Bob Odenkirk on Industry Lessons

Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor of AwardsLine. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

On mentors
(My improv teacher) Del Close was the first guy that I saw, in person, do what I would call “acting.” Occasionally, in class he would get up and do the exercise, and he was fundamentally better—and, of course, a lot older—than everyone else. But it was a revelation. You could really feel the difference between what we were doing, which was reaching and searching, and an actor who was discovering the moment in a very immediate way.
(My late manager) Bernie Brillstein always said to me, “Trust your own talents.” I love collaborating and that got a little annoying with Bernie at times. He said, “Just do your thing. You have a voice, just do it.”

On professionalism
Watching Chi McBride, who starred in some of the movies I directed, really made me think. He came in to audition for one part; it was a long monologue. He knew it cold, and he delivered it with the intensity and the professionalism that you would want in the final performance. And I was like, “Holy shit! You brought it big time.” I either forgot or never realized that there are really professional actors out there who show up completely ready to rock. But Chi was one of the first that I saw, just in auditioning, at another level. Seeing him made me think, “This is what I have to do if I’m going to call myself a pro and not just get jobs from my friends, or jobs that I wrote for myself.”

On big breaks
My first big break was Saturday Night Live, and I’m not sure I ever got it right. I hung in there. I was a bit overwhelmed by it. I think at a certain point you get set back on your heels and you get intimidated, and from that you either quit the biz or you learn that you have some modicum of talent to rely on. Breaking Bad has also been a huge break for me. Outside of The Larry Sanders Show, which had a very real feeling, I’d never have roles like Saul Goodman offered to me. I guess it’s shown me that I can approach acting with a seriousness of purpose, and people have been pretty positive about the result.

On learning from mistakes
I constantly repeat my mistakes and say, “I’ll never do it again!” That’s what being a person is all about. I guess one mistake I try to avoid is saying yes to material before I really know it and know that I can contribute. I’m so thankful to be a part of this crazy business that I have, on occasion, accepted an offer or tried for a project that I don’t have the necessary connection with. That rarely comes out well. Nowadays, if I don’t really “get” the material, I’m much more apt to back away. That can be very hard to do, saying no to an opportunity, but I need to be confident that I can participate.

On giving advice
Spend more time developing the idea than executing it. Act 3 doesn’t mean a thing if the first five pages don’t make me excited to hear your story. And if I’m super excited about your story, you can probably mess up a million times and I’ll still be interested. You can make it better as you go. It doesn’t matter if Page 48 has a good joke on it, or where the damn act break belongs, if I don’t really care about the story. So think about that story that’s really worth telling, and then worry about laughs or the structure. Unless you’re writing a book about structure, then go nuts! You’ll sell a million copies! I’ll buy one, and it won’t help me a bit!

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