Michael Mando misses New Mexico.
For nearly six months, the Canadian actor spent time in the Land of Enchantment while filming the AMC hit series, “Better Call Saul.”
“You know it was my first time in the American Western desert,” he says. “I had never experienced that. But seeing the sun set against the watermelon (Sandia) mountains was amazing. I can’t wait for season two.”
Mando plays bad guy Nacho Varga, a calculating, intelligent criminal.
While not yet a kingpin himself, he is bright and has the ear of his terrifying boss, Tuco Salamanca.
His ambitions will put him on a collision course with Jimmy McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk, that might just take them both down. The series, which is based and filmed in Albuquerque, airs at 8 p.m. Mondays.
“Nacho is really unlike any character I’ve ever played,” he says. “He’s extremely intelligent and patient. He’s very ambitious and to be in that character’s skin is a journey for me.”
In getting the role, Mando says he received an email from his agent saying that the casting directors for the show, Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas, wanted to see him and to send in a tape.
He was then asked by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to fly to Los Angeles for a screen test.
“It was love at first sight,” he says. “I fell in love with the way they work and the communication. I knew in my heart, no matter what happened, I would be grateful.”
A few weeks later, Mando got the role and began preparing for the show.
Mando says that for about a month, he researched and watched documentaries on crime and criminology to understand what makes criminals tick.
He showed up to the set and worked with the costume designer. Then, everything was approved by Gilligan and Gould.
“You begin to discover your character as you are shooting,” he says. “You feel like your eyes are bandaged. You have to walk with extreme confidence and totally trust Vince and Peter and it’s an exhilarating experience … it’s like walking on a tight rope.”
Mando says being on the show is like being on a roller coaster.
“Vince and Peter are really brilliant,” he says. “It’s really been an amazing experience.”
Mando admits he came into “Breaking Bad” after it gained popularity.
“By the time I was cast, I was caught up with the whole show.”
Though “Better Call Saul” is the prequel to “Breaking Bad,” Mando says the entire cast knew it was going to be compared to the Emmy Award-winning show.
“We knew it needed to be its own show and by bringing in these new characters it would help,” he says. “When we focused on that, the excitement for the show grew among the cast.”
Though the show has only aired three episodes, Mando says his life has started to change a little.
He says the response of the fans has been overwhelmingly joyful and without them, the show wouldn’t exist.
“I went out to buy groceries the other day and I got recognized faster,” he says. “I got recognized before for ‘Orphan Black’ but this is taking it to another level.”
Mando can’t wait to return to New Mexico to shoot the second season. He’s also anticipating the unveiling of his character’s background as the season moves on.
“We’re all so grateful in the way the people of Albuquerque have received us, and we feel like the city is a character in our piece and want to show our gratitude to them,” he says. “Albuquerque is the sky and the land that our characters bond with. Without Albuquerque, ‘Better Call Saul’ wouldn’t exist.”
PARTNER IN CRIME: Azie Tesfai shines on the critically acclaimed series, “Jane the Virgin,” as Detective Michael Cordero Jr., played by Brett Dier, partner Detective Nadine Hansan who is pursuing a “no strings attached” relationship with Cordero while trying to persuade him to move on from Jane Villanueva.
Visit ABQjournal.com/reelnm to read more about Tesfai, the show and her philanthropic endeavors.