The director of “Better Call Saul” breaks down key “Fun and Games” scenes
Michael Morris, the show’s executive producer, talks about Jimmy and Kim’s emotional fight, Gus and Kim’s unexpected meeting in a restaurant, and other important details.
Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad on AMC, is getting close to its series finale on August 15. The show is now being directed by an all-star team of franchise directors, including Thomas Schnauz, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and Breaking Bad fan favorite Michelle MacLaren.
Michael Morris directed this week’s episode. He was also in charge of the season six premiere and important episodes like “Wexler vs. Goodman” and “The Guy for This.” “Fun and Games” is very important, just like Ann Cherkis’s “The Guy for This.”
How important? We’ll have to wait and see. After two episodes in a row where regular characters died, there were no deaths in “Fun and Games.” However, Rhea Seehorn’s character Kim, Giancarlo Esposito’s character Gus, and Jonathan Banks’ character Mike all have important scenes that may or may not be the end of their series.
Morris called The Hollywood Reporter during a record-breaking heatwave in London to talk about Jimmy and Kim’s possible breakup, Gus’s romantic conversation with a mystery man played by Reed Diamond, and what it means to direct important scenes without focusing too much on their importance.
You were in charge of the first episode of season six. Did you know or hope at the time that it would be your last chance to work on the show?
As it turned out, I did know I was going to another one. I found out right at the beginning of the last season when we were all making plans for the directors. It was a real honor to get the second one, though, because this last season is really a family affair, with Vince Gilligan doing a few, Michelle MacLaren coming back for one, and Rhea and Giancarlo also appearing.
And you get the script for “Fun and Games.” When you read what happened in the episode, did any part of you think, “Oh no, they gave me the series finale by mistake!”
So I’ll be careful with my answers because I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone, including yourself. But I totally agree with you, and I kept saying it, that this all feels like it’s coming to an end. It feels like the main characters’ stories are coming to an end for almost all of them. Now, I’m not saying that’s true, because there are still amazing episodes and things that will definitely surprise people, but for me, this episode was a funeral for some things. I think Mike’s story, Gus’s story, and Jimmy and Kim’s story are all very sad. When things end or come to an end, there is a lot of sadness.
It was a big part of what I thought about when getting ready for this one. How would you do that? I think you have this script that Ann Cherkis wrote. As we said, it has an elegiac tone, but it’s also very alive. I love Ann as a writer because she looks at everything from a different angle. I’ve been lucky enough to direct almost all of her episodes. After what seems to be the end of Gus’s story, I don’t know anyone else who would write the scene with Gus in the restaurant. In this scene, you don’t blow horns and wave flags to say goodbye to Gus Fring. It’s just an act. You can’t help but be there and in the moment, and I think that’s also true of the Jimmy and Kim scene.
In a previous season, I directed a scene written by Thomas Schnauz that was very similar to this one. In that scene, they have a big fight in
me room and she asks him to marry her at the end. So, I agree with you that the only way to control it is to be very present and not try to make it all too important. Another thing I’d like to say is that, as we get closer to the end of the series, I was also thinking about how to honor some of the series’ history. The episode gave us some chances to look back and think about the past, which made us, or at least me, feel like we were paying tribute to the end. We were quoting some shots from the pilot for purposes, like the shot in the elevator lobby with the trash can and a shot from Vince’s pilot. There were also a few things we said throughout that we were trying to refer back to as we got closer to the end.
But to answer you’re great question quickly: Don’t. Do the scenes you’re looking at in the order they’re written.
The answer, and I’m sure anyone you ask will tell you this, is “Yes.” Both is the correct answer. The script is very well-thought-out by the time we get it, and it’s full of wit and ideas. However, it’s always given to us with the message, “This is what I’m thinking, but if there’s something else, something more, please let me know.” So, they’re not very protective of what they write, which is great, but they also write really good stuff. So, the tone was clear in that ambitious montage. After talking with Ann and Peter for a long time, we all decided that we wanted to link these three stories together. We wanted to show that it was impossible to get back to normal after what happened yesterday, and we also wanted to show that everything was being wiped away. It’s a part of the show’s nature that there will be some comedy because that’s part of what makes it interesting.
The script had some great things written in it. Not all of them went exactly as planned, but a lot of them did, and a lot of them were found while getting ready. It was a lot of fun. For example, it was planned for them to go from wiping up the blood to making tomato sauce. I liked it so much that I didn’t want to ever change it.
I like to think that the most important decision she makes doesn’t come until the parking lot, or at least not until right after the scene with Howard’s wife, Cheryl. That’s when I thought that the kiss meant something had happened and that, in a very Kim Wexler way, everything would happen very quickly after that. She is a person who does things. She’s not the type to suffer. I wanted the kiss to be unclear at the time and make you think, “Oh, of course,” when you thought about it later. “Yes, that was what it was.”
