You’ll recognize him most as the loveable yet inept defense lawyer Saul Goodman, but before Bob Odenkirk became a fan favourite in the Breaking Bad universe, he’d made a name for himself as one of America’s most influential comedy writers. Winning Emmys for his work on Saturday Night Live and The Ben Stiller Show (via IMDb), Odenkirk was one of the big names on the 1990s comedy circuit.
While a lot of viewers will recognize him from his HBO sketch show Mr. Show, over the past two decades Odenkirk’s comedic success has translated over to the big screen with roles in films like The Post, Nebraska, Little Women, and a lead role in the John Wick–esce Nobody. But what inspired the actor to get into writing and performing, and how did he land the role of Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad? Here’s what you don’t know about Bob Odenkirk, and trust me, there’s a lot.
British comedy had a huge influence on Odenkirk growing up
Raised in Naperville, Illinois (via Wired), Bob Odenkirk discovered his love for comedy through British humor. “Monty Python became my religion when I was 10. It led me out of the depths of darkness,” he told The Guardian. He was also a big fan of The Goodies and The Two Ronnies, as well as other British comedies like The Office (via Shortlist) and The Royale Family later in his life (via GQ). “I watched those shows on the public television station in Chicago. Python really spoke to me, as they say. I knew I wanted to tell whatever my vision of the world was through that lens as well, and do sketch comedy and make fun of people.”
Odenkirk started his comedy career in the 1980s working for college radio stations (via The Second City). He moved to Chicago to study comedy, attending the Players Workshop and performing at The Second City among future SNL icons Chris Farley and Tim Meadows (via the Chicago Reader).
Chris Farley's motivational speaker character on SNL wouldn't have existed without Odenkirk
Speaking of SNL, Bob Odenkirk was one of the main writers on the show between 1987 and 1995 (via IMDb), and was credited on 129 episodes. While SNL was an integral part in his career, Odenkirk has regrets on how he handled it at the time. “I was a very opinionated comedy writer,” he said during an appearance on PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing (via EW). “I wish I wasn’t such a stuck up young man … because I had a great opportunity there. I made the most of it. I learned about comedy writing and I made some great friends for life at that show, but I still wish I handled it better.”
Odenkirk certainly left his mark on the show, creating one of it’s most iconic characters — Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker. Performed by the late Chris Farley, Odenkirk is still really proud of what he accomplished. “I did write it pretty much the way he performed it, and I wrote it alone in my apartment in Chicago,” the Better Call Saul actor said on the Inside of You podcast (via The Hollywood Reporter). “It’s such a performance heavy thing, but I’ll share credit on inventing the thing.”
Mr. Show was the launchpad for comedians like Jack Black and Sarah Silverman
Taking his experience from SNL and his influences of Monty Python and other British comedies, Bob Odenkirk teamed up with David Cross (Arrested Development) to create Mr. Show on HBO (via Den of Geek). Running for four seasons, the show served as a launchpad for some very familiar stars including Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, and Tom Kenny (the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants).
It also paved the way for independent sketch shows like Portlandia and Key & Peele. “It was a different world than the one that we have now,” Odenkirk told EW. “No one wanted to do sketch. Now, you could probably submit a sketch and have somebody back you. But back then, people just didn’t know what a sketch was. It was like, ‘Is it Saturday Night Live?’ That was it.”
Odenkirk and Cross revived Mr. Show somewhat in its 20th anniversary year in 2015 with the Netflix four-episode special W/ Bob & David. The duo didn’t want to “spend too much time celebrating something [they] did 20 years ago,” as Odenkirk explained to A.V. Club, so they decided to do something completely different. “We’re still writing stuff, we still enjoy working together.”
Bob Odenkirk was the original Michael Scott on The Office
In between Mr. Show and Breaking Bad, you may have recognized Bob Odenkirk in a dozen or so roles on television. He had small roles in How I Met Your Mother and Entourage, as well as a recurring role in Fargo as Bill Oswalt (via IMDb). And while his appearance in The Office’s final season was short, it was later revealed that Odenkirk has initially been chosen for the role of Michael Scott.
On Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey’s podcast Office Ladies (via Mashable), they spoke about the experience of auditioning with Odenkirk, and how the casting decision was made. As Fischer explained, she and Odenkirk were in the same test group. “He did this very funny audition where he brought in his guitar and sang along to Pam,” she said. “We had it all worked out. We were going to ask if we were going to do it if we were paired together, but we never were.”
Odenkirk presented to NBC executives as part of the cast for the pilot, according to The New York Times, but Carrell was eventually chosen “after the project he was working on, Come to Papa, was canceled and his schedule freed up.”
He'd never seen an episode of Breaking Bad when he was cast as Saul Goodman
Bob Odenkirk was cast as the Albuquerque-based defense lawyer Saul Goodman in 2008, after receiving a call from Breaking Bad‘s creator Vince Gilligan (via GQ). However, up until this point, the actor hadn’t seen an episode of the AMC show. “I’d seen billboards for Breaking Bad, but I’d never seen [it]. Nobody watched it, you know?”
Eventually, Odenkirk caught up with the hype and started getting into character, including coming up with Saul’s comb-over/mullet combo. “[He’s] a guy who is fooling himself that he’s still kind of young and jazzy and sporty. Like, ‘I’m a businessman, but I have fun. Come on, it’s not all suits and ties’.”
His role as Saul was far from what the actor had ever done before, to the point where he didn’t improvise like he’d usually do. “So, very quickly, I got excited about this acting job on Breaking Bad being pretty much completely different from everything I’d ever done,” he told GQ. This vibe continued into his titular role on the spin-off Better Call Saul, which made Odenkirk appreciate the character even more. “It made me happy, it made me smile,” he said about filming the pilot. “You know, I liked him more than I ever had.”
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