Patrick Fabian Talks “Better Call Saul”, Suits, and His Dream Character Pairing (Exclusive)
“It’s all good, man!”
And like that Better Call Saul leaves our televisions for an extended period of time as we sit here waiting for what comes next. Season four of Saul is arguably the show’s strongest, packed with some fantastic acting from the show’s stars and a ton of payoff for longtime viewers. Not only is Saul connecting to the broader Breaking Bad universe but also making a claim that it’s on par with the tale of Walter White. The transformation of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman is a tragic story that becomes all the more heartbreaking when you see the impact this transformation will have on other characters.
One of those characters happens to be Howard Hamlin, the head of the HHM law firm and constant foil to Jimmy, played by the super charismatic Patrick Fabian. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Patrick and after talking about his first New York Comic Con experience, the pain in being a Giants fan, and not trying to fool comic book fans, we jumped into Better Call Saul and his upcoming film, DriverX.
In the first part of what will be a two-part interview, Patrick and I discussed the just finished season of Better Call Saul. We talked all about what it’s like to be a part of this universe, how he watches the show as a fan, those beautiful suits, and plenty more! Check it out below.
Kevin Carey: Saul had such a tremendous year.
Patrick Fabian: Thank you.
KC: I do the reviews for Fan Fest and actually my first gig for them was writing the Saul reviews, and you guys were just firing on all cylinders this year.
PF: It’s fun to be inside it, but sometimes you lose perspective, right? I’m only part of the show, but outside of that, there’s this whole other world! I get the script so I know what’s going on, but my experience is literally through HHM, so I’ll sit there and watch it like a fan on most Mondays going “oh shit, that’s cool…that’s good.” For example, this season we opened on Jimmy off as Saul, getting money and punching holes in the wall and getting ready to leave. When I read that I was like ‘alright’ but when I sat down to watch it he’s there in his office…it’s like shit, the writers have it together. They really pieced this together well. This season, in particular, something like that has its moment. It’s a more deliberate pace than Breaking Bad but if you stuck with us, this season was full of payoffs.
KC: Tremendous. It’s funny that you mention the Saul in his office getting ready to go on the run because I have a working theory that involves Howard and that scene. Looking at it from the bigger Breaking Bad universe, and you have Jimmy who you know carries over and you have Mike who you know carries over but characters like Howard and Kim Wexler kind of float in the abyss.
PF: As Jonathan Banks told me, (slips into flawless Jonathan Banks impression) “Patrick we know I’m making it to Breaking Bad. We know Bobby makes it to Breaking Bad. You, Mando, Seehorn, we don’t know what happens to you. Save your money.” (laughs)
KC: I was debating whether or not to ask you to go into the Banks impression and I’m glad that it came up organically.
PF: It’s true. When we got picked up for season three I was like a JV cheerleader, “John we got picked up for season three”, and that’s what he said to me (laughs). He goes “That’s great, Patrick”.
KC: He’s so funny. He was on that year of Community and it was this whole other side of him. He’s just tremendous. But for you, this was kind of a tough year for Howard.
PF: I’m sorry, I kicked you off that thing. That thing where you said you have a theory for Howard. Finish it off.
KC: Yes, Jimmy and Francesca are having that conversation and he gives her a business card and tells her to tell the person that Jimmy sent her. My thing is, are we going to watch Howard become a part of the Breaking Bad universe in a way? My bigger question is do you think Howard owes Jimmy a little bit? Not in the sense where Jimmy saved his life, but it looked like the pep talk this year, where you dropped that fantastic f-bomb, it seemed like it lit a fire under Howard. Like Jimmy McGill is speaking to me this way and that’s unacceptable.
PF: That’s true because the time we see Howard back in episode ten, the finale, I’m crisp. Daddy’s had a shower. His hair looks good. He’s looking fly. You know what, it’s funny that you look at it as being owed because I spent an awful lot of time defending the idea that Jimmy owes me. I’ve gone out of my way to help this guy again, and again, and again and the cost has been tremendous for me.
