‘Better Call Saul’: Michael Mando Was Supposed to be Season 1’s Big Bad. Here’s Why They Changed That

Nacho Vargas (Michael Mando) has become one of the more sympathetic characters on Better Call Saul. He actually wants out of this cartel business. That’s quite a character arc, even greater when you learn creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould originally had far simpler plans for Nacho.

Better Call Saul: Michael Mando
Michael Mando | Warrick Page/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Mando spoke with reporters in a roundtable interview on Jan. 16 before Season 5 of Better Call Saul premiered. He revealed how the original plan for his character quickly changed, leading him to remain on the show for its fifth season. Warning, this article contains spoilers for the first four seasons of Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

Why ‘Better Call Saul’ turned Michael Mando’s Nacho into a good guy

Well, good guys are relative in the Breaking Bad universe, but Nacho is no longer one of the worst guys. That was Better Call Saul’s original plan for him.

“When I signed on for Season 1, Nacho was going to be the big bad guy of Season 1,” Mando said. “I just heard them telling me, ‘Wait ‘til you see the kind of crazy stuff you’re going to do at the end of the season.’ Then they found out that Michael McKean and Bob Odenkirk had this very strange relationship.”

Michael Mando and Bob Odenkirk
L-R: Bob Odenkirk, Michael Mando | Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

McKean played Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk)’s brother Chuck on Better Call Saul. It turned out Chuck was a better foil to Jimmy’s shenanigans for the first few seasons. In Season 3, it tragically cost their brotherhood and cost Chuck his life. 

“That changed my involvement in the show earlier on,” Mando said. “Even though I was still a regular, I was very rarely involved and pushed everything back to these last seasons and made Michael McKean the antagonist. That’s a big deal. They pull back. They watched the organic development and they’re willing to change complete arcs.”

The original story for Nacho on ‘Better Call Saul’

Mando shared his original impression for Nacho’s arc on Better Call Saul. Granted, Gilligan and Gould probably didn’t tell him all the twists and turns it would take, but they’re irrelevant now. They’ve changed the story.

“For me, about four or five years ago, when I was sitting opposite Bob Odenkirk playing Jimmy McGill, I thought we were in this to make money,” Mando said. “I thought this was going to be this big thing that we’re going to build together and he’s going to be my lawyer. You’re going to go behind Tuco’s back. Now I’m going, ‘Oh my god, he has it and he doesn’t want it. That’s pretty deep.’”

Now Michael Mando has an even better story

Mando’s patience paid off. Better Call Saul turned Nacho into a very complex character. He began as an aspiring cartel leader. Now that he’s in with the cartels, he just wants out.

“It’s been truly an amazing journey for me. I never thought in my life when I took this role that it was going to be so iconoclastic. He’s pretty much the opposite of everything you think a cartel person is. It’s Scarface, right? You think it’s about a guy who wants power, he wants money, he wants women, he wants respect, he wants the house. This character actually gets all that. He turns it all down and doesn’t turn it down to save his father’s life. He turns it down to save the love that his father has for him.”

Michael Mando, Better Call Saul roundtable, 1/16/2020
Michael Mando in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando | Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Televisoin

Better Call Saul fans saw Manuel Varga confront Nacho about his involvement with the cartels. That was as powerful for Mando as anyone else.

“He can clearly continue becoming a gangster and have that empire and be Gus Fring’s right hand man and they won’t go after his dad. But he wants to protect the love that his father has for him. In order to do that, he has to get out of the cartel, save his father and throw everything away, at the risk of his own life. I think what Nacho considers to be a saint, because Juan Carlos Cantu plays Manuel Varga, Nacho’s father, and he plays him so brilliantly well. Our relationship is so pure that I think in Nacho’s eyes that it’s the purest soul that he’s ever met. He was willing to die to save that idea of purity. I think you couldn’t ask for a better role.”

Michael Mando, Better Call Saul roundtable, 1/16/2020