The brilliance of Better Call Saul is in the details. And few know that better than Rhea Seehorn, who for five seasons hasn’t just played the character of Kim Wexler, but brought the emotionally complex lawyer to life in ways that few actors ever get the chance to do.
This comes out when you talk to her, as I learned during a recent video interview as part of our Collider Connected series. It’s something she credits to the writing, led by Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan. “I feel very spoiled by the writing I’ve been allowed to do in my career and I just want to keep going forward with that. I know that playing such a multi-layered nuanced character that is allowed to evolve over the seasons has been so exciting to me and blissfully challenging as an actor to keep peeling this onion,” she says. “I really hope that I get to keep doing that kind of work.”
Our conversation spanned the bulk of her career, but Saul is a showcase for her talents unlike any work she’s done before. “Not that I haven’t done great writing — everything I’ve done, I’ve been extremely proud of — but this is particular in its ability and allowance for letting a character evolve.”
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Better Call Saul Season 5.]
Several important scenes from Season 5, arguably, showcase this to a great degree, one being an intimate conversation in Episode 5, “Dedicado a Max,” between Kim and complicated paramour Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) where he coaxes her into doing an impression of her boss Kevin (Rex Lynn).
Says Seehorn, “she’s not a performer like Jimmy is… I don’t think she’s ever doing a bit. Performance is always a balance when you’re playing a lawyer but you yourself are an actor, because lawyers are performers themselves in a courtroom, but not necessarily in the same way that an actor understands the theatrics of a scene. And so where do you find that balance? With that scene imitating Rex Lynn I went to [director Jim McKay] and said, you know, honestly, I feel like she probably isn’t very good at it, impressions, and I think she likes that that’s Jimmy, that’s not her. He’s the performer.
“And once we did it, it added this element that I thought really worked well storytelling-wise. There’s a vulnerability and a sweetness to her showing her belly. If you’ve ever been around somebody that’s a gifted storyteller or extremely funny, and you thought you had something funny to say, it’s daunting to try to perform in front of a gifted performer. To try to be the funny one. And so I think for her, it was showing her soft belly a little bit. Like, ‘okay, okay, I’ll try but I know it’s gonna be stupid’ and then he laughs and plays along with it and she feels valued in a totally different way for her, I think.”
Another scene that was deliberately underwritten on the page but is dense with emotion is the scene at the end of Episode 6, “Wexler v. Goodman,” which feels like a break-up until it suddenly becomes a proposal. The scene begins with Jimmy trying to coax Kim into doing her impression of Kevin again, but after Jimmy’s betrayal earlier in the episode Kim’s just not in the mood. “That’s the sadness that comes when you’re trying to recall and relive a magical moment with someone and it’s lost. It’s just not there anymore,” says Seehorn.
As for the space Odenkirk and Seehorn were given to play with that roller coaster of a scene, she says that “It’s never taken for granted. It’s just that I’m so aware working with Peter and everyone that they hire as directors and the writers, you know, and Peter as showrunner sort of has a mandate — I can feel it, it doesn’t even need to be said, that he expects people to trust us. And it goes both ways. We don’t add lines, we don’t improv. We don’t change lines. If you have questions about lines that are really struggling with — what is this transition here and what am I doing? — they will definitely listen to you. It’s not a dictatorship. But the script is sort of much more like… when I get theatre, and you have a play, that’s the foundation, and this is a brilliant foundation and then you build on that.”
One scene that Seehorn had to process in playing Kim didn’t involve her being on-screen at all — “Wexler v. Goodman” begins with a flashback to Kim’s childhood, specifically dealing with her mother, who had forgotten to pick her up from school. For Seehorn, the revelation that Kim’s mother was implied to be an alcoholic didn’t surprise her. “As an actor, I do like I have to make up my own backstory, just for me and her, and a vise grip on wanting to control situations and wanting to safeguard against chaos even though she’s loving and attracted to it at the same time, her obsession with cleaning up after people and not wanting to ever rely on other people — to me, that was all very ‘oh you have an alcoholic or someone in a position of power and leadership in your life,'” she says.
While Seehorn says she, Gould, and Gilligan have had “a lot of very cool conversations” about what exactly made Kim who she is, they never got into specifics all that often. “For the most part, Peter said, when you have a very enigmatic character like her that is loved for being sort of unreadable at times and has such an array of complex behavior and reactions to things,” she says, “you can ruin it by answering too many questions like that. You know what I mean? Like a crutch can be, ‘let’s show a massive backstory that explains why she behaves the way she does.’ And I just feel like the character would sort of crumble under the weight of that.”
Look, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digging into how Seehorn and the show’s writers and directors have created one of TV’s most fascinating women. In the above conversation, we also cover:
- One of her first significant TV appearances — the recurring role of Ellen Swatello on TNT’s legal dramedy Franklin and Bash, and whether there’s a possibility that Better Call Saul could end with Kim changing her name and fleeing to Los Angeles to become an ADA.
- The fact she got to be in the series finale of Veep (and messed up her one line in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s last scene.
- Was there any part of Kim and Jimmy’s big romantic wedding scene that was improvised?
- How, as a series regular on the sitcom Whitney, she modeled the character of Roxanne on Bea Arthur.
- And, yes, Kim shooting the finger guns at Jimmy in the Saul Season 5 finale.