‘Better Call Saul’: Dean Norris Discusses Playing Agent Schrader Before ‘Breaking Bad’ Ruined Him, Says He’s ‘Original Fun Hank’

Before the tragic episode of Breaking Bad when Agent Schrader gets killed by psychotic white supremacist Uncle Jack, he’s already a broken man. The Hank Schrader we find in the final season is so different from the loudmouthed, upbeat, and carefree macho man from the beginning. Sure, it was inevitable that Hank would evolve as the series progressed. But it was disheartening to watch him fall so far.

Breaking Bad fans were thrilled to learn that Agent Schrader would be reprising his role in the show’s prequel, Better Call Saul. But perhaps the best part of all is returning to the Hank we loved from Breaking Bad’s first season — a man who isn’t yet beaten down by a drug kingpin brother-in-law, a kleptomaniac wife, and some of the darkest moments of his career as a DEA agent who never saw what was right under his nose.

[Spoiler Alert: Spoilers ahead for Better Call Saul, Season 5, Episode 3]

Hank Schrader
Agent Hank Schrader | Cathy Kanavy/AMC

Agent Hank Schrader finally made a comeback on ‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5

You couldn’t ask for a more dramatic entrance than the one we see Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) make in those initial scenes of “The Guy for This.” After rumors were swirling that Hank would be returning soon, we saw a government car pull up and a familiar-looking beer gut cross behind it. Before we get a peek at Schrader’s face, we see the back of his bald head and his badge slapped on the window at the precinct. Finally, we hear a familiar Hank, cutting in line and schmoozing his way into our hearts again.

“[Showrunner] Peter Gould had talked to me for several years about this possibility of coming back,” Dean Norris told Entertainment Weekly. “And it always came down to be that I asked him, ‘Just don’t let it be a gratuitous return, just to say he’s in it.’ And when they called me to ask me to do it, the only question I asked was, ‘Do you think it’s worth him coming back?’ for exactly the reason you’re talking about. Vince [Gilligan] said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, if you say yes, then I’m in.’”

Dean Norris agreed to bring back the happy Hank Schrader

The most notable detail about Hank’s return is the timeline. Since the events in the current season of Better Call Saul are taking place before Breaking Bad, it means Norris can go back to playing a less serious, less intense version of Agent Schrader.

“I said, ‘Hey, you know, it’d be nice for the fans to see him back in his prime again, before the PTSD and all that stuff,’” Norris said. “And they were like, ‘Yeah, he’s prime Hank swagger at this point.’ Even more so than ‘Breaking Bad,’ because [Better Call Saul is set] a little bit before, but certainly consistent with the first season of Breaking Bad, he’s his loudmouth, boisterous, over-the-top, macho self.”

He was pleased to be playing “Happy Hank” once again. Norris continued, “I thought, ‘Well, that’s great to get to go back and play that,’ because it was such a change for him in the second and third season of Breaking Bad. He became such a depressed and dour guy that it was great to go back to the original fun Hank and play him that way.”

Agent Schrader will play a significant role in ‘Better Call Saul’

We don’t know exactly what Schrader and his partner Steve Gomez will be up to in Better Call Saul, but showrunners confirmed that their involvement is more than just a quick cameo. After Episode 3, we know Schrader has accepted Krazy-8 as a DEA informant and will be investigating the dead drop locations he provided.

“There’s actually some action in it, probably more action than there was ever in Breaking Bad, actually, with Hank,” Norris told Entertainment Weekly. “The two of them have more fun banter because they’re stuck on this stakeout for hours. And I think that’s probably all I should say.”

Catch new episodes of Better Call Saul on Monday nights at 9 ET on AMC.