But since Rhea is Rhea, you always want to see a smile on her face. She will never, ever give you a chance where nothing is going on. Never. It can’t happen. We talked for a long time about what was going on and how we thought Kim’s mind was changing as the episode went on. I think some of the ways we talked were really helpful, but I wouldn’t say to Rhea, “I want to see this on your face right now,” because it’s all there.
Yeah, we were. It’s a good question to ask Peter and Ann, and I’m not sure if I did or not, but did they know that this was the first time those words would be spoken? I’m not sure. I don’t know, to be honest. But we knew, and Bob, Rhea, and I had practiced that scene many times before we shot it. On the set, we ran through it like a play. The way it was shot was actually very much based on how it was practiced. I was going to shoot it in a different way, but after the rehearsal, I realized I was going to cover it in a way I don’t think I’ve ever covered a scene before.
It was a frightening idea. On film, it doesn’t always look like that. We didn’t use a hand-held camera, so we had to build a very precise dolly track and a sound plan. The set wasn’t really made for that kind of thing. Everyone had to work very hard to cover the scene that way, but I wanted to do it because I had practiced it with them and knew that this was not a scene you wanted to break up. You don’t want to say, “All right. We’ve got you in the bedroom, so stop while we set it up again,” because they were so in the moment and we would have missed so much. We got a lot out of the rehearsal.
My first job was in the theatre, and I did that for a long time. One of my favorite places to be is in a rehearsal room where I can just play. Sometimes digging means talking a lot about the beats and really taking it apart and putting it back together again. Then you try it many times and it doesn’t work, making you feel stupid. Finally, though, it works out and it’s great. Here, it was more of a “Let’s see it raw” situation. Let’s just see it.” They might have held their scripts or had their lines ready the first time they did it, but we just did it without any preparation and saw what that emotion could be like. Then we all agreed that the scene was big and had a lot of emotion, which isn’t always the case on this show. In a good way, the show is pretty quiet about how it makes us feel about these two actors, and I think we can all agree that this scene made us want to see more and think we learned more, especially about Jimmy.
But it wasn’t about making anything bigger. I’m trying to tell you how it went down. It wasn’t about how to get more out of it. I think I knew before I started that the scene already had the feeling of six years. So it became important not to release it too much, not to over-release it, and not to have emotional beats the whole time. And Bob and Rhea, at least to my taste, were just so open and available, and when those moments in the scene happen, they break my heart because they feel so real. We didn’t try to make anything bigger than it was, we just tried to work with what we knew would be there.
It’s the most important hidden thing in the scene, and probably one of the most important in the whole episode. All three of these climactic scenes, the one with Fring at the restaurant, the one with Mike and Manuel (Nacho’s father), and the one with Jimmy and Kim, are incredibly subtextual, with sometimes only a line or two to explain what’s going on. So much of their power is in what they don’t say. Sometimes subtext is the best way to tell a story, but people on TV don’t use it as much as they could.
So, to answer your question, Max’s shadow is all over the episode, from the swimming pool at Don Eladio’s to the loneliness of Gus’ house. I don’t think we’ve seen Gus in a domestic way more than a few times, and there’s been a hint of domesticity with Max. So when he comes home feeling good and like he won, which he did, and opens the door to let the light in, there’s something about the empty house that bothers him. Even though he’s glad to be there and feel safe, there’s something sad about being alone. So, I don’t think his story could have ended in this episode without David, even if you’re like, “What? What’s his name? We don’t know him at all!”
It’s the perfect short story to show how Gus Fring’s life will be a prison for the rest of his life, until his death. He will never be able to share his life with anyone in a real way. He had to decide what to do right then. He can try some wine, but he can’t have the whole bottle. It’s too hard and too dangerous.
Did we want to be overt? No. If there is any contact at all, it isn’t much. The scene is very clean. I do remember that there were takes where we could have found innuendo, but we moved away from it. We wanted to be as vague as possible. We don’t want to say too much, because that isn’t the point. For me, it doesn’t matter if Gus Fring is gay or straight. I think the point is that this man will never have intimacy and trust, which is a kind of punishment, a desperate punishment.
Well, keep in mind that because I’m an executive producer this season, I’ve already seen all the spoilers. But it shows how well they write that every time I read an episode’s outline, my head blows up. Then a month goes by, I read the scripts, and my head explodes all over again. And when I see it on TV six months later, my head explodes a third time. So what they write has a lot of power. I have to keep quiet about what happens next, except to say, “Watch,” because it’s great.