Bob Odenkirk loves Saul Goodman, but he’s also ready to leave the character behind. He played the underhanded, calculating lawyer on “Breaking Bad” and then for six seasons on “Better Call Saul.”
The Emmy-nominated actor hopes viewers will next take to him in the dark comedy series AMC’s “Lucky Hank,” debuting Sunday, as Hank Devereaux, a college English professor who is department chair at an underfunded college, going through an identity crisis. He wrote a novel that no one read, yet his father’s retirement from the academic literary world was covered by the New York Times.
“Guys always want to be greater than their dad if they do the same thing or are similar, or they want to be the opposite of their dad and usually they can’t achieve either thing perfectly,” said Odenkirk recently over Zoom.
Odenkirk was drawn to the fact that Hank, with his discontentment and intelligence, is also quite witty. Some may not realize or forget that Odenkirk has a background in comedy. He was a writer on “Saturday Night Live” and worked with some of its most notable breakouts including Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and Chris Rock.
“Saul Goodman was funny, but Saul wasn’t aware of how he was funny. Usually he was funny to you, the audience, but he wasn’t trying, but he was utterly serious about what he was doing,” explained Odenkirk. “This guy is making jokes. He’s saying things that he knows are funny and meant to be funny. That’s really fun to play. That self-awareness, I love it and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to play this part.”
“Lucky Hank” is based on the novel “Straight Man” by Richard Russo. Co-creators and co-showrunners Paul Lieberstein of “The Office” and Aaron Zellman say the series takes a lot of liberties from the book.
“I’ve done a lot of adaptations,” said Zellman. “You realize an entire chapter of the book may be a moment in a scene. It’s just a different animal and you have to invent a lot more stuff.”
“Lucky Hank” also comes at a time where Odenkirk is still processing a 2021 massive heart attack on the set of “Better Call Saul.” His heart stopped for 18 minutes and Odenkirk came out of it feeling a mixture of energy and exhaustion, with no real memory of what happened.
“Two weeks later he was like, ‘All right, guys, when do we go out and pitch this thing?’ ” said Zellman.
“It’s also a sense of, like, ‘You might be making a terrible decision,’ ” laughed Lieberstein.
Odernkik says the heart attack “was as serious as you get before they put you in the ground” and it left him with similar questions about his own life that Hank has.
“I’m in it right now. I’m in it right now thinking about, ‘I’m 60. What do I want to do with the rest of my life? How do I want to live?’ That’s different from the last 10 years, which, you know, was about Saul Goodman and a lot of getting work done.”
He stars opposite Mireille Enos as his wife, Lily, who tends to balance out Hank’s cynicism but is also facing her own questions of self-identity and purpose. Enos is best-known for playing dark, serious roles like in “The Killing.”
“We had a lunch together in New York when she was considering playing this part,” recalled Odenkirk. “At the end I said, ‘You have a great smile. How come I’ve never seen it?’ She goes, ‘They never ask me to do light material.’ She’s always on the run, being chased …, it’s always such intense drama, which she’s amazing in, but she’s got a lightness and a spirit to her that I don’t think she’s had an opportunity to show. It’s really on display here as Lily.”