Recently we had the chance to talk with Rhea Seehorn about all things acting and her wonderful character Kim Wexler on AMC’s hit TV show Better Call Saul.
Ok, so how did come to get the role of Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul?
Rhea: Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, and Russell Scott, all from the casting office, have known my work for almost a decade. They’ve always been incredibly encouraging, they are phenomenal casting directors, they cast Breaking Bad as well, as well as having a long history with Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their producing partners. When this role came up they thought that not only might I be the right fit for the character, which by the way was not fully flushed out yet, they didn’t quite know what this character would become, but the way I work and approach characters might be a good fit with the way Vince, Peter, and all the head writers work. I then went through the process of reading for all of them and I got the role, which was awesome.
This show is full of great talent and characters. As an actor, how much fun is it to be able to work in an environment like that?
Rhea: It’s great fun, it ups your game. You don’t let up for a minute, not that I was like that, but everyone in this cast will tell you, we spend a lot of time together on and off set. Sometimes it’s just to take a breather and go for a hike or something but more often than not it’s to run lines, sometimes with people you’re not even in scenes with. When guest stars land we go get them and run lines with them and there is a constant need and obsession with never phoning anything in, constantly bettering yourself. It’s not just about bringing you’re ‘A’ game but find ng out what you can do better today that you maybe didn’t do yesterday and sometimes, very often actually, it’s your scene partner. The writing is bettering us all the time, and all of us will tell you that, but when I go watch a scene that you’re not in, and I do that a lot, and you go wow, look at all the different choices that person made in that scene, take after take after take, it is really inspiring. In fact the writers, directors, the entire crew, who work multiple seventeen hour days, they are ceaseless in their pursuit of excellence and it’s really thrilling to be around people like, who really don’t let up for a second.
The relationship between Kim and Jimmy is obviously very important in season three and moving forward into season four. Did you get to spend a lot of time with Bob developing that relationship and if so, how do you both approach it?
Rhea: We do spend a lot of time on it and it’s primarily the words and the characters that he and I have both come to love. We do have a gut understanding at this point on why Kim loves Jimmy and why Jimmy loves Kim, there are times when they affect each other differently when they are in equal positions of power and this season their relationship is truly tested. There were these very quiet scenes where they were very honest with each other, more than they have been ever before, and strangely enough, these scenes felt dangerous in this world. It was like oh god, we’re going to actually drop our masks and be honest with one another for a minute?
Bob is a very open and honest performer, very in the moment, and he does tons of prep, as do I and I think we have similar work ethics in that way. We understand the characters, the relationship, and the storylines. It doesn’t matter how much you practice though, you can never say a line the same way until you see how your partner is going to say there’s. We enjoyed feeding off of that and he and both did a lot of subtext work, which is a lot of fun to play in a scene, and that ends up being that kind of glue, that texture that people sense, that it’s this old, worn relationship because it’s the subtext. Anybody who’s been in a relationship that long knows nothing is taken at face value anymore, you’re constantly going well, what do you mean by that? Even though Kim and Jimmy don’t say that they respond to tone sometimes more than words, they respond to what was between the two lines and Bob and I both enjoy that kind of match in a scene, so that’s a lot of fun.
I talked to Bob last week and he told me that all he was doing was riding your acting coattails.
Rhea: (Laughs) That is so not true, he’s so full of crap. He’s a tremendous performer, we have a great time together. We run our lines a lot and the rest of the cast knows this as well, there’s a very high bar in terms of preparation on our show. If you do twenty takes, each one is about exploring the slightest nuances in shifting in tone reading and physicality, to watch what just got altered in a scene. It’s crazy to watch and yeah, he’s full of shit.
The dynamic between Kim and Jimmy is wonderful yet as we move into season four I get the feeling that there is a sense of sadness and tragedy about to unfold. Do you think Kim recognizes at any point that something bad is about to happen?
