Jessie Cowan for TV Guide
Rhea Seehorn

How Rhea Seehorn Became Better Call Saul's Greatest Showman

She plays TV's best character — on TV's best show. Rhea Seehorn spoke to TV Guide about the rise of Kim Wexler.

Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), once Better Call Saul's secret weapon, isn't such a secret anymore. Over five seasons of the AMC drama, the seemingly by-the-book lawyer has revealed a fascinating love for a good con, and what began as a reluctant attraction to breaking the rules has turned powerful enough to reshape the series. Better Call Saul was built on exploring how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) became the amoral Saul Goodman, but as Odenkirk told TV Guide, "The mystery now at the core of the show is, 'Who is Kim Wexler?'"

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That question hit audiences like a gut punch in the Season 5 finale, as Kim shocked Jimmy by suggesting that they ruin the reputation of their former boss, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), to settle an old case. Closing the case would not only help the residents of a retirement home but also land Kim and Jimmy a major payoff, which Kim says she'd use to open a pro bono practice. And yet her noble goals couldn't mask the joy she took in fantasizing about taking Howard down. 

The scene revealed a thrilling dark side to Kim, who had previously been positioned as Better Call Saul's voice of reason. "I think it's so smart and great that they have written, directed, and enabled this character to be someone that you have sided with in a way that you believe she is on the right side of history," Seehorn said. The show pulled off a clever sleight of hand, justifying Kim's increasing willingness to bend the rules until the moment it became clear how dangerous that line of thinking can be. "If she's somebody that can make people follow her, that's quite the weapon," said Seehorn. 

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Co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould credit Seehorn's character work for inspiring Kim's evolution, and Seehorn's co-stars are united in praise for her commanding performance. Odenkirk declared, "Nobody's better." Said Michael McKean, who played Chuck McGill for the first three seasons, "She's America's Dame right now, and she sure should be." 

As part of our celebration of Better Call Saul, the best show on TV, TV Guide spoke to Seehorn about playing the best character on TV. What followed was an insightful conversation about Kim Wexler's ego, playing the microaggressions Kim faces in the office, and what fate could be even more tragic than death for her character.

Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul

Jessie Cowan for TV Guide

Since the Season 5 finale, I've gone back and forth on whether I feel like Kim's primary motivation is hurting Howard, or whether I feel like her primary motivation is helping the greatest number of people and she's just willing to hurt Howard. Can you speak to where you fall on that spectrum?
Rhea Seehorn: That sort of Robin Hood complex that she's had from the beginning always seemed just a little bit dangerous to me. She has continually tried to find a way to put her finger on the scales of justice just a little bit to make the right person win. And we see it in her first scam when somehow she's very reluctant until Ken Wins presents himself as someone she deems deserving of a scam, and then she does it. And I was like, first of all, that's not a person who should be practicing law [laughs]. That's not how the law works. Right? But many of us wish it did at times, so [there's] that thread of hers I have always found fascinating and a bit ego-driven, this idea that you get to decide who are the deserving and who are not the deserving, and what that means and what justice should look like. 

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The Howard Hamlin stuff, when I read it at first I was like, "Wow, that's very specific, Kim." I think it's both. And you see with Mesa Verde and Kevin Wachtell, she really does not seem to care for people that she thinks got handed everything and people that didn't work for what they have, to a degree that is troubling. Because what would she do to right those wrongs that she's talking about, and where would it end if you were really to go about trying to wreak vengeance on the world about that? It could be a worthwhile fight, but I don't know if it's a winnable one. So I think Howard represents things more than she personally can't stand him, and I think she's beginning to change, or at least reveal that her costs-versus-reward analysis is a little bit darker than we thought.

Rewatching all of her scenes with Howard, I was really struck by how much resentment she has built up toward him, even if a lot of it is about what he represents. How much has that been a subtext that you have played under the surface of their whole relationship?
Seehorn: If they weren't written in, the Better Call Saul family of writers and directors have always allowed me to let Kim take in those microaggressions. I mean, it's 2002 in an Albuquerque law office, so there aren't a lot of women there. And I remember there was a scene with Michael McKean. ... Chuck has come into the office early. It's one of his first times back in the office and he's still very worried about electricity, so he's trying to be quiet and come in in the early wee hours. The audience knows, he does not know, she has stayed up all night long trying to get a client and work double duty, doc review, and all this stuff. And he asks if he can talk to her. The audience knows that Kim is hoping to prove to herself the answer to the question that Jimmy has raised, which is, "Do you really think Howard Hamlin or Chuck McGill is ever going to actually reward you for all your hard work and let you get ahead?"… And I love that there was this moment where Chuck says, "Can you come into my office and talk for a minute?" and she's barely hopeful — and for Kim, hopeful is such minutiae on her face — but barely hopeful that she's being taken seriously for a second.

Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul

Jessie Cowan for TV Guide

And then he says, "Can you get me a cup of coffee before you come in?" She's reduced to receptionist in that moment — and even if it's not receptionist, even if it's somehow edging on being his peer, then it's almost worse because now it's just because I'm the woman of the two of us, I have to go get beverages and snacks on our way in. And they allowed me to have the slightest pause of just staring and no expression whatsoever, and I never forgot. Because there's some shows or storylines that wouldn't support that, because that's not necessarily a storyline we're going to see, or "doesn't it just make her unlikable?" Don't get me started on that word. And instead they let me play it, and they left it there.

All those little things they've written and encouraged, and all the beautiful editing gets us to this place where it isn't just Howard. It isn't just Kevin Wachtell, it isn't just Chuck. It is anybody. It's not even just men. You also see her mom try to tell her what to do, and that didn't go so well. So I do think that yes, I've consciously built that, and I've built it from the beginning. … But I didn't have to look at it as, oh, in Episode 7 we're going to do this huge storyline where she's like, "Everybody stop treating me this way," so I didn't have to play that. I got to play the smaller moments. And I love that our fans have stuck with it to the point where when she laughs in Howard's face five seasons later, they're like, "Well, obviously that's the reaction."

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We finally got a flashback to Kim's childhood this season. What did that mean to you within her story? How did it fit with what you had already envisioned for her?
Seehorn: I was excited, because I had asked Peter one time, "Do you think they'll ever see any of her backstory?" And mostly it was because I was, as I'm wont to do, overdoing my homework. I really like to do a lot of subtext work. And I was curious, like, "I wonder if anything I'm doing is ever going to conflict with something they want her to be or to play." ... And he said something very interesting to me. Peter said, "When you have characters that are enigmatic and loved for being enigmatic, you have to be very careful about how many questions you answer." Because the audience has their ideas, I'm playing my ideas, and you don't want this wonderful thing to collapse under the weight of, "Let us tell you exactly why she's the way she is." 

That being said, I always thought that she was raised by an addict, whether it was a parent or guardian, special teacher, something. So it was kind of exciting when I saw the flashback have my mom be clearly under the influence. Kim has that thing where she's attracted to chaos but always trying to keep boundaries to control it, and seems to be very familiar with cleaning up other people's messes. So I thought, "Oh, you've been around an addict of some sort."

Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

Jessie Cowan for TV Guide

Do you think the idea of her parent being an alcoholic was something that they got from you? Was that a conversation you had at any point?
Seehorn: I never had that conversation with them. I know we had roundabout conversations when discussing the way she relates to Jimmy and their attraction to each other, but we talked about it more as a figurative type of relationship. And it was both ways. It was equally that he has some sort of addiction to her, what they bring out in each other, and how they feel seen by the other person as well, that there is some sort of addictive element to that. ... So I think it was in their heads and in my head as well and just organically came to be the way it is. And it certainly makes sense when you think of someone who grows up insisting on being the person who takes care of themselves. There are lots of reasons behind someone saying, "You don't save me, I save me." And while it is very heroic, she clearly has issues with relying on other people that are based in things that are not just happy things.

The finale was really intentional about saying that Kim makes her own choices. She's not being "corrupted" by Jimmy. How important was that point to you?
Seehorn: With this character, and I know Peter and Vince feel the same, there was no intention to make sure she's somehow a feminist character or [there's] any kind of messaging happening. It came about, I think, in a much more interesting and accessible way, which is that they said that they just always wanted Kim to have her own agency because it makes for a more interesting character that she is with the men she's with because she chooses to, not because she needs to be — in this particular dynamic. There are very interesting films and television shows about women that need to be in the position they're in, and the tragedy of that. But they also really wanted her to not be burdened with questions that you're not asking of the male characters all the time — female-based questions like, "Doesn't she want babies?" And like, I don't know, but nobody's asking if Gus Fring wants babies either. It's not part of this story [laughs].

She is an adult who is capable of making choices as much as any of the other people in this universe, and sometimes more so. There's quite a few characters that seem to have to go where they're told, or where the river takes them. So it was important to me because I think it's important to the show to keep her part of that storytelling [exploring] the idea of the intrinsic versus the extrinsic properties of people. Who are we in our own essence versus who are we in reaction to someone else, or because of the relationships we've had? And what is your mask? When we see Saul in Breaking Bad, is that a mask and [is there] any Jimmy still there? … I certainly was thrilled to be another character displaying that question, because I find that question very interesting. Who is Kim really? And she has to be making her own choices in order for us to ask those questions about her. If it's just ancillary or in reaction to what he does, or what other people do — oh, she was fired, so now she's not at Schweikart and Cokely — that's not as interesting as quitting.

