Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould reveal what to expect when the best 'Breaking Bad' villain crashes season 3
The only thing that Better Call Saul fans might be more excited about than the return of Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut is the return of Gustavo Fring. Breaking Bad’s cold-blooded meth kingpin and chicken restaurant king — who met his grisly end in the season 4 finale — will be back in action via AMC’s Bad prequel. Upcoming episodes will fill in some but not all of the blanks surrounding the rising drug lord (played by Giancarlo Esposito) who hid in plain sight as a community pillar while showing you exactly how he came into the orbit of iffy lawyer Jimmy/Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) and joined unlikely forces with ex-cop and man of few words Mike (Jonathan Banks). Before you tune in next Monday to reacquaint yourself with the mysterious, nefarious narco-trafficker, read what Saul creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould had to say about this very Bad villain who gave Walter White a run for his meth money.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was the addition of Gus a top-of-the-wish-list, no-brainer for you?
PETER GOULD: Oh, yeah. When Gus was killed off in the writers room of Breaking Bad, it was a very, very sad moment for all of us, because we loved the character and we love Giancarlo, and we felt there was so much more to say about him. But like Vince sometimes would say, Breaking Bad is a bit like Highlander: There can only be one. And he was right. Having the opportunity to bring the character of Gus back and work with Giancarlo again was too delicious to pass up when it was right for the show. One of the things that I’m proud of is we’ve resisted a lot of temptations about bringing characters back and situations back earlier in the show. Because we want to earn our pleasures. We want everything to make sense dramatically for the characters. But when we realized that the story was leading us inexorably in that direction, it was a very, very happy moment. Having said that, we inadvertently disclosed that to the public with our super clever encoded title for season 2, and we didn’t have the smarts to tell Giancarlo we were going to do that (laughs)… We put it out there in the world, and the fans once again proved that they’re way smarter than we are. So we had a very sheepish couple of phone calls with Giancarlo. But fortunately, he was a prince, and ultimately really happy to come back and play it.
VINCE GILLIGAN: I think we’re to be commended for having the self-discipline for not bringing Giancarlo back in season 1. It’s a no-brainer to add this character back, and I’m being a little bit funny here, but it’s amazing to me it took us this long to bring this character back. We all love him so much.
Giancarlo has said that he had some apprehensions about signing on until he spoke with you. What do you think was the turning point in getting him excited and intrigued about reprising that role?
GOULD: Well, he had a lot of questions and rightfully so. Giancarlo is an artist. He cares deeply about how this character is presented. He wanted to make sure that we were going to continue to take the character seriously as we did on Breaking Bad. And there was obviously no guarantees of that without talking to us. So we spent a lot of time answering his questions and being very honest about what we knew and when in Gus’ life this took place and as much detail as we knew at the time. Then fortunately at that point, he was ready to take the creative leap.
Because I think like all of us, he was concerned, he didn’t want the work in the new show to reflect badly on the work in the old show. I mean, you’re never going to have another character exit quite as indelible as that moment that Vince directed when he walks out of Hector’s room and he’s only got half a face. It’s a remarkable way to leave a character. And if we’re going to revisit him, we wanted to make sure that we were doing justice to the character. Whatever we said, we won his trust, and hopefully that was warranted.
How polished — and how far along — is Gus as a drug lord when we meet up with him here? And what new shadings of Gus will we see?
GILLIGAN: We’ve definitely gone quite a ways into the past, into the early part of Jimmy McGill’s career. He’s at the beginning stages of his career, and, certainly, Mike Ehrmantraut is not yet a full-blown criminal, an assassin. But having said all of that, the Gus Fring we’ll see in Better Call Saul will be very recognizable and familiar to fans of Breaking Bad. Unlike those other two characters that I just mentioned who we really are seeing evolve or devolve, if you will, into who they will become in the Breaking Bad era, I think we’re going to reach Gus Fring in Better Call Saul as if not fully formed, [then] much closer in action to the character we knew from the previous series.
I’m not saying he’s exactly the same guy — he’s at a different point in his career, it’s an earlier stage — but I think it occurred to us we didn’t want to see him too early in the fumbling beginnings of his career because he’s just so cool. He’s so fascinating and so mysterious. I don’t think we wanted to deflate all that mystery that we’ve come to know and love about this character. There’s a lot we don’t understand yet about this character. Some things we may never understand about him, and he is as competent and capable and fearsome a competitor as he ever was.
Will we see a more compassionate side of Gus, the one who helps people realize their potential?
GOULD: Giancarlo said something in a panel years ago on Breaking Bad. He said that in his opinion, Gus is really a teacher. It took me quite a while to understand what he meant, and I will admit that it brought a smile to my face when I first heard it, but the more I get to know this character, I understand exactly what Giancarlo was saying. Fairly early in the season, you will see him in that role as someone who teaches.
GILLIGAN: We saw hints of this in Breaking Bad as well, and I think it stands to reason we’ll see more of it in Better Call Saul. When you’re not up against this guy, when you’re not competing with him, he can actually be very charming, and honestly the best way I can put it is: If I was 17 years old and wanted to get a job at a fast food restaurant to supplement my income, I could do a lot worse than to work for this guy. Gus Fring is a really good boss — certainly in the legitimate, legal sphere of his endeavors. He seems to be a really good employer who treats his employees kindly and is a good teacher and a good role model for the younger ones. Little do they know what this guy is doing in his off hours right under their noses. But if you stay on the right side of the law and you don’t run afoul of Gus Fring, he seems like a pretty cool guy to spend time with. Just don’t cross him in business.
For much more on season 3 from the Better Call Saul creators, click here. Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.