Rhea Seehorn Interview On Her Directing Debut

[This below contains spoilers for “Hit and Run,” the May 2 episode of Better Call Saul.]

Monday night’s Better Call Saul marked Rhea Seehorn’s episodic directing debut. In fact, after 53 previous episodes, it was the first episode directed by a member of the show’s cast.

Though Seehorn’s IMDb page lists only a short titled How Not to Buy a Couch among her directing credits, you would never know it from “Hit and Run,” an assertive and prototypically Better Call Saul blending of heart and suspense, featuring bursts of almost zany comedy from Bob Odenkirk, our introduction to some unique facets of Gus Fring’s house and, after five seasons, our first extended interaction between Seehorn’s Kim and Jonathan Banks’ Mike.

Related: Music Festivals 2022

Seehorn chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about working up the experience and confidence for this directing opportunity, the importance of finding joy within the chaos of episodic TV production and the thing that surprised her about directing and editing herself.

The show has been good at giving directing opportunities to so many of its writers, but you’re somehow the first Saul cast member to direct an episode. How and when did you make it clear this was a thing you wanted to do?

Actors directed on Breaking Bad, and Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] and Melissa Bernstein, Tom Schnauz, all those guys, they are very much about promoting from within. You’ll notice with writers that you’ll see somebody move from writers’ assistant to co-writing a script to writing a full script. They’re wonderful about wanting to enable and empower any objectives that people have in their artistic circle, which is a beautiful thing.

They used to see me go to the set all the time. I like to watch other people’s work and I like to understand the other cogs of the wheel of this collaborative art form. That’s just who I am, and I also find that it informs me as an actor. I just like it. It’s coming from theater, where I was backstage running things — food, props, usher. I like that feeling and I also like watching other people’s work and I like hearing the tone of the show and blah blah blah.

Then I ended up directing a short with Anna Ramey Borden, who is our first AD, and she’s a lovely director as well. The crew helped me on a Saturday with no sleep. We filmed a short and I did that again with a writers’ room assistant’s script and I thought, “Wow, I think I might like this, but I don’t have the chops yet to be on the level of a Better Call Saul.” These are not beginning directors. So I got very nervous about even bringing it up, but then I just did. I just thought, “Well why don’t I go tell Peter and Vince?” They have their directing slots, which are usually filled. There are returning Breaking Bad people and people within the family who have been there forever and, like you mentioned, there are writer-producers that direct multiple episodes. But I just wanted to throw it out there, and I also asked if there was anything I could do to make that decision easier.

Related: Best Eurovision song ever?

I did, in fact, shadow many of our directors on other projects — John Shiban, Norberto Barba, Scott Winant, Michael Slovis. Scott Winant and Michael Slovis, I shadowed multiple episodes of other shows. All of these people. I didn’t get to shadow Michelle MacLaren, but I would meet with her and break things down. There was just a massive support system. Vince and Peter always, always would talk with me and let me see shot lists. Melissa Bernstein. Michael Morris was lovely and ended up being our producing director, watching me when I had to be on-camera directing myself.

By the time they offered me the slot, I was so terrified, and there’s that tiny voice in your head that’s like, “Say no! You’re gonna fail!” But I thought that the flip side of it being so daunting to work with a bunch of people who are absolute masters of their craft — from props to makeup to cinematography to writing to producing — the plus side of that is you’re surrounded by this crack team of aces. If you ever wanted to try guest directing, you would never be as supported as that, so you might as well take a free, very scary masterclass.

I’ve learned from TV that if you ever go to prison, on your first day, you’re supposed to find the biggest guy in the yard and punch them. To show them who’s boss or something.


What did you do on your first day of production for this episode?

It wasn’t my choice, but the first day of shooting, just because of locations and availability of certain people and this, that and the other, was the nail salon scene. So it was a giant crowd of people, many of whom I don’t know, and a lot of technical stuff that had to be taken care of, so that was a bit trial-by-fire. But it was fun.

My first “first day” was more like back in prep, and I was actually shooting an episode while I was prepping. Peter was lovely about making sure logistically that that could be handled, because you can’t be in a production meeting when you’re shooting. So I think the first day, it wasn’t like “Go find the biggest guy in the prison yard,” but it was more of an internal thing where you’re on a tech scout and it’s that first time checking out a location when 30 people from different departments and their little notepads are all looking at you and asking you questions, rapid-fire, that they need to know to be able to do their job. For a second I felt my whole face turn blood-red, I started sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News and I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m supposed to have answers to all these people.” And you just have to take a big breath.

