Betsy Brandt on Getting Justice for Hank With Marie’s Surprise Better Call Saul Cameo
The longer Better Call Saul went on, the more it welcomed in the world of Breaking Bad. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) joined the series as a main cast member in the third season. Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and Stephen Gomez (Michael Quezada) showed up for a pair of episodes in season five, and the sixth season’s home stretch featured appearances from none other than Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), along with references to the fate of Walt’s exonerated wife, Skyler. But one major character remained unaccounted for: Hank’s widow, Marie Schrader, played by Betsy Brandt. (Spoilers for the Better Call Saul finale follow.)
That absence ended with “Saul Gone,” the series finale, which featured Brandt’s unannounced return. It was no mere cameo, either. After five seasons of unpredictable and kleptomaniacal behavior, Marie returned to mournfully and morally ground Better Call Saul’s final episode. She served as an unforgiving reminder of the loss and waste Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) had facilitated, if not directly caused, as the attorney and fixer for the man who got her husband killed.
Brandt, of course, has done anything but disappear in the years after Breaking Bad. She’s been all over the place, making memorable appearances in films like Magic Mike, guesting on such series as Private Practice, Parenthood, Love, Victor, and Masters of Sex, and serving as a series regular on The Michael J. Fox Show and Life in Pieces. But, speaking by phone, she still sounds thrilled to have had the chance to return to a crucial role in the world that she’d lived in for five seasons.
How did you keep Marie’s return a secret for so long?
Listen, I would do anything for those guys and I’m also a fan of the show. Even in this interview, I’m afraid to say things! You never want to ruin it for anybody because we’ve all had someone do that to us.
Well, there’s not really anything left to spoil, is there?
Right. No, there’s no secret spinoff that I know of. I think they’ve finished telling the story. It was… Oh my God, I kept going on and on to anyone I’ve talked to about the show, even though they didn’t know I was going to be on it. I’m like, “They are just killing it this season.” I mean, they always have, but even when I was on Breaking Bad, I was still a fan of the show. And you always want the perfect ending. I remember texting Vince Gilligan after I read the finale of Breaking Bad and saying, “It’s the perfect ending for the show. You could not have done this better.” And then they did it again with this. It’s just amazing storytelling. I mean, I really don’t know what else to say. This could be a short interview! It’s so amazing. I’m not surprised but they blew me away.
When did the show approach you about returning?
Oh my God, I knew you were going to ask me that and I’m so sorry. I don’t have an answer. Not because it’s a secret, because I honestly don’t remember. Because of COVID, the schedule kept changing. I knew pretty early on that they wanted me to come back, but I didn’t know what that meant until we got closer and we all wanted to figure it out.
Were you at all reluctant to revisit Marie?
Oh, no, no, no, no. Oh my God. Listen, I was Marie. I will always love Marie. Would I want a vacation with Marie? Probably not. I loved playing her.. I loved playing her. I mean, I said to Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, “You guys could not have done any better by me or my character.” To give her that dignity that she found at the end of this… To play that, it was just such a gift to an actor and to me as a person, because to get to work with all my friends again was incredibly wonderful.
I’m so proud of her. I feel like we saw a hint of this at the end of Breaking Bad when the last time we see her, she’s wearing no purple. And I know [the finale is] in black-and-white, but she’s not wearing purple in the finale of Better Call Saul either. I think once she lost Hank I think she just had to grow up and put things in perspective.
She plays such an important role as this unforgiving voice of justice. Did that surprise you when you got the script?
No. Did it surprise you?
Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect of any of the characters we hadn’t seen for a while.
Oh, I guess that’s true. It didn’t surprise me because I think Hank and Marie have one of the best love stories you’ve seen on TV. I was heartbroken when Hank died. Marie would do anything for him. And I think wanting justice for Hank, her compass points north on that. She’s so determined in good and bad ways. In this moment, she used that determination for good and not bad. I feel like we saw some of that at the end of Breaking Bad, and I love it when a character surprises you and the writers gave me that.
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but you had not had any scenes with Bob Odenkirk before, right?
[Pauses.] No. I had one scene with Giancarlo [Esposito]. I had one scene with Aaron and that felt… I’ll never forget when we had that scene together. I kept saying, “It was so weird to have you in my TV house.” Because we were on completely different shows. So it was a treat.. And I know Bob, and I love Bob and his wife [Naomi]. I mean, I’m such a fan of Rhea [Seehorn], I was like, “I know we didn’t have any lines with one another but…”
Had you been back to Albuquerque since Breaking Bad ended?
I go back at least once a year. My son was born there during season two. My daughter started preschool and went to school up there. Dean and I were just talking about this the other day, just how our kids are growing up and he’s like, “When we lived in New Mexico, our kids used to play together and all went to the same school…” It was a pretty amazing life. We were just raising our kids in New Mexico for at least part of the year. I love being able to circle back.
Has it changed since then?
It’s funny. Yes and no. In some ways it feels like all the good things are still there—and then it always surprises me, catches me off guard just a bit, what an impact Breaking Bad and Saul have had on Albuquerque. Now we have a statue there. There’s the candy, you can get the candy at the candy store in Old Town from the Candy Lady. When you get off the airplane, there’s a kiosk that just sells Breaking Bad swag.
There’s a lot of fantastic crew that are based out of Albuquerque now, which is amazing. So it can be a hub for production and it’s a great place to do a show. Between both the shows, we’ve been there for so long, but there’s still new places we shot. Albuquerque is another character in the franchise. The show is delightfully specific because it’s in Albuquerque. There are some things that would be completely different if it was somewhere else. Breaking Bad was originally set in California. We shot in New Mexico, because of the tax incentives, but it ended up being just such a great gift.
You’ve kind of done everything since Breaking Bad, every sort of genre of television, especially. Was that by design after playing one character for so long?
After Breaking Bad, it definitely was a conscious choice. I mean, if you’re lucky enough to have an experience like that as an actor, to have a job that you love that much, I felt like… I wanted to do a comedy after that and that’s what I did. I did The Michael J. Fox Show and I could not have chosen anyone better than Michael J. Fox to work with after doing Breaking Bad. I just felt like I didn’t want to try and chase the next Breaking Bad because I didn’t know if there would be one for me. And then I made my way to Masters of Sex. And I spent four years on a CBS sitcom [Life in Pieces] playing Dianne Wiest and Jim Brolin’s daughter.
It’s so funny, after I do a drama… I remember talking with Bryan Cranston about this. I remember the day we shot the awkward guacamole scene and I was getting chest pains at the end of the day because I was having to tell Bryan to go kill himself multiple times, over and over again. Which, listen, nobody forces me to do this. There’s a part of me that loves that. It’s fun. But in a different way. It’s fun in a different way than doing a comedy. But once I knew we got that scene, I said to him, “I’m ready for a comedy.”
It’s like you need a cleanse, a comedic cleanse after you do a show like this. But then after I do comedy, I’m like, “I want a drama to sink my teeth into.” I mean, I just, I love flexing all of those muscles. And I have to tell you, even though I was, I thought, prepared for it, being on Saul really caught me off guard. To have Peter Gould write the words or to say the words that Peter had written and to have Peter direct me, it really was like coming home.
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