A while back VICE contributor, hot-shit Breaking Bad star, and cornerstone of modern comedy writing Bob Odenkirk pitched a show to Adult Swim. Its title was Let's Do This and it followed the storied adventures of North Hollywood film mogul Cal McKenzie Goldberg and the various lunatics who work at his movie house, Cal-Gold Productions. Adult Swim said, "Sure, Bob, you're one of the funniest people alive, so why don't you go film us a pilot and we'll take it from there." Then it sat in development purgatory (i.e., not quite development hell) for a bit until the Adult Swim guys came back and said something like, "Sorry, Bob, we love it and all… but it's just too logical and has too much of a narrative for our viewers. They like stuff filled with non sequiturs and edited by rhesus monkeys inside a gas chamber that pumps meth vapor." So there it sat again, for some length of time, until today when the righteous dudes over at the Swim released the pilot onto the web for all to see. This first—and as of now only—episode focuses on the challenges Cal faces while trying to complete a docu-fantasy "wizard picture" for a Ugandan warlord that will "knock the plates out of their lips" and stars a man named Harry Podder (that's right—two Ds). Anyway, please enjoy, and afterward you might also find the short interview I did with Bob about the show and the pitch process and Hollywood pleasurable as well. And if any television executives who are into laffs are out there, get on the fucking train and make this show happen.
VICE: What’s the pitching process like for TV shows? Yours is interesting because it’s about a guy making movies—a comedy about The Industry.
Bob Odenkirk: Nobody likes to do anything about Hollywood. They’ll say that nobody in America cares about how things are done in Hollywood or whatever. Of course, that’s kinda weird, because people keep track of the box office and there’s shows like 30 Rock that are a lot of fun to watch. But it is kinda true that executives get pitched a lot of things about Hollywood. I love Best Worst Movie and American Movie, and I love watching a bunch of people with no money trying to make movies and scheming and getting things done. Because, in some ways, everyone out here is that. Even the biggest mogul is really just a guy putting his money behind a bunch of people who’re all doing a fantasy and play-acting. I’ve gotten to act a little in ways where people are saying, “Oh wow! You’re doing good acting!” I’m like, “You mean, I’m a good pretender?” We’re pretending, you know? Robert DeNiro is just a really good pretender. I like thinking about those people and I always wanted to make something about them.
I think what Adult Swim liked about it was that we do that little trailer every week. Every week there’d be a trailer that could invoke something from pop culture—it could be almost a stand-alone piece. Like in this pilot, Harry Potter and the Lost LeBaron. You could almost just watch that. In fact, one of the reasons I did all this was as part of a benefit show that my wife and I put on at New Year’s. We showed the Harry Potter piece, just the trailer, to a bunch of kids—it was a kids’ show that we put on, called The Not Inappropriate Show. And they loved it so much I thought, “Wow, it’s pretty good! Why don’t we put this on the air?” And that made me call Mike Lazzo and ask him if he would host it or anything. Mike is the coolest TV executive of all. He genuinely is what every artist dreams executives would be like. He’s a very rare kind of person. He goes with his gut and when he says “I trust you” or when he says “You go ahead and make your thing the way you want to,” he means it. So he’s a very rare guy in this business. He even expressed to me like, “It’s about Hollywood. I don’t know if people care,” but he trusted me a lot. He also felt like—I really wanted to make some story happen where my character has an ex-wife who keeps coming around and they have a spark together even though they’ve been married twice. And he’s got this new son who’s kind of a dope… I wanted to get that story going in there. And he’s like, “Story doesn’t really work on our channel. The kids who watch Adult Swim just want to see craziness. But go ahead, if you want to do story go ahead. We’ll see.” Anyways, it is what it is. I think it came out well.
Do you think it makes executives uncomfortable when you’re talking about Hollywood and it’s not in a sexy way?
Yeah, they don’t want to hear stories about Hollywood. They think that Middle America doesn’t care about Hollywood. I’m not sure how much they care or what part of Hollywood they care about. They come out here as tourists and I’m not sure what they’re looking for—there are a bunch of copper stars in the pavement that they can look at. And they care about it but I guess there’s a limited amount of desire to hear about it… I don’t know. I think they’ll like these characters. I’m kind of determined to keep doing this guy Cal Mackenzie Goldberg 'cause I feel like he lives in me. I went and bought those glasses. The glasses that I wear are from this little place called Gentlemen’s Breakfast here in LA. Super-hip little shop this guy Laguna Beach runs. And so when I got the glasses I kind of got the character. We returned them after we did the pilot, and I thought to myself, “Forget it, I’m gonna do that guy again.” So I bought 'em.
