lot. Then I scared a bunch of journalists one day that were asking about it. It was a round robin with a bunch of journalists and I was in costume because we were shooting. I just said, “Well, why don’t I just take it off and you guys can pass it around?”

And I acted like the entire ponytail came off. They were like, “Ohh.” I was like, “I’m just kidding. It’s attached. It’s OK.”

It’s not extensions. I love that people pay attention to that. It must be really gratifying for you and the team to see that level of intensity and detail, and just watching. That’s a true sign I think, of appreciation.

It’s so great. Our fans are incredible. They will freeze frame and read the diploma on my wall and a driver’s license that comes out. Our fans are very intelligent and they feel rewarded that our writers write to that and we are directed to perform to that, to never spoon feed. It’s fine. Let them figure the story out. It’s not constantly like we need to let them know how we feel and my character, I have huge pastures of silence.

This season, in particular, even though she’s having trouble holding it together, there are some very difficult, challenging scenes of silence where the audience would be my biggest confidant. They would be on Kim’s side more than anyone in that room. I could feel that, which was kind of amazing feeling to know that people know her that well now.

Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m going to beg you tell me, but I know you won’t. Thank you so much for coming in. The new season of "Better Call Saul" is out right now, watch it. Then, like watch the other seasons again because why not?

I notice other things, and I’m on it and I still don’t catch everything the first time.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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