You may recognize Michael Mando from appearances on Canadian shows like Rookie Blue, The Listener, and Orphan Black, but the Quebec City native recently crossed the border to make his mark in America. Mando is the sole Canadian on the cast of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, where he stars as taciturn gangster Ignacio “Nacho” Varga. He spoke to us about the role Nacho plays in the genesis of Saul Goodman and dropped some hints about Season 2.
The TV Junkies: How do you feel about Season 2 now that you’ve finished filming and you’ve had a chance to reflect?
Michael Mando: Well, you reflect while you’re shooting, you reflect while you’re reading the script. It was such a blast this year. The tension was so high between the characters, there were so many beautiful parallel stories that intersect, and the stakes were filled with surprises, danger and Easter eggs. It was really a blast.
TTVJ: How was it different from the first season?
MM: Well the stakes are definitely higher. This year, at the centre of the story you have Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) relationship that really creates some really nice colours between these characters, and for Nacho, he really finds himself in a situation of life and death, where he has to make life-defining decisions that will have repercussions for a lot of the characters.
TTVJ: It’s interesting, the dynamic between Nacho and Jimmy, the way Nacho lets Jimmy go on and on, and then he just jumps in with a quiet line that’s so impactful. How do you go about creating that dynamic?
MM: You’re talking about [Season 1] Episode 3, right?
MM: It’s funny that you noticed that, because that was one of the most insightful scenes that was revealing to me as an actor of the psychology of Nacho as a character. When Jimmy walks into the [interrogation] room, instead of Nacho getting angry, instead of telling him what’s on his mind, he says nothing and gathers as much information as he can. And that was one of the most insightful glimpses into who Nacho was, how ambitious he was, how patient he was. Jimmy’s secret weapon is his mouth, but it’s almost like it has no effect on Nacho, and I thought that was really interesting.
TTVJ: Even the first scene where we see him in the desert, he’s contrasted with the character of Tuco (Raymond Cruz) and his cronies, and he’s just kind of watching Jimmy and observing him.
MM: Yeah, absolutely! The writing was so great… [Executive Producer] Peter Gould wrote Episode 2, and [Co-Executive Producer] Thomas Schnauz wrote Episode 3, and of course [showrunner] Vince Gilligan is at the helm, as well as Peter, and when you work with people like that there are so many opportunities for you as an actor to come in and do detective work, to try understand who your character is. And you’re absolutely right, Nacho is someone who observes, who is self taught in many ways, and who has the capacity to make practical and rational decisions when everybody around him seems to be taken by emotion.
TTVJ: What is it that prompts Nacho to contact Jimmy in the first place? Is it simply that he sees someone he can manipulate or does he kind of see a kindred spirit? Does he admire Jimmy in some way?
MM: I would say that they have something in common. I would say that Nacho and Jimmy are the kids that no one plays with in the sandbox. No one plays with Jimmy because no one thinks Jimmy is good enough, and no one plays with Nacho because their parents told them not to. And I think that sense of being an outcast and having to fight for your piece of the meal is something that Nacho recognizes in Jimmy. I think… he sees Saul Goodman in Jimmy before Jimmy even knows Saul Goodman is there. [Nacho] is, I would say, the first person to actually see the potential in Jimmy.
TTVJ: Does Nacho have ambitions to rise to the top?
MM: I think he has huge ambitions. I think any criminal who has that capacity for patience, who has the courage to to go outside of his gang, knowing that he’s risking his own life, has a lot of ambition. You can tell right away, the way he dresses, the way he carries himself, the way he’s always trying to learn something, trying to gain an advantage. The scope of his ambition is something we’ll discover throughout the next few seasons. You do know that he is mentioned in Breaking Bad though?
TTVJ: I was just about to ask you about that! A lot has been said about the Breaking Bad Easter eggs that have been sprinkled throughout the series, and your character is something of an Easter egg himself, in a way, because Ignacio “Nacho” Varga was mentioned in Breaking Bad. How does that inform how you play the character?