I think one of my saving qualities, which Peter Gould and Michael Slovis had both told me, is that it’s OK to not know. Being full of crap, they’ll see through it in a heartbeat. So there was a lot of, “I don’t know! That’s a very good question! I’m gonna think about that!” At some point you’ve gotta answer things, because it’ll be death by a thousand paper cuts. People need to do their work. People need to know what color the blinds should be. People need to know — “Where are the trucks gonna sit?” “Is your camera gonna face this way because we need to put catering somewhere?” So that was a terrifying day. You’re like, “Holy crap. I could actually bring this all to a screeching halt.”

Is that a sense of ongoing panic that manages to lift exactly the moment at which you’re done shooting the episode?

Yes! Well, Vince told me, and Peter said the same thing, they said, “As hard as it is — you’ll be pulling out your hair and staying up all night and you’re gonna get an ulcer about it — just try and find some joy when you can. Be as present as you can and have some good times as well.” And I did. I had many, many good times.

Angie Meyer was my first AD, and Paul Donachie was my director of photography, and I got to do the scout with them. This was the first year we did alternating DPs, so I got to go on my scout with my AD and my DP and talk about shots and meet up with them on the weekends and do drawings and all of that. So getting to realize moments like that or to have Matt Credle and Jordan Slovin, our camera ops, understand what I was thinking this should be, and then they’d show me a shot they thought contributed to that vision, or when a props person made something.

Or like when Jen Bryan in costumes heard me say how I wanted Abe, the man who’s clearly in rehab that Kim is helping in the diner, to look. He just has this tiny scene, but he was a beautiful, lovely actor and I was like, “I want him to feel like he’s a guy that’s struggling with alcohol and he’s in recovery and he’s in a halfway house where there’s only one jacket that everybody has to share if they have a court date.” And she brings me these jackets that broke my heart.

So those were joyful, joyful moments to just see the artistry that people are coming and laying at your feet and saying, “Does this help the story you want to tell?” I could cry thinking about it now. That was lovely.

One of the show’s most familiar visual trademarks is the shot from an unexpected POV, often inanimate objects. This episode has a few great ones, inside a snack machine, inside a metal detector tray. How much freedom do you get for shots like that and what is it like finding yourself getting to do one of those distinctive shots?

It’s super fun. Some of the beautiful visual vocabulary of the show is written into the scenes, but plenty is not, and plenty is invented by our amazing DPs and camera operators and/or the directors. They tell you all the time though — and any good directing workshop class or mentor would say the same thing — and that is, “Don’t ever do a cool shot just to do a cool shot. It must be telling the story or it will stand out.” We all have seen shows and movies where you’re like, “That’s very clever filmmaking, but it totally took me out of the scene because it has nothing to do with it.”

So me ending on the quarter that Wendy drops when Saul takes her away in the car? I knew that’s very much within the landscape of our show’s visual vocabulary, and I would talk to the DP about it, but the reason I wanted that shot was because to me it felt like this lonely kid’s lunch money. That’s the kind of person that Wendy is, and the little lunch money fell on the ground and then the car winds out and I thought, let’s have the car “S” out of the parking lot. Then when we cut to the next scene, it’s Kim moving that chair around and I wanted it being her ponytail doing the same thing, just making this “S” shaking.

Or the sprinklers! We have that idyllic opening scene with the Rymans, played so beautifully by Joni and Kirk Bovill — they’re a real-life couple and I loved them! — and they’re passing all of these idyllic sprinklers. That was written in the teaser and they’re in this beautiful neighborhood that feels like animated birds from Snow White are going to come out at any moment and then the reveal at the end is that it’s Gus’ neighborhood, of course.

So I was like, “Let’s have them pass a sprinkler, but I want one of those ones that literally sounds like a machine gun.” I wanted everything that was idyllic in the beginning to be awful and violent in the end, and I ran to Phil Palmer, our award-winning sound mixer, and the boomer Mitch [Gebhard] and I was like, “Can you guys help me? I want it to be ambient neighborhood sounds in case I want to make it sound violent at the end,” and they’re like, “Great! Awesome!”

It’s super fun knowing that you can afford really artistic, weird shots in this show, but to support them with story. I like doing the math of that and going, “What’s the story I’m really trying to tell here with this shot?”

Talking a bit about getting to work with some of your co-stars, the opening scene has some of the best physical comedy bits that Bob has gotten to do on the show. How do you go into a day knowing that you have to direct Bob Odenkirk on how to be funny?

When he’s dressed as Hamlin in that ridiculous costume? He’s so great, right?

Well, Bob is enough of a comic genius, and I am not at that level, but I have done decades of comedy myself, that the two of us both knew that when you look that ridiculous, you don’t need to add a lot to it. Don’t put a hat on a hat on a hat on a hat rack.

