Michael Mando’s Better Call Saul character, Nacho, has certainly come a long way. A side character in Seasons 1 and 2, Nacho has become one of the focal points of the show’s current arc.
Ever the masters, show creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have evolved Nacho from lowly errand boy (OK, drug-running errands, but still errands) to right-hand man of the big boss. He’s even contemplating a run for the top by trying to secretly kill the head honcho, Hector Salamanca; in doing so, he’ll also save his father from a descent into criminality. Mando, as always, embraces his character’s growth with aplomb, stealing every scene he’s in with that intense stare.
Born in Quebec and a Montreal boy at heart, Mando has really come into his own in the deserts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the show is filmed. Graduating from sci-fi hit Orphan Black to the Vince Gilligan universe, Mando realizes he’s hit the jackpot with this role, and says his current work is a dream come true.
Global News chatted with Mando over the phone about the Better Call Saul Season 3 finale, what’s to come for Nacho and what it’s like to wear crocodile-skin boots out in public.
Global News: Nacho has become so integral to the show. How proud are you to be a part of Better Call Saul, and to have this role?
Michael Mando: The saying goes: Good things come to those who wait. Nacho was a very peripheral character in the first two seasons, but Vince and Peter kept reassuring me, “Don’t worry, we’ll get there, we’ll get there.” I’m very happy that I kept my faith in them and it paid off in a very big way. I’m very grateful.
Saul is such a slow burn, it’s almost as if Nacho’s development is a mirror to that.
[Vince and Peter] develop stories organically. They really lay the bricks one by one, and make sure the foundation is very wide. When the action starts picking up, they can take off, with complete confidence that the structure will sustain it.
In the last episode, when Nacho is talking to his father across the table… it was heartbreaking.
That was such a difficult scene for me to shoot. The props department put pictures of me as a child on the wall, and it was such a personal experience. It was hard for me to do without tearing up. It was at that moment when I realized how strong Nacho is, and I needed to grow within myself to catch up to him.
It’s that ritualistic moment in life where the son becomes the father’s keeper. To have to strongarm your father psychologically, emotionally and morally, is heartbreaking. I feel a part of Nacho, and his relationship with his father, will never be the same. I came home after that with a sense of relief, but also a sense of sadness. I called my father and was totally overly emotional. [Laughs]
For the Season 3 finale, everyone seems to be at some sort of crossroads. Without spoiling, what can you tell me about the last episode?
He’s being pushed to the limit. Hector is going to … he’s making a move for Nacho’s father’s business. For Nacho, it’s an episode of “do or die.”
I don’t like the last word you used there.
[Laughs] What I find fascinating about the character this year is that he’s clearly picked a side. He’s willing to put his ambitions — which have been a defining aspect of who he is for the past five or six years — aside in order to save his father’s life. He’s also put his life lower on the priority list for the love of his father. To see a character with that much power be capable of unconditional love and unselfishness is really such a treat to play. It’s a great dichotomy.
So many people dismissed Saul as too slow, or too boring. Those who’ve stuck with it are being rewarded a hundredfold this season. Would you agree?
We live in an age where there’s so much competition in TV. The instinct is to grab the audience as quickly and as intensely as possible, right out of the gate. The flip side to that is there’s nowhere to go in the last three or four seasons, because the showrunners have already shown all their cards. What I applaud Peter and Vince for is… they build shows that have an exponential engagement rate. You know that it’s going to build on top of itself every season, and every season will be better than the next. Ultimately, by the time you’re in Season 4, 5, or 6, if we get there, you have a story that’s almost bulletproof, that stands by itself.
Of course, one huge scene for Nacho was the “pill” scene. Can you talk about that in greater detail?
I felt really drained after that. I came home completely exhausted, psychologically and physically. That took a lot out of me.
I have to give credit to the props department, I really do. There are so many times that we’ve had conversations about… how would you roll the dollar bills? What kind of envelope would Nacho put the money in? How would he do the pill switch? Would he wear gloves when he’s filling the pills? You have the same conversations with the costume department: How fitted are Nacho’s clothes? Why does he wear a snake earring? Why does he wear crocodile-skin boots?
Speaking of those boots… do you get to keep them?
[Laughs] No, I don’t! I’ll be honest: it was very hard for me to walk in them, in the beginning. They’re so long. They let me borrow them, and I remember wearing them to the mall in Albuquerque, and I couldn’t help but feel different. The way people looked at me was different, too. I realized these boots were very expensive, and there was something in the culture that said something very particular about a man wearing boots like that.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
The ‘Better Call Saul’ Season 3 finale airs on AMC on Monday, June 19 at 10 p.m. ET.