Rhea: Well you know, she only recognizes and feels what’s happening in the moment. The writers and directors do a really good job of letting me play present tense, constantly, which makes for a lot more humor and comedy at times. There are many great moments of humor this year, so much so it was hard to keep a straight face at times, but also some sad, difficult, emotional and challenging scenes. Kim didn’t see Breaking Bad, so she is not looking at alterations of behavior or dynamics, she can’t see that far down the line in terms of the transformation into Saul Goodman. The Kim we meet in season one, in the pilot, what her reaction would be to the final Saul Goodman is very different from where Kim will be by the time she does, they are going to be at different points by then.
As well, this season is all under the guise of horrible grief. The grief from Chuck and the guilt of feeding characters like mine about it, and the sort of confusion of how do I define myself. For Jimmy, the person you thought was your obstacle is gone, he can’t practice law, my character is hobbled by a broken arm and realizes she can’t constantly do everything for herself while trying to deal with the guilt about Chuck and the Mesa Verde case. This kind of battling and rattling created an environment where people would have behaved weirdly anyway, I mean there were times where Jimmy’s behavior was weird and Kim doesn’t do a lot about it and in turn, he chooses to ignore a bunch of strange behavior from her as well. It’s all about the grieving process and if you’ve ever been the support system for someone grieving, or been the griever, you behave batshit crazy sometimes and people just let it go.
You’ve touched on the writing a few times already and the writing on the show is truly phenomenal. Does that allow you to relax a bit or do you feel more pressure or challenged to kind of match the excellence, so to speak?
Rhea: Oh, all of the above, definitely. You can relax in that you’re not tackling holes, you’re not saying oh, this is not a fully-fledged out character, I’m going to have to make some stuff up. If you do the work with the text you’re given, you will arrive at a very complex and interesting character and scene. It’s like using an instructional manual to build something if you use it, and you can ask questions, they do want your creative input. After playing Kim for four years they do listen to what I have to say, I listen to them, it becomes cyclical in nature and that relationship is everything. I take clues from Kim all the time, she chooses not to speak as a position of power very often but I understand I’m very present in the scene and I start marking out what am I thinking here, did I almost speak there, who am I going to leave hanging out to dry (laughs) . Then you get into what you said, is it also challenging, it is, you can’t let up. You never think well there, my job is done, no, you really never let up and thirdly, I wouldn’t say pressure, I would say inspiring. I know these people belabored every word I say and I don’t say, they know me well enough now to understand how I’ll react to certain lines and I love that, I love that trust, it’s so inspiring. It encourages me to take risks in my work, I see the writers take risks in what they produce and it really makes for a very safe place to work.
I’ve seen the first two episodes of season four and they’re very impressive. Looking back, how would you describe Kim’s journey so far as we enter the fourth season?
Rhea: I think she is part of the strong themes of the show which is nature versus nurture. How much is she affected by Jimmy and how much is she affecting him? We’re learning things about her that don’t seem new but revealed so I keep wondering about her past and how much of this poker face stillness is really her. I think she’s always been strong but this sort of stillness and obsession with success or happiness, I think there’s a little madness to the message instead of a message to the madness. It seems her outer control has been shifting from one of her strengths to more of an obstacle at times for her.
Being obsessive about trying to right the world again, constantly, it’s the search for equilibrium and the fulcrum keeps changing. I saw that in this season all the time where Kim keeps trying to find her center again and who Chuck was and the nemesis he became is now missing, so there’s this weird gaping hole there. Not being able to have the career she thought she was going to have, the idea that legal and illegal not being the same is moral and immoral and right and wrong is I think deeply disturbing to Kim. She keeps learning all these lessons without a solution so this season to me is a look into a very deep and dark side of her trying to find a place to anchor herself to again and it’s chaotic, and chaos for Kim is different than chaos for someone else. It was a big rollercoaster ride this season but very satisfying to me, given the journey she’s been on for three years.
What have you enjoyed the most about playing this character?
Rhea: Oh, that’s too hard! (Laughs) I enjoy all of it, I enjoy the exploration of my own work that I’ve done because of how trusted I am with the material of this quality and being surrounded by the talent on this show. She’s one of my all-time favorite characters I’ve ever played and I learn from her stillness, something I’m not capable of in real life. It’s very good for me to have studied that for four years.
I want to thank Rhea for taking the time to talk with us
Season four of Better Call Saul premieres Aug 6th at 9 pm on AMC