ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s been a year since we were introduced to “Better Call Saul.”
The prequel to the cultural juggernaut “Breaking Bad,” it took viewers into the life of Jimmy McGill and how he evolves into Saul Goodman.
The series – which is filmed and based in Albuquerque – begins its second season at 8 tonight.
I caught up with Jonathan Banks and Michael McKean, who play Mike Ehrmantraut and Chuck McGill respectively. Both actors talked about how the new season will delve further into each character’s past.
“I’ve been on my soapbox all day talking about Mike,” Banks says with a laugh. “This season, you will learn more about where Mike is going to end up. Last season, we got a glimpse of what made Mike the way he is. Mike has been a hard man who has had a dark life for a long time.”
Banks has had the opportunity to play Ehrmantraut since 2009, when the character was introduced in “Breaking Bad.”
Ehrmantraut is a former crooked Philadelphia police officer who turned into a hit man. He works as a parking ticket booth operator at a local courthouse, and this is where he met Jimmy McGill.
“I love Mike,” Banks says. “One of the great things is that you are able to see him be violent, but you also get to see a softer side. You really don’t know who he is. He is complex. It gives me joy that my wonderful writers have given me this character that continues to unfold. What a joy.”
Ehrmantraut is a character audiences have grown to love.
Meanwhile, Chuck McGill has given the veteran actor McKean a chance to shine in the role.
Chuck McGill is Jimmy’s brother, and during the first season is forced to leave his job at his law firm, Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, due to the sudden onset of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
“No, Chuck’s character is not based on the case in Santa Fe,” McKean quips, referring to a 2009 case in which a Santa Fe man sued his neighbor to turn off her electronics. “The creation of the character preceded it. I know it’s a genuine thing. I read up on it. There’s a very wide range of symptoms, and it’s a very complex thing. There’s still so much we don’t know about the human body. We’re still peeling back layers of the onions here when it comes to technology.”
This season, McKean says, the series will dive into the history of the brothers McGill.
“We learn a little more about this very complicated relationship between Chuck and Jimmy,” he says.
McKean has played a number of villains throughout his career and says Chuck McGill may be seen as one on the show.
“In this case, I don’t think Chuck is a hurtful person. He’s a self-preservationist,” McKean says. “He wants to remove obstacles to clear the field that he would like to see. He has a great respect for the law, and according to his own likes, he’s doing what needs to be done. His treatment of Jimmy is very cold at times, but there’s a real necessity for it.”
The pair enjoyed being back in Albuquerque for the second season and hope there are many more to follow.
Banks grew up near the water, and having to come inland to New Mexico was not easy to him.
“I need my water,” he says.
On the other hand, “I know this is a huge generalization, but the people of Albuquerque have been so welcoming and so kind. I get off the plane at the Sunport, and I have to say it’s one of the greatest airports to fly into. Every time I’m back, I look forward to the restaurants. It’s a good home to have while I’m there.”
Banks also finds time to help out the community.
During the first season, he did a public service announcement for Albuquerque Heading Home, which aims to end chronic homelessness.
“I feel so lucky to have a solid career; this is my way to give back,” Banks says. “There were so many times in my career that my wife and I didn’t know if we’d make the rent payment. I’m at a point now where I can choose what I do and I want to give back to local organizations.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Arts Editor Adrian Gomez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.