Kim and Jimmy also got married this season. How did you approach that moment when it seems like this might be the end of their relationship and then instead Kim proposes?
Seehorn: For me, it was about going back to: Kim is actually not very good at emotional stuff ... and when presented with emotional circumstances, she does try to force them over into a pragmatic, problem-solving situation. She does it with Lalo when she has to talk him out of their apartment, because emotionally she can't win what's happening, not in the marriage proposal and not when Lalo comes to their house. To cry or be in hysterics or be terrified, these will not get the result she needs in court, and they won't get the result she needs when she's in real life. In that moment, that's what I needed to play: Let this speeding train of emotion almost be too much, and she realizes there is no solution to this equation other than to make the equation not exist. And she's not ready to do that. So she switches it to a practical argument. ... Clearly it's ludicrous. But it's born of emotion that became so tight in her throat she can't keep speaking.

What do you think makes Jimmy and Kim's relationship so interesting, and what's interesting for you to play within it?
Seehorn: The Jimmy and Kim relationship to me is super rewarding, owed in huge part to the fact that they actually allow us to evolve. … Yes, it's fun doing the explosive crazy scenes, and they're great storytelling, but when they let us do the really quiet small stuff, and we have to just listen, and things can change on a dime because of the way somebody said something, that is when I feel the most authentic threads of the relationship. And I do think that it's part of what people respond to. ... It's the texture. It's the scene where I do an impression of Kevin Wachtell, and she's struggling with gloating and with what they're doing at the moment. [Jimmy] wants her to be playful, but he knows what she's struggling with and that she beats herself up about stuff. There's so much history there, and they let us play it in those small talks, because in real relationships, the real stuff happens while you're talking about making eggs. 

And that scene where she does this impression of [Kevin], Bob and I loved it so much because she's not the performer; he's the performer in the relationship. He's the showman. She can hold her own in wit, and they have a sense of humor they share that I like very much. But I went to Jim McKay, who was directing it, and I said, "I think she should not be very good at this." And I think that is how she's even more vulnerable in the scene, because we don't see Kim vulnerable very often. Jimmy's the only person she's vulnerable in front of, but even that is a rare thing, and for her to attempt an impression and not know how to do it I thought was so sweet. Those are the moments where I see why they love each other and I see why people find it authentic. … Bob and I very much cherish those scenes. They allow us to do the marriage proposal scene. That scene's impossible without every one of those toothbrushing scenes, and every scene where they're making fun of each other's movie selection or getting Thai food. Those scenes are making those other scenes possible, and they make those scenes have weight to them because there's something to be lost if these two break up now.

Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul

Jessie Cowan for TV Guide

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have talked about the fact that they didn't know exactly who Kim was going to be when the show started, and I know they looked to your performance to figure out who she is. Can you tell me about your side of that process in terms of how Kim has evolved?
Seehorn: I know that I spent the first couple of episodes just praying that I'm not dead in the next episode, because I didn't know how long I was there. They didn't come to me and say, "She's going to turn out to be the girlfriend and the love interest and then appear to be a moral compass and then actually be way more complex than we ever thought and have these dark sides." I don't think they knew that, and I'm glad they didn't come tell me if they did.

I kept playing what they put in front of me, and I thought from the very beginning that, well, she was silent more than she spoke. The audition was [a scene in Episode 3 of Season 1], and Jimmy is calling trying to get information about the Kettleman case from me. ... And I played it very strong. So by the time we were doing the series, and I saw that she doesn't speak a lot in the whole first season, and she is — still is — observational and very specific about when she chooses to speak, I thought, "Well, they wouldn't have hired me and the way I just did that audition if they wanted that to be a position of weakness, so I'm going to go about it as a position of strength." And lo and behold, I realized how much power there is in not speaking. ... So that led me to feel like, well, if you're that specific about when you speak and not wanting people to know your thoughts until you exactly want them to, then maybe that is part of her physical demeanor as well. So I started getting very, very still. I feel like I was following their breadcrumbs, but maybe then they were trying to figure out what sandwich to make out of that [laughs].

In the early seasons, the big question around her was, "What happens to Kim?" and now it feels more like, "What does Kim do?" Has that always been the question for you, or has it shifted for you too?
Seehorn: It has shifted to some degree for me. I appreciate that they give me room to bring what I want to bring to the character…but I have never had conversations with them, nor would I want to, about purposely trying to get this character to go in a certain direction because that's the most powerful thing she could do, or that's the most rewarding thing. But I did start to think, maybe last season, or maybe even after Chuck dies, I thought ... if they wanted tragic, it's not necessarily the most tragic thing for her to just be picked off. To just kill off everybody that's not in Breaking Bad, that's probably not the most interesting and it might not even be the most tragic thing that could happen to her. I mean, I say that, and then watch, I'll be dead. ... But her being in jail, her having to run, her altering herself or revealing herself to be so different that she actually could stay and tolerate what he does is equally tragic. … And at this point, I feel like she is more dangerous to herself than anything. Well, I guess the drug cartel coming after you is pretty dangerous. But still, those are choices she made. 

Read how Better Call Saul surpassed Breaking Bad to become the best show on TV...

Art Direction and Photography: Jessie Cowan
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Hair: Matthew Collins
Makeup: Kayleen McAdams
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