Obviously, I don’t need to tell him how to play it funny and I don’t even need to tell him how to find the truth in the scene, because he’s a genius drama actor as well. But it was fun collaborating with him. When I’m talking to him about the walk down the alley and I wanted the key fob and the cone to almost look like a guy walking down to a duel at high noon and these are his swinging guns, he gets it. We have a shorthand because we’re close friends as well, so those things were fun. And if I could make him smirk and think that something was a good idea, that’s always a win.

When you saw the script for this episode and you saw that you were going to get to direct that key first extended interaction between Kim and Mike, what was your reaction? And what was it like finally getting to do a scene like that with Jonathan Banks?

I was thrilled to get to do that. Jonathan and I are friends and have long wanted a scene together and have prodded the writers and lobbied, because we love each other’s company but also because we respect the character that the other has made. We knew that there’s something ominous, but also a little funny, about these characters in the same room. They’re both so withholding. They both are so economical in language and gesture and so hard to read and so good at keeping an outer appearance of utter calmness, no matter what’s going on. We just thought it would be so much fun to see them meet. We used to joke like, “I just don’t know who would talk first.” If you just had them sitting at a bar, you might be waiting a really long time for either one of them to speak.

But then this beautiful scene came about where Mike has to act more casual and less scary and less intimidating in order to get Kim to sit down with him, and he knows that. And Kim’s totally on guard and trying to hide the crumbling that’s happening in her when he delivers the information he gives her. Then when he exits, he has this small, beautiful moment of saying. “Yeah, I was” when she says “You used to be the parking booth attendant?” I told him from the get-go, I said, “Jonathan, we’re gonna be here long hours, because I want to honor this scene and I want you to go out into a blazing, blinding doorway of sunlight and just be backlit like the icon you are!” And he was game. He was totally game.

Often when actors direct episodes of their shows, they get episodes that are light on their character, but Kim has some big scenes in this episode. What did you learn about Rhea Seehorn the actor from directing her and then from watching her performance repeatedly in post-production?

She is a pain in the ass! [laughs] No. Because of scheduling and other guest directors and who has what and who was flying in when, there was no purposeful selecting of which episode I would direct. It just had to fall where it would fall. Obviously, it would be better, especially early on in directing, to direct one that you’re light on, but I’m very heavy in this episode. I have very large, challenging scenes and I’m in it a lot.

I had a lot of help over in video village and I had playback if I needed it, but I was very discerning about that, because it’ll eat up your day in a heartbeat if you try to watch playback. Plus, you get in your head. It’s not my thing. I only used it a lot for my scene where I’m talking to Cliff Main [Ed Begley Jr.], because all of the action and the car thing, it’s happening behind me. I literally couldn’t keep an eye on whether or not it was going the way I wanted it to go at all, so I watched playback on that. But I had Michael Morris, our producing director, have eyes on me, and I could tell him, “This is what I’m looking for in the beats out of myself.” You can feel that you’re playing a moment very authentically and as an actor it can feel good, but it doesn’t read the way you thought it would read. So sometimes you really have to check in with that. So I had people have eyes on me, in a good way.

And then watching the performance in editing? When I watch the episodes, and I watch them live every time they air, I always have to watch twice because the first time is just excruciating. The whole time I’m like, “Ugh. And then that woman came back on. Ugh.” And my big stupid face and the whole thing. It’s just hard. So I get through it once and then the second time I just watch as a fan and I have a good time. When I’m editing and when I’m directing, I don’t know why, and I would not have not have expected it of myself, but I can totally just take that part of myself out of the room and it’s just like, “Time to go to work, technically. What’s the best take of this scene?”

Either that or I just gave up on my big dumb face. My big dumb face is my big dumb face. You’ve gotta move on at some point!

And I started by mentioning that you were the first actor from the cast to direct a Better Call Saul episode, but Giancarlo Esposito made his episodic directing debut two episodes later. Was there any opportunity to offer advice?

He’s directed other things before. This was his episodic debut, but he’s done features. I was in no position to be offering advice. I wouldn’t even begin to think that I should give anyone advice after the first one! I probably told him things I messed up. That’s probably my version of advice of like, “Hey! Guess what? Here’s what I screwed up!” But I doubt they were things that he didn’t already know. He didn’t need any advice. He’s lovely.

Author Profile

Sarah Meere
Sarah Meere
Executive Editor

Sarah looks after corporate enquiries and relationships for UKFilmPremieres, CelebEvents, ShowbizGossip, Celeb Management brands for the MarkMeets Group. Sarah works for numerous media brands across the UK.

Email https://markmeets.com/contact-form/

Leave a Reply