Bob Odenkirk talks new book, saying goodbye to Saul Goodman: ‘The ending is awesome’

Bob Odenkirk has a lot to be grateful for.

He’s alive, for one thing, after a heart attack last July that saw Twitter turn into a collective prayer vigil while awaiting news of his recovery. But even if his ticket had been punched, he’d still have been one lucky dude, judging by his new memoir, “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” (Random House, 304 pp., out now). It's not every man gets to work with the greatest comedic talents of his generation to become a beloved fringe sketch comedian with HBO cult classic “Mr. Show,” and then a four-time-Emmy-nominated actor for a career-redefining role as Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, in AMC's “Breaking Bad” and its spinoff series “Better Call Saul,” which begins its sixth and final season Monday (9 EDT/PDT).

“It’s kind of crazy. It’s one of the reasons to write the book,” Odenkirk tells USA TODAY. His memoir makes for an interesting career retrospective, considering his career is still very much in full swing, with Odenkirk fresh off turning into an action film star in last year’s bloody “Nobody.”  He's also set to star in recently announced potential new AMC series "Straight Man," adapted from the Richard Russo novel of the same name, to debut in 2023.

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The way Odenkirk writes it, his success was as much the result of dumb luck as hard work. And for all of Odenkirk’s talent, what quickly becomes clear reading his memoir is no man is an island, especially not in Hollywood. The list of world-class comedic talents he has worked with is staggering: David Cross, Conan O’Brien, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow and Janeane Garofalo are just a few of the names dropped in Odenkirk’s book as the examines the arc of his blessed career. The book is overflowing with gratitude for the talented colleagues and twists of fate that turned the middle-class suburban kid with daddy issues from Naperville, Illinois, into a serious – and seriously good – dramatic actor.

“Sometimes when people give me too much credit for my career or the things I’ve been a part of, I suggest that maybe I’m a little more Forrest Gump than I am this operative element in all this wonderful stuff,” Odenkirk says. “I’m a guy who just happened to be in the picture frame at the same time.”

As he pithily writes in his book: “it takes a (expletive) village, so make more friends than enemies.”

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“Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama,” by Bob Odenkirk.

Bob Odenkirk has no memory of the heart attack or the week that followed

“Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” is often a very funny read. But it’s easy to see how Odenkirk's sometimes mordant, self-deprecating humor could have read mournful had he not recovered from the heart attack that felled him on the set of "Better Call Saul" last year.

Odenkirk is open to talking about his experience, in part out of a desire to dispel COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, which spread online in the wake of his heart attack. “Some people thought that the vaccine gave me a heart attack, which is insane and stupid and gross,” Odenkirk says. “The last thing I want to do is be fodder for their lunatic guesswork hypotheses.”

Odenkirk says he knew as early as 2018 that he had plaque buildup in his “widowmaker” artery, but that conflicting advice from two doctors persuaded him to not start medication right away. 

“The reason I even went to a second doctor was the first doctor was not very forthcoming,” Odenkirk says. “He wouldn’t consult about it, he wouldn’t talk about the medication, he wouldn't talk about my condition. He was a person who, from my estimation, was tired of being a doctor.”

Odenkirk says that while he was told of the outpouring of love online at the time of his heart attack, he missed it completely. “I don’t have any memory from the first week and a half,” he says. "I don’t remember being in the hospital at all."

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman on AMC's "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul"

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Fast-talking scam artist and billboard lawyer Saul Goodman sweet-talked his way into Odenkirk’s life at exactly the right time. 

Odenkirk was in a professional rough patch when a “Breaking Bad” script crossed his desk in 2009 at the end of a string of misfires and missed opportunities. Years earlier, he had auditioned for (and just missed out, he was told) on getting the part of Michael Scott in NBC's remake of “The Office,” which went to Steve Carell. Then came a succession of box-office bombs with Odenkirk behind the camera for broad comedies “Let's Go to Prison” (2006) and “The Brothers Solomon” (2007). A sloppy rehearsal got him canned from a part on “Will & Grace.”

He was struggling financially and had taken a loan to keep the roof over his family’s head when he was given a script for a show he had never seen. 

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He called a friend to ask if he had ever seen “Breaking Bad.” His reaction helped seal the deal: “Are you kidding me? ‘Breaking Bad’ is the best show on TV! You’ve got to say yes!”

Odenkirk’s expectations were low. Saul seemed as if he might be a retread of a type of character he played before, namely Stevie Grant, an obnoxious agent on HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show." Plus, Saul was meant to stick around for only a handful of episodes. But something clicked when filming started. Odenkirk writes that after Saul’s first scenes were filmed, a crew member on set shouted, “Can I get a job on the spinoff?!”

“And everybody laughed,” Odenkirk writes.

“I did not think (Saul) was special in ‘Breaking Bad,’” Odenkirk says of his now-signature character. 

But like any good bottom feeder, Saul stuck around and survived the meth labs and mayhem of “Breaking Bad.” As the series wrapped, the idea of a Saul-fronted spinoff suddenly wasn’t so laughable. Still, when creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould approached Odenkirk with the offer, he was skeptical of Saul’s appeal as a protagonist.

“The first thing I said to Peter and Vince is you’ve got to make him likable if you want to write a show about him because I didn’t think he was likable. I thought they’d be insulted because I knew they liked the character, but they weren’t. They understood what I meant,” Odenkirk says. “I did grow to like him a lot more than when I started."

Odenkirk grew close enough to Saul that he isn’t quite ready to let go of the wisecracking louche with a heart of (very tarnished) gold, though filming wrapped in early February. 

“I haven’t said goodbye to him. It’s going to take me a couple of months to realize that’s ended. It’s just strange,” Odenkirk says.

“Without giving anything away, the ending is awesome. The journey, and where it went to, is very satisfying to me.”

Asked if there’s any project he wishes readers of the book would go back and reassess, he’s quick to answer: “Girlfriend’s Day,” a 2017 Netflix film close to Odenkirk’s heart in which he plays a down-on-his-luck greeting-card writer embroiled in a noir-like scheme. The character is a variation on what Odenkirk plays so well, a charismatic sad sack kicked in the shins by life one too many times.

“Nobody loves ‘Girlfriend’s Day’ as much as I do,” Odenkirk says. “I do think more people would like it if they took a chance to see it. They don’t even know it exists!”