Interview: Patrick Fabian Talks Better Call SaulNovember 11, 2018
Recently, we had the chance to talk with Patrick Fabian about life as an actor, including his role as Howard Hamlin on AMC’s hit TV show Better Call Saul.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or did you kind of stumble upon it, like one of those happy accidents?
Patrick: Well, all kids get up on stage at some point right, during elementary or middle school, and I just kind of stayed. I enjoyed playing music as well, I enjoyed being part of the chorus and musicals, I played trombone in high school and that’s where I started acting as well. It just seemed natural after that to continue so I went to college actually, got a BFA in acting from Penn State and then I came out to California and got a Masters in acting. Then I came out to Los Angeles after I graduated, with six years of higher education, and nobody cared, I started waiting tables immediately.
You’ve done a lot of work on television. Is that your favorite medium to work in or is that just where your career has taken you?
Patrick: You know I think most actors, but I’ll just speak for myself, love the job they’re doing, unemployment is chronic and that’s your usual state. I love to work in the job I’m at, TV is fun, I like the theater, movies but I’ve done the bulk of my work in television because I’ve been based out of Los Angeles where the bulk of television was being made, so there’s a bit of that to go with it. Also, when I came out of school, it was good to be a young person in Los Angeles, it always is. I started off in my twenties and there were always roles available, for men and women and I’ve just been fortunate to cobble it together into my middle age as well.
So how did you come to land the role as Howard on Better Call Saul?
Patrick: Pretty much the way I’ve gotten any other role, I auditioned for it. I prepared to the best of my ability, I went in early, I dressed appropriately I thought and did my audition, hoping they’d call me back, which they did. The people who cast this, Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas, I’ve known them for years but as it goes in the business I hadn’t seen them in a while, so I was hoping to rekindle that relationship. They also cast The Walking Dead, so I went in thinking hey, maybe I’ll get a job on The Walking Dead, it was in its eighth season and I knew Better Call Saul had a pedigree from Breaking Bad so they could pretty much get anyone they wanted, so my assumption was they were going to hire a movie star or someone like that. It’s really funny, I went in looking sideways, I was looking to get eaten by a zombie on The Walking Dead and instead, I ended up being Howard Hamlin, so I’d say that was a happy accident if ever there was one.
Better Call Saul is an excellent show, not just visually but verbally as well. As an actor, how much fun has it been being a part of this?
Patrick: I think every actor on the show will back me up when I say all the credit needs to go to the writers. That writer’s room is so good and they create such great blueprints for us as actors that the characters really come to life if we just say the words in order as drawn up by those writers. I say that only because I’ve been around a long time and there’s good writing and not so good writing, that’s just the nature of the beast. We’ve all seen TV shows where we go you know, that feels like a potato chip but that one feels like a full course meal, and I’m sitting at a full course meal right now with these writers and directors and really value being able to bring it to life. I feel very secure in what’s going on and if I have problems, the writing team is very responsive, as well as Peter Gould who runs the whole thing, it can be very collaborative, which is great.
The characters on Better Call Saul have so many different shades and different layers. Can you talk a bit about Howard and his journey from season one to where we are now?
Patrick: Yeah, of course. You know it’s funny, a lot of the journey has been perception, right? Initially, Jimmy refers to Howard as Lord Vader so the audience is like oh, he is bad, then we discover that maybe he’s not so bad and maybe Chuck is more of a problem. However, then I started treating Kim in a way that the fans did not like so I went right back into the doghouse again. This season, season four, really showed a lot of different shades of Howard and it showed he’s not all Teflon, that he’s got something underneath. It was funny to see the fans, particularly the internet, embrace Howard, people were constantly saying oh, Howard needs a hug, which is far cry from season one when people were saying yeah, screw Howard, so I tip my hat to writers for that as well.
One of my favorite parts of Better Call Saul is the quiet moments, how actors on the show, like yourself, can carry scenes with little to no dialogue. Do you have a lot of time to rehearse these scenes or any scenes for that matter?
Patrick: Yeah, we rehearse all the time. Rhea, Bob and myself, whenever we have time, we always go over the scenes and rehearse them ahead of time, so we have a basis of where we’re starting off from. You know, we’ve been playing the characters now for four years so we have some reasonable instincts that align well with the characters. In terms of being able to be still on set, the writers build that in, things don’t always need to be said. It really is a collaborative art between the writers, giving us pauses, the camera people being able to deliver that and us being able to be still and have an inner life going on, that takes four years to get to that I think.
When I first heard they were making Better Call Saul I was cautiously optimistic that it would be good and it turned out to be amazing television. Were you nervous about how the fans were going to react, not just to your character but to the show in general?
Patrick: Well yeah, here we have Breaking Bad, possibly one of the greatest television shows ever, how do you follow that, that’s an eight hundred pound gorilla riding on your shoulder. Again, going back to the writing, with Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan being able to usher this through, we are telling the story the best we can. It’s a different pace, the show, then Breaking Bad was, especially in the beginning, but the fans were on board and stuck with it and it’s been really great. We were nervous, of course we were, we weren’t sure what we had, that goes with any new project you do, but we were very pleased at how it was received and how it turned out.
The show has such a great collection of talent, both in front of and behind the camera, it must be wonderful coming to work each day. Do you worry that you won’t find another character, another show like this or is it more about enjoying the moment and moving on to the next challenge when the time comes?
Patrick: Oh, are you asking an actor if he’s paranoid and freaked out about the future? (Laughs) Honestly though, after this show got picked up for its third season, in the midst of Emmy nominations and success and whatnot, I have a friend who I’ve known for a long time, and he called me and gently reminded me to not get crazy, to not worry about what happens when it ends. He said look, the spotlights on you right now, you’re on a good show, doing good work and people seem to like it, it’s the trifecta, so for God’s sakes don’t ruin it by worrying about what’s going to happen in the future, enjoy it. We’re enjoying the journey and obviously, it’s going to end at some point, every job does, but this is a particularly sweet one. I love everyone I work with, I’m great friends with Rhea, Bob, Michael, Jonathan, it’s really amazing. Losing Michael McKean last year was really awful and it didn’t really hit me until we were on set for the beginning of season four, in front of Chuck’s burnt out house, that I realized oh, my friend is not coming back, certainly not in the way that he was and that hurt, and that’s when you realize oh, you’ve made a family here because you’ve lost a family member.
Besides Better Call Saul, what other projects do you have coming up?
Patrick: Well, I’ve got a brand new independent film called DriverX that I’m the lead of that got picked up by IFC and Sundance Select and opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 30th and it will be available on iTunes and Amazon and you can find it on the IFC YouTube channel as well. I play a middle-aged man who owns a record store in exactly the wrong time in history and ends up having to become an Uber driver in Los Angeles to save his marriage.
When you aren’t filming Better Call Saul, do you find time management a big issue in terms of wanting to do projects like DriverX and have some personal time off as well?
Patrick: Well, time management is always the sort of albatross for actors, right? Never make plans at Christmas or Thanksgiving, never buy a ticket somewhere, or ensure you’re going to get a job by buying a non-refundable ticket somewhere and you’ll get a job that equals the value of that plane ticket. You know what, steady work is always welcome in an actor’s life but it takes up about five months of the year, the rest of the year it’s like jobbing out. I just came from doing a pilot presentation for a friend, a low budget affair, an in an out kind of thing, I’m always interested in the next thing and what’s going on. Better Call Saul as afforded me some more options, some more doors have opened but not all of them. A hit show opens some doors but that’s it, it gives you more opportunities to go audition is what I’ve found.
I want to thank Patrick for taking the time to speak with us