Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin, Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Sewell Whitney as Judge Lawler in BETTER CALL SAUL - Season 5 | ©2020 AMC/Sony Pictures Television/Greg Lewis

Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin, Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Sewell Whitney as Judge Lawler in BETTER CALL SAUL – Season 5 | ©2020 AMC/Sony Pictures Television/Greg Lewis

BETTER CALL SAUL, the prequel series chronicling how lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) transforms himself into the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman of BREAKING BAD, premieres its fifth season on AMC on Sunday, February 23. Nominated for an Outstanding Drama Emmy (among awards) for each season it has been on, BETTER CALL SAUL then settles into its regular Season 5 timeslot on Mondays with its second episode on February 24.

Patrick Fabian plays lawyer Howard Hamlin, a partner at the prestigious Albuquerque law firm of HHM (Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill). Jimmy’s brother Chuck (Michael McKean), who committed suicide in BETTER CALL SAUL Season 3, was also a partner at the firm until he was ousted. Howard and Jimmy now have what could be described as a complicated relationship.

Fabian, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, won several awards for his leading performance in the film THE LAST EXORCISM, playing a child preacher grown into a fake exorcist who comes across what may or may not be a real case of possession. Other credits include Netflix’s series SPECIAL, THE NEWSROOM, BAD ASS, GIGANTIC, WORKING CLASS, BIG LOVE, VALENTINE, VERONICA MARS, PROVIDENCE, and TIME OF YOUR LIFE.

BETTER CALL SAUL creators/executive producers Vince Gilligan (who also created BREAKING BAD) and Peter Gould has been announced that this is the penultimate season of the series. Production on the sixth and final season will begin later this year. Meanwhile, Fabian gives us his thoughts on BETTER CALL SAUL and Howard Hamlin.

Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin in BETTER CALL SAUL - Season 2 | ©2020 AMC/Sony Pictures Television/Ben Leuner

Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin in BETTER CALL SAUL – Season 2 | ©2020 AMC/Sony Pictures Television/Ben Leuner

ASSIGNMENT X: Howard Hamlin was not a character we saw in BREAKING BAD …

PATRICK FABIAN: We did not see him in BREAKING BAD. Which doesn’t mean that he’s not there, he’s just not filmed.

AX: Were you a BREAKING BAD fan before you got involved in BETTER CALL SAUL?

FABIAN: I saw the pilot. My wife [writer/director Mandy Fabian] was maybe eight, nine months pregnant with our first child. We watched the pilot, and I remember her turning to me and saying, “Yeah, I’m not on board with this.” We have the miracle of life in her belly, we were like, “What is this show?” And then we got involved with having a kid, so we missed the first two seasons. And then we had another kid, and we missed the next. I managed to live in Los Angeles and see the billboards, and never watch a single episode, other than the pilot.

AX: I don’t have children, but I understand that it’s sort of a miracle to get anything else besides child-rearing done when a family has young children …

FABIAN: Oh, yeah. But that’s not true, because I watched like all hundred and twenty episodes of CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG and SUPER WHY [laughs].

AX: That seems like it would be part of child-rearing …

FABIAN: Exactly. But then I got this job [on BETTER CALL SAUL], and I binge-watched [BREAKING BAD] in about a weekend. And honestly, had I known the show before I auditioned for it, there’s that old chicken/egg – would I have been too nervous going in? Because I went in knowing about the show, but I thought, “Well, they’re just going to give this to a movie star. These guys have shelves full of Emmys, it’s this big, lauded show. They’re not going to hire me. So I’ll go in and maybe I’ll get a guest star in something else from these casting directors,” was sort of the way I went about doing it.

Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin in BETTER CALL SAUL - Season 2 | ©2020 AMC/Sony Pictures Television/James Minchin

Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin in BETTER CALL SAUL – Season 5 | ©2020 AMC/Sony Pictures Television/James Minchin

AX: How old are your kids going to have to be to watch BETTER CALL SAUL?

FABIAN: They’ve visited set, but of course, my children are young, they’re both under the age of ten, so they’re more interested in craft service than anything else. Which is to be expected. I don’t know when they’ll come to this. Right now, they’re just watching me in old Disney films called TWITCHES [2005] and TWITCHES TOO [2007]. I was Thantos, the evil guy on that, with the twins, Tamera and Tia Mowry.

AX: Howard started out as a very adversarial character, and he’s sort of moved into a more ambiguous relationship with Jimmy …

FABIAN: Well, in the very beginning, in the very first episode, your lead character, Jimmy McGill, refers to Howard as Lord Vader. I’m the guy at the head of a law firm. I’m the Man. But as we’ve discovered, I was sort of doing Chuck’s bidding, and maybe I’m not so bad, and maybe I was actually trying to protect Jimmy, and so I think the audience sort of came around to how they thought, “Oh, that’s not bad.” But then I think it was Season 3, I sent Kim [played by Rhea Seehorn] to the cornfield and treated her in a way that the audience didn’t like so much, so I was back being a bad guy [laughs].

