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The VICE Interview: Bob Odenkirk

The 'Better Call Saul' actor and comedian on Catholic guilt and his desire to change the past.

by Sarah Sahim
30 May 2017, 8:15am

Bob Odenkirk (Photo by Michelle K. Short and courtesy of Netflix)

If you're a comedy nerd, there's an extremely high chance Bob Odenkirk had something to do with it – everything to his name from Saturday Night Live, the infamous Mr. Show, and making Tim and Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job a hit.

I chatted with the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star about death, depression and Catholic guilt. Fun stuff.

VICE: When was the last time you said "no" in something relating to your career?
Bob Odenkirk: Four days ago. I said no to three movie script possibilities. They were all well written. One of them was a high profile project, but I probably don't feel the inner drive to work the way a normal actor would. I didn't start as an actor, as you know. It wasn't really until a few years ago that I worked primarily as an actor. Before that, it was primarily the writer and producer-director – all these other things, but mostly writing. I'm new to it.

I'm thinking, 'What do I need to write today?' That's my default, my main drive. To me, great writing and when you can really make something wonderful out of it as an actor is when your character has a sense of self-awareness. It doesn't necessarily have to arc. It doesn't have to grow. Just in the course of your presence on screen or in the scenes, if there is a longer way, they have a sense of their own limitations, of their own blind spot. It is a wonderful thing. I am always looking for that in a script, even in a small role. The role I had in Nebraska, or certainly the part I had in Fargo. These guys had an attitude towards life.

Bob Odenkirk (Photo by Michelle K. Short and courtesy of Netflix)

Bob Odenkirk (Photo by Michelle K. Short and courtesy of Netflix)

Would you rather change one day from your past or see one day from your future?
Past. One day from my past.

Any day in particular?
I can't tell you what it is. I'm never going to fucking tell you. If it tells you anything about me, it should tell you that I was raised Catholic. Shame and guilt are big parts of [my] psyche, and they're bigger than any dream of the future. You're always wishing you could change the past.

Would you like to experience death if it could be guaranteed you could be brought back to life?
No, I don't think so. I'm OK with finding out when it's time to find out, or not finding out anything. A sense of the finality – I guess I'm not sure it would be a good thing to know that you carry on in some form. I'm not sure what kind of person that would make you. I think how you live your life based on the uncertainty is a more compelling thing.

How long do you think you'd last in space?
Six days. Then I would say, "Get me the fuck back to Earth. I'm sick of this. I want to do shit. I want to walk around. I want to be there. I want to see people and hear stories. I don't want to fit in this capsule."

If you could live in any time, which one would you pick?
Well, it has to be after air-conditioning. So that's 1948? The 50s sucked for a lot of people on Earth. Right now, it's pretty shitty. The 70s were terrible, bad and gross. Everything is usually gross. I'm going to go with the late 60s. I know we had Vietnam, and I'd probably get sent to Vietnam, but if you wanted Vietnam, there was a lot of awesome self-discovery and coolness. There were hot tubs in Hollywood; they were on fire, the action. I'm gonna go to the late 60s and, you know, beers and LSD, the whole kit and kaboodle.

How do you think you will die?
Cancer. I'm gonna put my money on bone cancer because it's a fucking awful nightmare. That's how my father died.

Bob Odenkirk (Photo by Michelle K. Short and courtesy of Netflix)

Bob Odenkirk (Photo by Michelle K. Short and courtesy of Netflix)

When do you dislike yourself the most?
Immediately after doing an interview junket. I'm not joking. You walk away after hours of talking and pontificating about your TV show, your career. Maybe some people ask you about politics. You find yourself talking about international politics. Of course, you're trying to be cooperative, essentially, but you walk away from that thinking, 'Jesus Christ what a pompous ass I am. Did I really say that stuff? I've got to stop thinking about it. What did I say?' You really torture yourself. Also, it feels just like the snake eating itself. It's a gross kind of self-excavation at a certain point. It's really wonderful when it started

Most people in the world I think would love for somebody to talk to them and go, "I want to know what you think. Tell me about your job. Tell me about your opinions, I want to hear them." It is really truly a wonderful thing for your ego to be asked questions and have an interest. When it goes on at length and there's a lot of repetitiveness to it, it really just leaves you feeling gross, like you want to shut up forever.

What would your parents prefer you to have chosen as a career?
My mom would have liked me to be a priest. A Roman Catholic priest, and a Pope if I could get that far. Cardinal would be OK with her. A parish priest would be great. My father had no sense of who I was or that I did anything or would ever do anything or that I was a human being [laughs]. He could never have answered that question. First he would have had to take ten minutes to try to figure out which one I was.

What was your worst phase?
I didn't do so well at Saturday Night Live. It was a very hard experience for me, for a lot of reasons that have to do with the kind of person I am and the personal issues I had at the time. I was very alone in New York, and the show has a lot of stress related to it. That's not my worst phase, OK. That was a rough time. My worst stage was development hell, a reference to when you're a writer or a producer in Hollywood and your projects continually get into development but never come to fruition. I had quite a few years like that after Mr Show. Look, I got through it fine and I certainly had many projects that I was able to write or sometimes even shoot as a pilot. The fact that they never carried on in any way, that really beats you down and it's hard to fight bitterness at that point, and I struggled with it.

How often do you lie when you're answering interview questions?
I don't outright lie. You know, I have opinions about culture and politics and social norms and all that shit. I have a lot of opinions. I express them in Mr. Show very clearly, I think. I feel like both David Cross and I felt like that show reflected each of us pretty wholly. As an actor, I have to be really careful. It's not really lying, but I'm a little more careful about expressing an opinion about Donald Trump or something, because if I was producing Mr. Show then I would feel a lot freer to be cutting or clear about my strongest feelings. In this case, I think I have to have a sense of self-awareness about what my role is here. You know what I mean?

It's not even being careful. I think it's being true to the stage you're on. Understanding what stage, where you're at and trying to work within the confines of that. How about that for a politics answer?

@SarahSahim

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