PF: But you’re right, I think Howard can appreciate that point of view, especially when he looks down on me with embarrassment in the bathroom with Jimmy at the courthouse. Things have turned around. You’re right, maybe just the, “ugh, Jimmy…McGill. Telling me, Howard Hamlin to get my shit together” Maybe that was the final look in the mirror where he was like “you know what, he’s right”
KC: I’m glad you brought up the bathroom scene because I really enjoyed that from a character standpoint. When I first started reviewing the show, I wasn’t a big Howard defender. I thought he was there to be Jimmy’s foil. Not a Chuck, you know how Chuck looms over Jimmy, but Howard was everything that could happen but could never happen to Jimmy. Then as the season’s progress, there’s more depth added to Howard. So, when you see him in the bathroom just losing his shit, it strikes! This is a guy who’s been so well put together. Was it a more difficult approach coming at Howard that way?
PF: I don’t think of it as being oppressed or anything else, and I think I’ve said this before – I get to wear all of these beautiful suits, almost like a suit of armor. Howard walks into a scene and is like ‘my suits cost more than anybody’s salary here’. That feels good. That feels like power…at least power in Hamlin’s world, right? So, to have that tie and the tie undone, looking disheveled… for God’s sake, I’m in the courthouse. You rarely see me there and when I’m there I’m certainly not doing any lawyering. So, the implication that I am suggests I have to keep working.
It’s funny because, in terms of volume, it’s a slight scene. It was only two, two and a half page pages – not much turn wise. Bob and I went to film it and at that moment, we shot it and it felt good and it felt right. Then when I saw it, it had much more impact than I had imagined and for the exact reason that I stated earlier. If you’ve been sticking around for a while, it’s alarming to see how unguarded and disheveled Howard is. As an audience, you almost go on Jimmy’s side because you’re sort of repulsed by it. What’s the world coming to if Howard Hamlin is saying go take therapy, right?
KC: Yes, and that was an interesting role reversal where you see Jimmy somewhat looking down at Howard, which is nothing that you would ever expect.
PF: I was talking to the director about the idea of somebody who has, for lack of a better word, seen the light – either they found religion or they’ve gotten sober. Howard is like it’s okay to be like this. I’m going to therapy. Self-introspection. So there’s that moment or window of opportunity to share with Jimmy and be like “hey!” Then I realize I’m talking to somebody who’s never going to see it that way. Or at least he’s not going to see it that way in this moment. It’s no longer my responsibility or my business. I just shut myself down from him.
There are just so many bubbles and so many layers from it that I really did get this feeling of revulsion from him. The end of the scene was really fun too! You get Howard who just looks in the mirror in and (chuckles)… “Alright. Here we go.”
KC: He kind of gives that affirmation pep talk.
PF: Yes, it’s like this is fine. Go out there and be the best Howard Hamlin you can be!
KC: (laughs) The season started with the death of Chuck. I really thought going in that this was going to hang over Jimmy more than it actually did. Let’s talk about the scene where we close the episode and Howard is looking for absolution from Jimmy. He tells Jimmy how guilty he feels for the part he plays, and Jimmy basically tells him to shove off. My question for you is, is Howard more upset that he’s not forgiven because he genuinely feels guilty or is it the fact that he’s used to getting what he wants and Jimmy telling him no essentially spirals him?
PF: I think Howard has always been a person of manners and his and Chuck’s relationship was based not only on intimacy but on the set of rules of how people behave…what they think of business. What they talk about, how they act, how victory is assessed and celebrated. So, it’s still the proper manners to let Jimmy know it wasn’t him and I’m sure he probably thinks it is. Howard’s doing the right mannered thing you’re supposed to do in this situation. The right mannered thing to do in return would be for Jimmy to say “don’t worry about that, Howard. It wasn’t you. I’m sure it wasn’t. It was a lot of things. He was a sick man. It wouldn’t have been just that.” Instead, he says “that’s your cross to bear” and I think the shock in which Howard takes that is because he had expected the Gift of the Magi – I’m going to forgive you, you’re going to forgive me, and we’re going to feel fine. Instead, Jimmy’s like no…no it’s all on you.
