Last year, Bob Odenkirk got invited to the Oscars.
He was there for Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s unsentimental road movie in which Odenkirk played stoical elder son Ross to Bruce Dern’s confused alcoholic dad, Woody.
Odenkirk required a tux. In this matter, the producers of the new TV show he was making could offer some assistance. They knew clothes people. They could even get him a discount.
“It was still a couple of hundred bucks,” he recalls. “I brought it home the night of the Oscars and put it on. And I’m, like: ‘Why is this so poorly tailored? It doesn’t fit me at all…’” Then he realised why.
While McGill would eventually become the more sartorially aware Saul Goodman (a name, we learn, meaning “It’s all good, man”), when we first meet McGill he’s on his uppers.
“He doesn’t have any money so [the producers] intentionally cut my clothes poorly,” Odenkirk explains. “Kind of blocky and wide in the middle, with too much fabric.”
So this is how he attended his first Academy Awards. “Wearing this tux that didn’t fit me at all,” he sighs. “Which looked cheap, even though it wasn’t.”
As we watch McGill become Goodman — “You’ve seen the stock-motion footage of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, right?” – his fashion sense evolves, too. A fondness for pastel shirting, quadruple-width French cuffs and jacquard ties, set off with an ostentatious comb-over (Odenkirk’s own idea) helped to define his Breaking Bad character, and led show creator Vince Gilligan to affectionately label him “The worst-dressed cockroach in the world”.
“He’s like a crow. He’s attracted to shiny objects,” Odenkirk says. “But I have sympathy for a guy who’s from Chicago and had a spell with some less than high-class characters. He’s trying to be impressive and stand out with his choice of overly flamboyant clothes.”
As to Odenkirk’s own personal style, he describes himself as a “midwestern guy: I wear T-shirts and jeans”. He variously describes the chance to play dress-up for Esquire as “awesome”, “really fun” and “like a comedy sketch where I was the only person laughing”.
While he found most of the suits “really sharp”, he seems genuinely bamboozled by some of the neckwear. “I don’t know about a knit tie,” he puzzles. “It feels like a tie you’re supposed to wear when you’re jogging.”
Better Call Saul came out of the blocks sprinting – episode one scored the highest ratings in cable history for a show debut – and settled down to solid figures. A second series has been commissioned for early 2016.
That’s a big relief for Odenkirk, and presumably an even bigger one for Gilligan, who by revisiting Breaking Bad had arguably gambled against the biggest derisive raspberry in TV history. (Until such time as someone proposes Young Sopranos, that is.)
“We were aware of the risks, but until two weeks before it premiered I wasn’t thinking about how hard we could fall,” Odenkirk says. “Then I realised: ‘Oh shit.’”
Almost all the main Breaking Bad cast joined them for the premiere – “They all love each other and they love Vince for creating Breaking Bad” – which brings us to the hot topic of characters returning for Better Call Saul.
At the time of writing, gangster Tuco Salamanca and retired cop Mike Ehrmantraut have both appeared, with more Breaking Bad names promised. A young Walter White? Odenkirk says not.
“Don’t forget Walter meets Saul for the first time in Breaking Bad. Jesse [Pinkman] already knows him. Hank Schrader already knows him. So maybe we’ll see those guys,” he smiles. “But I don’t know.”
Odenkirk, who grew up loving Albert Brooks, Bill Murray and Monty Python and also writes, directs and produces, was already a cult name thanks to his work on American sketch shows Saturday Night Live and Mr Show, the Emmy-nominated HBO series.
Now, at 52, he finds himself a proper star, with not one but two hit programmes under his poorly-fitting belt.
“I watch these shows like anybody, but I’m more surprised than anyone that people gave it a chance,” he says. “I promise I gave it my all as an actor. Completely.”
Next awards season? Better call a tailor…
Better Call Saul is available on Netflix now