Better Call Saul: Why Michael McKean Didn't Work Much With The Show's Writers

"Better Call Saul" was always a bit of an ensemble show. It may have told the story of Jimmy McGill's (Bob Odenkirk) transformation into the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman fans knew from "Breaking Bad," but much of that transformation was driven by the people in Jimmy's life, most importantly his brother, Charles "Chuck" McGill, as portrayed by Michael McKean. And according to McKean, he rarely worked with the show's writers, saying his character was so well written that he almost never felt the need.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, McKean explained that the show felt so well written that he almost never had to work with the writers, even when it came to the more subtle aspects of his performance as Chuck. "There's very little conversation about that," McKean said. "The writing is so clear. Early on, [showrunners] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] were very kind to tell people, 'We really let the actors tell us where their characters are going to go.' In other words, they used the scenes that Bob and I had early in the series, they found them to be inspirational as far as where the characters were going. That was a very flattering thing to hear from good writers."

McKean says that early encouragement led to a more humanistic approach to the character, which meant he understood Chuck enough not to need guidance. "From then on, I had very few questions," he said, "because they seemed to imagine Chuck as a very playable character and not an aberration. He's not an alien. He's not a Martian. He's an actual human being, and I've always felt that way."

McKean only questioned the Better Call Saul writers about minute details

Though a brilliant lawyer whose jurisprudential prowess is the stuff of legend in Albuquerque's legal community, Chuck McGill is afflicted with a psychosomatic condition causing him to believe he is sensitive to electricity. Though Jimmy looks after Chuck, the older McGill is deeply resentful of his scheming younger sibling and quickly becomes the show's primary antagonist in its early seasons.

McKean's performance on "Better Call Saul" was slippery, and Chuck's intentions are always shrouded in uncertainty and self-righteousness. It's the kind of nuanced role that would usually require an actor to collaborate closely with writers to portray correctly, but McKean said that after he was allowed to take the character in his own direction during the initial seasons, he only came to the writers with small suggestions.

Additionally, as McKean told The Hollywood Reporter, the show's writing was so tight and well-constructed that he never needed much clarification. "The only times that I've had questions are about, 'These two sentences, guys? It could be one sentence,'" he said. "It really is. It's that level of minutiae because they've been very, very clear. It's not like we sit around and have bull sessions about, 'Hey, where's Chuck going to go this year?' It's like, 'You tell me, guys. I'm the hired gun. As long as you don't bulls*** me, I'm not going to bulls*** you.'"

McKean did not stay on "Better Call Saul" for its entire run, as his character met a tragic fate in Season 3's denouement. The absence of his gravitas-laden performance was deeply felt. Even with characters like Gustavo FringĀ (Giancarlo Esposito) spicing up Season 4, it took some time to escape the gravitational pull of the Chuck-shaped hole at the show's center.