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Six months out of the year, Michael Mando calls Albuquerque home.
The days are long while he films “Better Call Saul,” in which he plays Nacho Varga.
During his downtime, he’s a resident. Spending his time and money locally.
“To be honest, I feel really fortunate,” he says. “The show has turned out better than I ever would have imagined. Nacho Varga has turned into something way more special because of the soul and morality of the character.”
The fifth season of the AMC series begins with a two-night premiere, beginning at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, and 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24.
The prequel to “Breaking Bad” continued the relationship between Sony Pictures Television, AMC and the city of Albuquerque. “Breaking Bad” filmed its pilot in 2007. “Better Call Saul” began production on its first season in 2014. It focuses on the evolution of the popular Saul Goodman character before he became Walter White’s lawyer. The series has been nominated for dozens of Emmy Awards over the course of its four-season run, which in season four averaged around 1.5 million viewers.
The show has helped put Albuquerque in the spotlight as a destination for not only filming, but as a place to visit.
“Better Call Saul” has also had an impact in the state.
According to the New Mexico Film Office, over the course of the first four seasons, the TV series has injected $120 million into the local economy. It has also hired 1,600 crew members for each season, as well as a total of 11,300 extras.
“Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” have been anchors in the film industry.
Productions like these are part of the diverse projects that the New Mexico Film Office and Albuquerque Film Office want to attract.
“To sustain the ‘Better Call Saul’ series over five seasons and more than 40 episodes speaks volumes about the rich talent pool and industry resources in New Mexico,” said Alicia J. Keyes, state Economic Development secretary. “The producers and writers of ‘Better Call Saul’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ before it, came to realize that they can utilize the landscapes and neighborhoods of Albuquerque for character development and to strengthen their story. That has been important as we continue to show the world that New Mexico has the vendors, the crews, and the industry talent so productions can make a long-term commitment in our state. That in turn builds the economy with year-round employment and better paying jobs.”
Amber Dodson, Albuquerque Film Office film liaison, echoes that the productions continue to have an economic impact on the local film and TV industry.
“Anchor shows like these have provided jobs and new career paths for local residents, expanded and raised the caliber of our crew base, increased revenue for local businesses, and put Albuquerque on the map regionally, nationally, and internationally as a premier film/TV production hub and as a tourist destination,” Dodson said.
In January, AMC announced that “Better Call Saul” will end with a sixth season, which will air in 2021.
Mando said that, as the series inches closer to the “Breaking Bad” era, there are plenty of twists and turns in the upcoming season.
“The show as a whole, when we started off, we didn’t want to make a season seven of ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” Mando said. “We had to think of this series as a completely different show. This is the biggest, most ambitious season. We’re at the part in the roller coaster where we’re hanging on for dear life. It’s been a blast.”
Mando’s character is one that will see a lot of action during the season.
“Nacho has had quite an evolution on the show already,” Mando said. “This season, he’s an asset to both sides who have a stake in the game. I can’t remember a character in recent history that changes archetypes in the middle of the series. He starts off as a bad guy that wants to rule the game. And then he realizes nothing in the world is worth more than his father’s love, and he’s willing to throw away everything. Coincidentally, it makes him more valuable and more of an asset to Gus Fring.”
Dodson said Albuquerque is just as much a character in the story of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” as Walter White or Saul Goodman. Because of the role Albuquerque has played in these shows, a fandom, both in and outside of the film industry, has developed for Albuquerque.
“Sony and the show’s creators brought out the quirky and unique characteristics that make Albuquerque, Albuquerque. And by shooting on location, not only for aesthetic and creative reasons, they put Albuquerque on display for the world to also see,” Dodson said. “Albuquerque offers what others can’t replicate or buy – beautiful locations, world-class crew, a 90-minute flight to or from LA, and a competitive incentive.”