But anyway, I'm curious, what do you think about the whole, “nobody wants to hear about Hollywood” theory?
I don’t know what the focus groups would say or how it would "track," but it's like… who the fuck wants to watch a show about advertising? But Mad Men is a success because it’s not really about advertising. And Hollywood’s funny. Really funny. So regardless if people want to hear about it, it’s still funny, and people want to laugh, so I don’t see why that’s an issue. I would understand if it was something like, “Hey, we can’t do this old-timey Marilyn Monroe, James Dean-era show. The kids don't like that shit anymore.” But it’s a funny show about a side of Hollywood people don’t know about, which to me is interesting. Then again, there are a lot of morons out there.
I think that people are fascinated by Hollywood and they should be, because it’s silly. It’s so crazy, it’s so nuts, you can’t describe it to people; you keep trying to but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s a bunch of people and they get together and they make up a story and then they act it out and put it on film and then they show it to you and charge you money. [laughs]
It’s a town full of liars.
So why did you move out there?
I like making fun of people.
That's a very valid reason.
Of course, I'm one of them. So I like making fun of them. As ridiculous as anyone alive. I don't know what I think of people like, oh shit, Herman Cain or Donald Trump. I guess they beat me in the ridiculous department.
But they're professional ridiculous people. They're not having fun with their lives. We are at 11 minutes and 34 seconds. I promised you this would be over in 15 minutes, so I have to veer from the nice arc we have going here and quickly ask you about the next season of Breaking Bad. Your role on the show—lawyer Saul Goodman—almost seems like he could be the wacky cousin of Cal Goldberg. Saul isn't "funny," but there are definitely undertones that are—just how sleazy he is. And I can't think of anyone else but you playing him. When you took the part were you already a fan of the show?
I had never seen the show, actually. My agent Jonathan Blooman called me and said, "They're going to offer you a role and you should take it, it's a great role." He was right. He said he needed a sleazy lawyer, and I said, "I can do that." Then he said his name is Saul Goodman. I said, "Hold up man, I want to do this but you know I'm not Jewish." He said "Oh he's not Jewish either, he's Irish." I said, "Oh good, I'm half Irish. That will work." I got the script and it had all these kind of speeches in it, and I've never in my life had to read long chunks of dialogue. In comedy you have all these three or four lines and then somebody else has two or three lines and you go back and forth all the time. There were all these paragraphs. I was supposed to memorize them, but I thought they will cut it down to nothing, so I didn't even try to memorize it. Then about a week before my first episode I got the blue pages—which are the edited version—and there was, like, one thing changed. I thought, "Oh my God I have to learn this." That's when I started looking at this very closely because to learn it you have to consider the logic behind the lines. And that's when I started to see the genius of the writing, and it really helped me play the character to study it that close to see how the guy was thinking, how his brain worked—it all came from the writing. It also came from choking up on set and that Cranston is so in the zone and so serious and focused, and he's a funny guy, he jokes around, but he is deep in that character. His energy, I just kind of, you know, I just kind of pickpocketed some of that. I'm very thankful people liked it. When I went in it was already a very well-liked show. It was people's favorite show and you don't want to go in there and muck it up.
What can you tell us about season four?
I really don't know anything. I went into the writer's room about three weeks ago. All I can tell you is that even at the end of the last season, the last four shows, they blacked out the script like an official CIA document. Even the actors only know what they need to know. There was a fear that a script got out last year. I don't think it did, maybe a little bit, it didn't get out on the internet, but it could have. They don't want to take the chance anymore. Even if I get a script, I don't know what happens entirely.
Are you afraid of dying?
Of course. Well, am I afraid of dying? I'm not going to die. Am I afraid of fake dying?
Yes, fake dying.
Honestly, I am so thankful and that role is such a gift. Whatever they want to do with me and whenever they want to do it is their prerogative. I will just be thankful to have been a part of it for as long as I have. That's the bottom line. I don't hold a character like "please don't get rid of this." It's all them. I'm just a guest and I'm thankful to be included. The only thing I told them is if you kill Saul, please do it in a crazy way. Please let's have something amazing happen. I'm just so up for anything. I'm up for being in the middle of the desert at night with a sand storm and a bonfire—riding a motorcycle through the fire.