So, that does spiral because then all of a sudden Howard’s words that he’s crafted that he desperately doesn’t want to be true are true. Of course, as an audience, you know that Jimmy is holding a secret which makes him completely responsible. Which makes more of, what is wrong with this guy that he would allow that to pass.
KC: I thought that really set the tone for the entire season. I was so crushed at the end when he turns around and he hits Kim with the “it’s all good man.” It’s such a real moment of crushing defeat for everybody.
PF: When he says, to the clerk, when he calls her “sweetheart”… oooh!
PF: His back is to us! He just throws it out “hey sweetheart”… it’s awful. It’s awful. Then we are all Kim on that side in shock.
KC: What’s it like working with her (Rhea Seehorn)? You two have some really good chemistry. She had that great scene with you this season where you’re trying to give her the five thousand dollars…
PF: And she hauls up and let’s loose? That’s three years coming! We had a scene last year where Howard breaks her down and humiliates her at a public valet. And she got a little bit in there, but this is really the one the fans were really excited about – that she could get one in at Howard’s expense.
It was a tough scene, but a fun scene. Michelle MacLaren was our director and she was really great. Working with Rhea…she’s so good. She’s just so damn good. She just comes at you. She’s the epitome of talking and listening in the moment. We rehearse and talk about scenes and stuff, but in the end, she’s all about being completely present with a whole bunch of different options to go to and plugin. She’s going to take what she gets and react to that, so it’s really fun. We did it a whole bunch of different ways and next thing we know we’re hearing “let’s move on that was great!” and we’re like ‘wait, wait, wait. We’re done? We’re done. I wonder which take there gonna use.’
KC: Do they give you any room to improv? I remember Rhea had Tweeted during the season that there is very little improv?
PF: There’s really no improv. If there’s any at all it’s maybe with Bob, but we all respect the word. I think any writers room would loathe an actor who comes up with a “you know” at the end of a line (laughs). My character could say that but then they would go “No, actually we thought about your character and he would not say that.” (laughs)
KC: (laughs) What do you think the future holds for Howard now that he’s gotten himself together. HHM seems to be on the rise again… is his story with Jimmy over?
PF: You know, I don’t know. I had a friend call me up and say “well, I guess that’s it for you.” I’m like, well, shut your mouth! I don’t have a bullet in my skull. But I do understand the sentiment because this show has definitely been shifting the tone more towards the bad guy stuff going on. It’s putting a lot more focus on those turn of events.
Here’s the thing, I don’t pretend to be smarter than the people who brought me this far. The one thing we know is there’s a story at hand that needs to be told, and I hope Howard will be involved someway. I still have this dream that somehow Gus and Howard are in a scene together. We don’t even have to talk, maybe eye each other’s suits like a peacock contest or something.
KC: I think the world needs that.
PF: Wouldn’t that be great?!
KC: You have Howard’s magnificent suits right next to the earth tone yellows Gus wears when he’s not in meth lord status.
PF: That would be awesome.
KC: You know what it would be? It would be the ultimate contest of politeness.
PF: (laughs) Except at the end when there’s that dark look…I think his soulless, bottomless eyes would win.
KC: (laughs) Yes, he’s got you there.
PF: Howard acts darkly when he cheats at Parcheesi.
KC: (laughing) I can see that. Just a small move here.
PF: Just a little one.
Thanks so much to Patrick Fabian for taking the time to discuss the latest season of Better Call Saul and what the future holds for Howard Hamlin. Be sure to tune back in November for part two of this interview where Patrick and I discuss his upcoming film DriverX, music, and so much more!