Better Call Oswalt: An Interview with Fargo’s Bob Odenkirk

Preston Barta // Film Critic

Perhaps best known for his role as Walter White’s lawyer, Saul Goodman, on AMC’s hit-series “Breaking Bad” and its spin-off series “Better Call Saul,” Bob Odenkirk brings his talents over to FX to play Deputy Bill Oswalt in “Fargo.”

“Fargo” is a mini-series inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1996 Best Picture nominee and follows an all-new true crime story with new cases and characters.

Red Carpet Crash had the chance to talk with Odenkirk about his career in comedy, “Breaking Bad,” his role in “Fargo” and his early days at college.

Do you approach the roles differently when you’re preparing for roles in a show like “Fargo” than in your comedy work?

Bob Odenkirk: “I wouldn’t say I approach them differently, but they’re pretty fundamentally different. My experience, and it might be just the kind of comedy that I do, which is usually sketch comedy, is that there’s a lot more texture and sort of subplot in drama than in comedy. In comedy, you can read the script and you can know the motivations and the reason for the character very quickly and off a simple quick first read. With drama my experiences, and it comes off ‘Breaking Bad’, is as you read the dialogue, which at first might look like just argument or obfuscation or something, you start to see these inner drives of the characters that were planted there by the writers; and so it’s a more focused and it reveals itself to you, whereas comedy is just kind of right there when you first read it.”

Since you play a deputy on this show, do you feel like your view of law enforcement has changed at all?

Odenkirk: “My godfather was a Chicago policeman and I’ve always looked at law enforcement as a challenging job, an interesting and challenging job. There are so many decisions that law enforcement officers have to make and the incident and the situation changes so much from moment to moment and day to day. I have a lot of respect for officers and what they go through.

We had a couple of officers doing background for ‘Fargo,’ some real sheriffs from the Canadian sheriffs and I think some retired police as well. But I would say it maybe deepened my respect just from hanging out with the guys and chatting with them.

I think one of the things I would say is I always try to see my character’s side of whatever is happening, whether it’s Saul Goodman on ‘Breaking Bad’ or in this case Bill Oswalt, who is as you can see not helping Molly (Allison Tolman) with her investigation, but who has I think a laudable point of view. It might be misguided in this instance, but he’s trying to protect the community and he’s trying to maintain his own faith in the community and the people around him. That’s not helping, but this is what he’s doing, so I love playing Bill Oswalt. It’s really a great part and you’ll see as it plays out that it has all these layers to it.”

fargoYou can also view our interview with Billy Bob Thorton and Martin Freeman here.

It’s obvious that “Fargo” is a very different form of a dramedy than is really common on TV, so after being a part of such a well-written and different dramedy, how do you predict that “Fargo” will compare to “Better Call Saul” in terms of balancing drama with comedy?

Odenkirk: “That’s a good question. First of all, I haven’t read anything from ‘Better Call Saul,’ so I don’t know anything except the vibe I’ve gotten. I guess I’d have to say the vibe I’ve gotten is that that show is going to be pretty intense and dark, so I think ‘Fargo’ might be more overtly comic and lighter than ‘Saul,’ but that’s just conjecture based on guesswork based on wishes on the wind.

But the thing is, when things get dark around me in character, I find moments to play things to make things funny. It’s good; it’s something to play against. It’s really a great vibe to have around you and find these funny little moments, so I think I’ll be making it funny.”

What do you think will resonate the most with viewers about the show? Do you think that we have a fascination with looking at the darker side of humanity?

Odenkirk: “Absolutely, why do you think they have the all Hitler channel? There seems to always be a Hitler documentary on 24/7. Yes, I think people from the safety of their homes are fascinated with watching brutality and the kind of heightened pure evil that Billy Bob [Thornton] plays and this is entertaining and thankfully I think a little unreal. I think everybody feels that and that’s what makes it okay. It’s fun because we all agree that there’s an artifice to it, so yes I do think people are entertained by that it’s clear; and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it as long as it establishes its rules and it establishes its reality/unreality quotient or scale and then sticks to it. I think the show does that and does it very well and that’s a tribute to Noah Hawley, the writer of the show. That’s not an easy thing to get right.”

And lastly, if you could teach a college course of your creation, what would you teach?

Odenkirk: “Wow, what a great question. My God, that’s going to take me a second to think about. I think that I would want college kids to recognize the difference between the legends that are printed about people and their achievement in their careers and their lives and the realities. I would encourage college kids to try to see and take apart the kind of stories they hear and are told and tell each other about making it, becoming yourself, becoming important or becoming fully who you are or fulfilling your life and the realities of life and stories.

Because I think for me show business was an impossibility when I was in college, it was just something that I didn’t even consider until my last year of college, even though I’d been writing comedy and performing every single day in college. I had radio shows. I had performances I did. I made tapes. I put groups together, but I never thought I’d do it for a living because I don’t even know anyone who ever did that and it seemed like an impossibility. And even when I got into it and even when I wrote for ‘Saturday Night Live’ for four years and even when I came to LA, I still thought of it as not real and that was in a good way. Obviously, it probably made me work hard because I felt like this is almost an impossible thing I’m trying to do, so I have to work really, really hard to try to make it happen.

But it also had its negative sides to it and I think that a realistic, an ability to be real about your chances and about what people do to make it in any business is helpful to a college kid to make good choices. It’s to not make anything seem too hard because you are capable of almost anything you want to set out to do, but also obviously it’s not good to believe it’s too easy, but the kind of kid that I was in college didn’t think that what I’m doing now would be anything like easy. And it isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible and, as a result, you can make plans and you can make an effort to get those things that you want; you can make a realistic plan to do it. You should open your mind up to what you can do because these things are all possible and in the end when you finally arrive at them, they’re not as glamorous as they look from afar, either, so just trying to make these a realistic vision or achievement and effort and pursuing your dreams.”

The third episode of “Fargo” airs tonight at 9 p.m. on FX.

Feature Photo: Bob Odenkirk plays Deputy Bill Oswalt on “Fargo.” Photo courtesy of FX.
Center Photo: Allison Tolman and Bob Odenkirk star in “Fargo.” Photo courtesy of FX.

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