MM: Well it doesn’t tell me much. It does tell me that there will be a feud between the cartel and Ignacio, and Jimmy will be in the middle of it. But I don’t know more than that.
TTVJ: What’s it like working with Bob Odenkirk?
MM: Bob is a very dear friend of mine. I would say he’s one of the nicest people I’ve worked with. Bob is like everybody’s big brother, you know? You can always call Bob, you can always rely on Bob. We’re always exchanging information, exchanging books, going on long bike rides together. No matter how busy he is, he’ll always make time for everybody.
TTVJ: How do you keep a straight face when he’s doing his thing as Jimmy?
MM: Well you don’t! If you notice there’s a lot of scenes where I just kind of gave Nacho the green light to laugh at some of the stuff that Bob says. I think there’s nothing wrong with your character finding the other character funny and I think Nacho finds Jimmy funny. But of course, when the stakes are high for your character, it’s funny to a certain degree but you still need to get to your objective. But he’s a blast to work with, and if you ever get the DVD extras, there will be a whole scene in the courtroom [from Episode 2] where Bob just improvises for a few minutes and I highly recommend it. It’s hilarious!
TTVJ: What’s it like filming across the border? I assume you’ve filmed across the border before, but a show of this magnitude, is it different?
MM: Well no, actually it is my first time! You know what, I’ve been very blessed to have my first experience in America with Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and Thomas Schnauz and [Executive Producer] Melissa Bernstein and that whole crew, they’re like a family. They’ve been together for six years working on Breaking Bad, and to join such a well-oiled family is a blessing.
TTVJ: We’ve seen you in a lot of Canadian shows – I loved you in Orphan Black. Can we hope for more appearances?
MM: For sure not Season 4, the scheduling didn’t work out. But you never know. I feel very happy to be one of the original cast members of Orphan Black and one of the actors that helped launch that show. Orphan Black will always have a dear spot in my heart and I’m good friends with [showrunner] John Fawcett, and I wish them nothing but success.
TTVJ: Being a part of a prequel series like Better Call Saul, how do you balance paying homage to Breaking Bad and forging your own way?
MM: The thing that we agreed on very early on was that we weren’t going to do Season 6 of Breaking Bad, we were going to do Season 1 of Better Call Saul, and we had to come together as a team and say, look, this is a new show, we don’t know what the rhythm of this show is yet, we don’t exactly know who these characters are yet, and we have to approach this as a completely new project. We have to find the truth within every moment and let that truth be whatever it is.
TTVJ: What can fans look forward to in Season 2? And if you can give us any concrete hints that would be great!
MM: I can tell you for sure that the story between Jimmy and Kim is really the heartbeat of this season. I can tell you Mike’s situation with his family is going to get more and more pressing, and it’s going to slowly push him into a dark underworld and things for Mike (Jonathan Banks) will get very dangerous. I can also tell you that the relationship between [Chuck] and Jimmy, the psychology of the two brothers is going to be explored. We’re going to understand their history, where they came from, why they are the way they are, and better understand what’s going on. I can tell you that with Hamlin [Patrick Fabian], he’s not–no character is what they appear–and we’re going to discover why Hamlin is acting the way he is.
And as for Nacho, I can tell you that he finds himself in a situation where the tension is very strong and it’s a matter of life and death for him. He will make some unusual alliances and things become a roller coaster that you don’t see coming. I think the Breaking Bad fans are going to have a lot of Easter eggs. Our jaws dropped when we found out who was on the show.
How’s that for a teaser! What are you’re most looking forward to in Season 2? Let us know in the comments!
Season 2 of Better Call Saul premieres Monday, Feb. 15 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.
Hermione Wilson is a Junkie when it comes to all things Orphan Black, Game of Thrones and Supernatural, the show that introduced her to classic rock. She is a graduate of Humber College's journalism program, a current staff writer at Dovetail Communications, and an avid reader of sci-fi novels.