And then Season 4, Jimmy and I have some confrontations. I start off that season confessing that I think that I killed Chuck [by causing his suicide]. Of course, Jimmy shows himself in some awful colors by saying it’s my cross to bear and basically laying it on me. I’m looking for absolution, and instead, he puts salt in the wound. And that starts off a very interesting Season 4 for me, where Howard sort of bottoms out. And yet it’s Jimmy who sort of gets him out of it. Jimmy comes toward the end of the season, and sees Howard in sort of a shambles in his office, and things are sinking, both personally and everything else. And he basically says, “What are you doing? You’re Howard Hamlin. Why do you look so terrible? Get your shit together.” And he does. Howard does. So by the end of the season, Howard is back on track, and I think he’s ready to lead with his heart. He’s learned some lessons, and made some strides, and Season 5 shows what that gets him, for leading with his heart.

AX: How far in advance do Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould let you know what you should prepare for with Howard?

FABIAN: Well, first of all, Peter Gould’s been running the show for the last two years. Vince has stepped away from the show. He does come back and direct, but as he was saying at the panel today, he’s enjoying watching stuff, because he doesn’t know what’s coming up. And I’ve no idea what’s coming up. I get the scripts, and then I find out. So there’s no advance warning about, Howard’s going to do this, or Howard’s going to do that. Even Michael McKean, who played Chuck McGill, when his character self-immolated, I don’t think he knew until he got a call from Peter and Vince saying, “We’ve got something to tell you,” but that was literally a week out from shooting. So we don’t have foreknowledge, and there’s no input as well. Because they’re the storytellers, when it comes to that. So knowing anything like that is not going to help me anyway. I love the show because it’s so moment to moment, and immediate anyways.

AX: But when you find out later that, for example, maybe Howard was trying to protect Jimmy, do you think you would have played Howard any differently if they’d told you beforehand?

FABIAN: This goes to the very beginning of the show. Vince was directing the first episode. Because we had Jimmy calling me Lord Vader, because the situation dictated, “Oh, he’s a bad guy,” as they pointed out, “We don’t need any moustache-twirling on this.” And like any good quote-unquote villain, you’re not playing villainous things, you don’t think you’re doing anything awful. And they had mentioned that Howard’s trying to run a business, and he’s trying to do the right thing, so let’s not gild the lily one way or the other, because if you go back and re-watch it, you’re like, “Oh, no.” I’m actually protecting Chuck from being found out, is what I’m doing, and then you see it with a clarity which you can’t unsee, which is the genius of the writing. I’m willing to take the heat. I’m willing to be the one who Jimmy calls and picks on, right? Even though then Chuck sits right beside me and feigns shock. And I’ve always found that interesting, that relationship between Howard and Chuck. What allowed Howard to debase himself like that?

AX: Why do you think Howard does that to himself?

FABIAN: I think both of those McGill brothers have a way with Howard in making feel Howard feel insecure and possibly unworthy of the position that he has. It’s his father’s law firm, and the McGill is Charles McGill, and we find out later that Charles feels like he taught me everything I knew, and so therefore, with the father out of the picture, is HHM there because of H, or because of M? And if Howard has any sort of deep-seated fears about that, then he feels dirty that he has to protect Chuck, because if he doesn’t protect Chuck, then Chuck will leave, and if Chuck leaves, then there is no HHM, and then who is he? It’s like an existential crisis. So it’s much easier to do the thing that’s painted outside of the lines and the moral right thing – “I’ll just take the heat.”

I think Howard’s a guy who likes to think he would love to join a band, but in the end would be the manager of the band. Jimmy’s your punk rock lead singer, and Chuck’s the drummer, who writes brilliant, complicated prog rock or something like that. But Howard desperately wishes he could be the front man, but he knows that’s not where his strengths lie.

AX: Speaking of punk rock, Michael McKean, who played Chuck, was one of the creators and stars of THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Were you a SPINAL TAP fan?

FABIAN: Yeah, of course. Who’s not? I don’t want to have dinner with those people [laughs].

AX: With BETTER CALL SAUL, do you have favorite scenes or episodes?

FABIAN: Jimmy and I cross paths in Season 5, and Jimmy and I have a lunch scene that I particularly had a great time working with, because I’ve always enjoyed working with Bob. Bob – what a great actor. And it’s fun when you get to play tennis with somebody who’s better than you, because you get a little bit better. And I used to always think the same thing when I was working in scenes with Michael McKean, and Rhea Seehorn, which was, “Oh, it’s a scene with me and Michael McKean.” I’m like, “Oh, good. Well, then, the scene will be funny, because he’s in it. So it’s going to be all right.” So there was this great pressure that was taken off me, in my brain. And then I would get out there, and you would just see the level of detail and emotion that they would come up with. And it pulls things out of you. It brings a better performance out of you. So that’s why I always like working with Bob.

In this scene in particular, I think we really nailed something. It’s one of those times when you’re doing the scene, and you do it seven or eight times, and you both have the feeling of, “Meh.” And then something happens, or somebody drops an idea in it before you do it again, and then you do it, and all of a sudden, it’s just firing on all cylinders. And you finish it, and we’re like, “Oh, that’s it.” I’ll be curious to see it. Now, having built it up, let’s see if it delivers.

