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Breaking Bad's Saul Goodman Was Inspired By A Real-Life Attorney

Saul Goodman, the lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk on "Breaking Bad" and its prequel spin-off series "Better Call Saul," ended up becoming one of television's most nuanced and relatable antiheroes. His greed is a force of nature; he's the personification of the ends justifying the means. Across both shows, Odenkirk displays the frighteningly acute ability to abandon all ethics in pursuit of Goodman's goals, perverting the law and himself in the process. With the silver tongue of a seasoned salesman and the conniving mind of a supervillain, he rises to prominence in New Mexico as the last refuge of the legally damned, characterized by his catchphrase, "Better call Saul!" He is, as Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) puts it, not just a criminal lawyer, but a criminal lawyer.

Taking in both series, especially Odenkirk's tour de force performance across the six seasons of "Better Call Saul," it's easy to assume that the character of Goodman was invented out of whole cloth. He appears like an almost mythological figure, a dark mirror of society's worst impulses and wish-fulfillments gone awry. But the man born James Morgan McGill was infact inspired by a real-life attorney.

A real Albuquerque attorney named Ron Bell inspired Saul Goodman

According to "Breaking Bad" production designer Robb Wilson King, as quoted by GQ, the initial persona of Saul Goodman was inspired by a real-life personal injury attorney named Ron Bell, whose advertisements could, at the time, be found plastered across the arid Albuquerque landscape and airing on its local television channels. Like the fictional Goodman, Bell's ads were flashy and a bit cartoonish, with one featuring the attorney knocking gloves in a boxing ring and another in which he describes the signs of elder abuse in a nursing home. Similar to Goodman, Bell had his own catchphrase: "Ring the Bell!"

In designing Goodman's office, King actually set up a meeting with Bell, and described the encounter as a surreal experience. "On a billboard, Ron Bell looks like the biggest movie star in the world," King said. "Well, the door opens to his huge office, and I'm looking at this big desk that looked like an aircraft carrier in his office, but he's not there. And as I get closer and closer to the desk, I finally see him: he's the littlest guy I've ever seen in my life, sitting behind this desk. That's Ron Bell!"

King's experience with Bell guided him in designing Goodman's ostentatious offices, most notably his inner sanctum, characterized by its faux marble pillars and enormous desk. The imagery was perfect as Goodman does everything possible to project an illusion of grandiosity for prospective clients. The irony, of course, is that Jimmy McGill is riddled with insecurities hiding behind the character he's constructed, but looking at him, you'd never know it.