Why Bob Odenkirk answered the call


The writer-comedian, who vaulted from improv comedy and sketches to "Breaking Bad" and its spin-off, "Better Call Saul," muses, "There's a real actor somewhere who is not working."

CBS News

A small role in the hit series "Breaking Bad" was a very big break for actor Bob Odenkirk. It put him on the road to his own show ... a road very different than the one he'd been traveling. Lee Cowan has our Sunday Profile:

"I have an ability to put myself out there. It's called poor boundaries!" Bob Odenkirk laughed. "It's called, 'Something is broken inside that man.'"

Professionally, there's certainly nothing "broken" about Bob Odenkirk, although his breakout role did involve a little "Breaking Bad."

As the smarmy underworld lawyer Saul Goodman in the smash AMC series, he could talk his way out of anything -- sporting a mouth as loud as his suits.

"He comes in like a hurricane, and he's got all these words, " said writer Peter Gould. "He's got so much to say, he just comes in with an avalanche of words."

Bob Odenkirk in "Better Call Saul." AMC

Gould created the Saul character basically as a one-off. Odenkirk was sure it wasn't going to last past a few episodes.

"When you initially took the role for 'Breaking Bad,' you thought you were going to get killed off every other week, right?" asked Cowan.

"Oh, every time I read the script, I thought Saul Goodman was going to die," Odenkirk replied. "He was a perfect character to kill!"

But Odenkirk so impressed both Gould and showrunner Vince Gilligan that they decided "Breaking Bad" couldn't live without him.

"Once we realized just how many layers he could exhibit as a character, we started to realize more and more we should do more with this guy," Gilligan said.

Even before "Breaking Bad" ended, they were thinking of giving Odenkirk his very own spin-off -- "Better Call Saul."

As a rule, spin-offs of shows that big generally have a pretty dismal history. But already, Odenkirk's performance has earned him Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in a Drama.

"I don't know why people decided I can do this, but I'm not going to look at it too closely," Odenkirk said, musing, "There's a real actor somewhere who is not working."

It IS pretty remarkable, given that Odenkirk wasn't known for doing drama at all. For 25 years he'd been making his living as a sketch comedy writer instead.

Cowan asked Gilligan, "Did you wonder what kind of actor he would be?"

"We were, ahhh ... That's a darn good question!" he laughed. "I guess we should have wondered instead of just taking a flying leap."

Comedy is in Odenkirk's blood. He's been a rabid fan of Monty Python since childhood, and he's made a career out of elevating the absurd on stage. In fact, he decided nothing would be MORE absurd than to do part of our interview during his performance at the famous improv comedy club, the Upright Citizens Brigade, in Hollywood.

The actor relishes the unexpected -- and the interview was certainly that; Cowan had never done an interview on stage in front of a live audience before.

Bob Odenkirk and Lee Cowan, on stage. CBS News

"How often do people come up to you on the street and ask you to say, 'Better Call Saul'?" Cowan asked.

"Oh, you know, too much! One time is too much. But also, people get the name wrong, which is so weird to me. 'Gotta Get Saul!' It's like if you saw somebody from '60 Minutes,' and you were like, '38 Minutes'! I'm close!"

Odenkirk started writing comedy sketches when he was in high school. When he was 14 he saw a show at the famed Second City theater in Chicago, and it changed his life.