Patrick Fabian, who plays Howard Hamlin on AMC’s Better Call Saul, talks about unveiling his character’s softer side and compares Jimmy and Kim to Romeo and Juliet.
A: I think it’s really interesting because it is more obvious to go ahead and make Howard the “Lord Vader” and the cause of all of Jimmy’s problems. It’s much more insidious to have it closer to home and it also begs the question of what is Howard wrapped up with Chuck in? He’s not related to him, but what does he owe Chuck? What are Chuck and Howard hiding? Is there a monetary issue? Is Howard incapable or afraid of running the firm by himself? It does make it a little more interesting and deeper.
Q: Have you experienced a change in how fans react to you since it became clearer that Chuck was the bad guy?
A: Last season, a lot of people tweeted about how bad I was and then all of a sudden, after Episode 9[Chuck’s betrayal], it was like “Oh. Sorry about that!” This year, they really liked Howard and thought he was a good guy, but then when everything started to go down with Kim, people said, “Aw, man! You really are a bad guy!” People even accused Howard of having unrequited feelings for Kim and [suggested] that’s why he was treating her so bad.
Q: We see a bit of his softer side when Kim gives her notice to HHM in Episode 8. What do you make of their dynamic?
A: He’s still running a business and it’s still his name on the wall. When she screws up, he doesn’t punish her, but he sends a message to the rest of the company. That’s just the way Howard runs his business. He’s harder on those he sees the most potential in because he knows how far they can go. I think, without a doubt, Howard was hoping to see HHMW on the wall, but from Howard’s point of view, Jimmy has poisoned it. Howard thinks he knows what the score is and the fact that she pulls a 180 and surprises him allows him a sense of softness. I’ve always thought that Howard had a paternalistic feeling towards Kim. She’s the favorite daughter, and this is the closest thing to saying “I love you” to a daughter. Between her and Jimmy, she got out of the mailroom. He wonders what mistakes were made along the way to make her go. Although, with Howard being Howard, the mistakes don’t lie at his feet.
Q: You’ve had virtually no scenes with Bob Odenkirk this season. Do you miss him?
A: I do miss him. Bob is so fun to work with and he brings so much to the table. His character is always fun. Last season, I always got in trouble because with Jimmy McGill, you just want to be like him. He has these rambling monologues and these funny lines. As an actor, I found myself wanting to match that, but of course that’s not my character.
Q: On the flip side, we’ve seen a lot more interaction between Howard and Chuck this season. How have you been enjoying exploring their relationship? What are your thoughts on their dynamic?
A: It’s a real honor because working with Michael McKean is fantastic, and intelligent actors are always your best bet. Both Chuck and Howard are so good, and it’s like playing tennis with someone who’s better than you: You hope you get better every time you get beat. We’ve seen Howard in Chuck’s house and there’s a familiarity that lends itself to letting us know that there is history and camaraderie. When Kim procures the Mesa Verde account, Howard doesn’t give her much credit, but he certainly takes credit himself and goes to Chuck’s house with that scotch. It implies that this is a ritual when they land a big fish. They drink to their success and that’s inner circle stuff. It’s not for consumption by the rest of HHM. Even though Chuck is sitting in the space blanket, there’s a brief moment of normalcy and the way things used to be. I liked that a lot. I think they’re buddies, but Howard is navigating Chuck’s illness just like everybody else. Consequently, there’s a sense of loss for Howard as well. It almost feels like Howard has to use kids gloves when talking about Chuck and to him.
Q: Howard briefly mentions how his father is the reason he’s at HHM and not off practicing on his own. Is it safe to say that’s our answer to who the other Hamlin is in Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill?
A: Yeah. I’ve always thought that Howard was the second “H” and that his dad was dead, retired or indisposed. The fact that he’s never mentioned as well also makes me think that. There’s not even a chair for him. Howard is clearly the titular head of the company. That says a lot, too. The crown weighs heavy and everything he does, he does to protect HHM. So, he allows himself to have personality with Kim, but as soon as she leaves – literally when she’s out the door – his game face is back on. It’s like, “Well, that was sweet. Now let’s go!” It was so fast like he maybe had a momentary lapse of reason. [Laughs]
Q: You’ve said you watch the episodes for the first time along with the rest of the fans, when they air on AMC. Why is that?
A: The show, for me, is through Howard’s eyes. Of course I read the script and what’s going on because the writing is so good, but I film the scenes that I’m in. It’s a delicious reward that I get when I watch the episode like a fan. I almost wept watching Jimmy and Kim get together because since we know what happens with Saul Goodman later on, it’s ill-fated. We know that eventually we see Saul Goodman as a solo practitioner. It’s like watching Romeo and Juliet in the beginning. It makes me a little nostalgic.
Q: Is there anything that has surprised you this season?
A: All the stuff with Hector and Nacho. I didn’t even interact with those guys, so the first time I watched Hector, I said, “Oh man! Whoa! He’s talking and walking!” Then, the handsome boy twins showed up again. I thought I was supposed to be the good-looking one on the show! [Laughs] I also love peeling the onion and finding more about Mike, which I think most fans enjoy.
Q: You’ve said that you went into your Better Call Saul audition thinking that, at best, you’d get three episodes of The Walking Dead out of it. How do you think Howard would fare if he were transported into that world?
A: Let’s face it, Howard wouldn’t make it to the first commercial break. He’d try to take charge and he’d say he knew how to handle a weapon, but would get his nose bitten off.
Q: Which Better Call Saul character could hold their own?
A: Mike Ehrmantraut. He’s unstoppable. He wouldn’t even have to run. He’d come up with something.
Q: We’ve asked your colleagues, and now it’s your turn: Who would you rather have defending you in court, Jimmy or Saul?
A: Oh, gosh. From Howard’s point of view, he’d go with Saul Goodman because Howard would be smart enough to recognize that even though it might not be by the rules, Saul would have a better chance of getting him off. I’m assuming Howard would have done something awful and is nervous about losing his position, so he’d try anything. He’d try to make Saul wear something different to court, though.
Q: What about your personal pick? And what if we threw Howard into the mix?
A: I’d totally want Howard. You just know he’s good! I bet you he’s so charming in the court room in a way that would probably make your skin crawl, but he’d definitely win the case.
Read an interview with Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC.