Interview: Jonathan Banks on Better Call Saul and Lizzie Borden

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Better Call Saul Jonathan Banks interview

Jonathan Banks reprises his role of Mike Ehrmantraut from “Breaking Bad” on the prequel series “Better Call Saul.” He was at the Television Critics Association winter press tour two days in a row for “Saul” and for the guest appearance he makes on the upcoming Lifetime series “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles.” Due to Banks’ busy schedule, it was actually “Lizzie Borden” who gave us the one on one, but Banks was happy to talk about both shows.

At least to the degree that Banks is forthcoming about anything. Like his tough guy characters, Banks could be cryptic, but he loved talking about both the continuation of his five-year run as Mike, and the single episode he did as a victim of Lizzie Borden.

Comingsoon.net: We only see you briefly at the beginning of “Better Call Saul.” When do you connect with Saul proper in the series?

Banks: About four or five shows in.

CS: Were you happy they did a prequel so that you could come back?

Banks: Oh yeah. I love playing Mike. I love playing Mike and I definitely take things as they come. Had the pilot I did for NBC sold, I wouldn’t have been available so it just worked out.

CS: Are you not available to continue on “Community” because of this commitment?

Banks: Well, I’m not sure what the dates were. I have no idea, but my deal was to go in and do a year and then leave.

CS: Did you enjoy “Community?”

Banks: Yeah, they were lovely. They were nice people. I mean, it’s not exactly what I do most of the time. I prefer drama most of the time.

CS: “Better Call Saul” seems more surreal than “Breaking Bad” was. Does that make it a different sort of job?

Banks: It’s a different rhythm, but Mike is separate from a lot of things and always has been. When you play Mike, you live in Mike’s world. I think probably having the character Mike there makes it more similar to “Breaking Bad” than a lot of the other characters.

CS: Have you been briefed on what you’re allowed to share about “Better Call Saul?”

Banks: I just assume immediately that I’m not allowed to say anything. I just assume. I really know not to give away anything. I can tell you that you learn about Mike. I can tell you that you learn about Mike’s past.

CS: Are there things we learned about Mike in “Breaking Bad” that we now get to see him do those things?

Banks: Yes, some.

CS: Had you had remaining questions about Mike when “Breaking Bad” ended?

Banks: That’s a really good question. Mike constantly, there are so many dimensions. I will say this to you. I enjoy that character, love that character so much that as much depth and as much background I can give him, I will. But there’s also a part of him that I love that you never quite know many, many things. Hopefully if one thing is revealed, you’ll want to know more about Mike.

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CS: You’ve done a number of series regular roles now. Do you still jump at the chance to do an episodic like “Lizzie Borden Chronicles?”

Banks: This one I did. First of all, Stan Brooks is a friend, the guy who produced it. I wasn’t prepared for how good it is, I really wasn’t. Just everything about it, from Joseph and the wardrobe to the sets to these young actors who I was aware of, but not quite aware of how good they were. Without being a Pollyanna about it, it was a wonderful experience.

CS: When do you appear on “Lizzie Borden?”

Banks: I appear in episode two.

CS: Just for the one episode?

Banks: Yeah, because they kill me. They have no taste.

CS: So who is Mr. Flowers?

Banks: He is a bad, bad, bad man who I had such a good time playing. I loved it.

CS: I’m sure you’ve been asked to play a number of characters described that way. Do you enjoy that?

Banks: I do. I really do. I enjoy it. I love it. I love playing bad guys.

CS: Is he a real person from history?

Banks: I don’t think so. That is not to say that there weren’t a lot of really bad, bad, bad, bad men in history.

CS: What does Mr. Flowers do to the Bordens?

Banks: I think it’s more about what the Bordens did to him in the end. He thought he could be a partner of sorts with Lizzie and soon learned that that was not the case.

CS: Have you done many costume dramas in your career?

Banks: This is my 47th year professionally so I guess it’s fair to say yes.

CS: Do you enjoy period work and dressing up?

Banks: I do a lot, especially when it’s done well and I am not aware that I’ve done anything that has been done so well as this. I’m telling you, the sets, the wardrobe, the whole look of it is just great.

CS: What were your costume fittings like?

Banks: Well, my wife is a fashion designer, so for the most part she tells me, “Go in, shut your mouth and put on what they tell you. Don’t be a prima donna.” Joseph [A. Porro], I am telling you, the precision with what he did and the look. Whatever the fit was, he made so sure that it looked right that he was just something else.

CS: Let’s talk about your process because we enjoy seeing your work. Are you an actor who likes a lot of rehearsal?

Banks: If I had my way, we’d rehearse things to death. To a certain point. Process? Based around a lot of simplicity. You can never know your lines well enough and you better listen.

CS: Do you get as much rehearsal as you want for a guest spot like “Lizzie Borden?”

Banks: I don’t think I ever get as much rehearsal as I want.

CS: Even as a series regular?

Banks: Yeah. It’s TV and there’s a certain amount of days it’s going to be shot in. But you could be doing a play and you could have six weeks of rehearsal and it still may not be enough.

CS: Was there a point in your career that you noticed this tough guy/badass thing was a niche for you, that directors were seeing you that way?

Banks: I think I’ve been cast as toughs as far as I can remember always, always.

“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays on AMC and “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” is coming later this year on Lifetime.