AX: Do you feel ownership of Howard’s law office set? Do you walk in there and go, “Mine?”

FABIAN: Yes. It’s absolutely fun to go in. Look, it’s my name on the wall, you know what I’m saying? So yes, I absolutely feel like that. But because of the magic of television, sometimes the set is completely [built up], with all the doors, and its antechamber, with the secretary’s office. In this season, there’s a point where they knew they only needed a single shot, and I’ve got my feet kicked up on the table, very un-Howard-esque. And the set was cut in half. They literally just put this little corner up, just enough so when you watch that episode, and you see Howard’s feet on the end table, know that literally six inches on either side of the frame, left or right, and top to bottom, is Soundstage Number Four.

AX: Can you tease any changes in Howard in BETTER CALL SAUL Season 5, or is Howard sort of back to himself?

FABIAN: Oh, I think he is a changed man from Season 4. Unlike Jimmy, Howard went to therapy. Howard got right with himself. Howard dug deep. Howard allowed himself to become disheveled, he allowed his business to flounder, and by the end, we see things quote-unquote back to normal, but I would suggest not, because in that final scene where they’re dishing out Chuck’s benefit, they take a vote, and then Jimmy has that impassioned speech about, “What about this girl? How come you’re not giving her a chance?” And the old Howard would have been like, “We already took a vote, that’s it, forget it.” Instead, the new Howard goes, “You know what? I hear you, Jimmy. I hear and I see you.” And I think they’ve come to a new agreement of how they behave with one another. Of course, the end of the scene is, they’ve taken another vote and Jimmy still does not win. But I think the fact that Howard allowed that moment means he’s more open with what’s going on, and I think Howard’s heart is more in the forefront of his behavior in Season 5. Whether that gets him in trouble or not remains to be seen.

AX: Do you have more fun with the old Howard or the new Howard?

FABIAN: He’s so fun to play. Rhea and I were talking about what a joy it is to be able to play characters that aren’t the same. It’s not week in and week out, we’re solving a mystery, and this is who we were, and it’s stamped in cement. We started somewhere, and we’re going somewhere, and now we know that it’s the final season coming up when we go back to work sometime this year, I’m curious to see where Howard ends up.

AX: I’m curious to see what year it ends up, if BETTER CALL SAUL is going to end up in the flash-forwards where we see Jimmy/Saul has changed his identity yet again or after that, or …

FABIAN: For all I know, the final three episodes are Howard, Kim, and Jimmy, and they have a law office in Georgia or something. I don’t know. Is Kim alive? Is Howard alive? Or, as happens in life, they just fade away out of people’s storylines. We’re watching a show called BETTER CALL SAUL, about Saul Goodman. So maybe at some point, Howard doesn’t meet a dastardly end, or any other end, other than, he’s no longer part of Saul’s life. Knowing these writers, I don’t think exactly that’s how it’s going to go, but it could go any way. That’s why they’re so good.

AX: To ask about another surprising storyline, when you first read the screenplay for THE LAST EXORCISM, were you going back and forth between, “It’s real, it’s not real, it’s real, it’s not real”?

FABIAN: It was really fun like that. We improvised that movie. We read a script the day before we started shooting, so we had an idea of what we were shooting, or the story we were telling, and then Daniel Stamm, the director, would put Iris Bahr, who was [playing] the documentary filmmaker, and myself, and he would say, “Okay, we’re going to do this scene, and here are some points we want to get across.” And then we would do it. And then he’d say, “Okay, stop. Keep that, keep that, get rid of this, now expand on this.” And we would just be shooting all day long, improvising and doing stuff.

It was a great thing to be part of. We shot it in Louisiana down in the Lower Ninth Ward, five years after Katrina, and not much had been built back up. And so it was spooky, and wonderful, and real low-budget. And we worked really hard, and we had bug bites and all that stuff [laughs]. And we were shooting at night, mostly, so it was really creepy. So that really seeped into the film, I think.

AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?

FABIAN: I’m in the last four episodes this season of CAROL’S SECOND ACT. They’re a great cast. I’m so psyched to join up for a couple of episodes. And also, I’m in a new movie called EAT BRAINS LOVE, which was a low-budget horror film that [was] released on Valentine’s Day on VOD all over the platforms. And then on Netflix, SPECIAL has been renewed for Season 2, and they’re expanding it from fifteen minutes to a half-hour, they’re doing ten episodes, and I’m going to be in probably about five or six of those as well.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about Season 5 of BETTER CALL SAUL?

FABIAN: Oh, it sounds cheap but it’s true – Season 5’s better than 1, 2, 3, and 4. You’re going to love it.

This interview was conducted during AMC’s portion of the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: BETTER CALL SAUL Exclusive Interview – Actor  Giancarlo Esposito returns to his BREAKING BAD role

Related: BETTER CALL SAUL creators Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould talk Season 1 – interview

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ArticleBETTER CALL SAUL Exclusive Interview – Actor Patrick Fabian on Season 5

 

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