How ‘Better Call Saul’ Filmed Nacho Varga’s Oil Bath
The Better Call Saul Season 6 episode “Rock and Hard Place” was physically and emotionally harrowing for Nacho Varga (Michael Mando). So much happens to Nacho in that episode that submerging in oil might not even crack the top five. It was a major moment though, and after it aired, Mando and director Gordon Smith revealed how they did it.
[Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Better Call Saul episode “Rock and Hard Place.”]
Mando and Smith were guests on the Better Call Saul Insider podcast on April 26, the day after “Rock and Hard Place” aired. They went into great detail about Nacho’s escape from Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton)’s hitmen, sinking into a tanker full of oil.
Nacho Varga didn’t swim in real oil on ‘Better Call Saul’
First things first, it was not real oil into which Mando sank. That would have been impossible and hazardous.
“The oil is some kind of special effects goop that Werner Hahnlein got for us,” Smith said on Better Call Saul Insider. “We knew real oil, it’s toxic. You can’t just descend into crude or waste oil and come out of it. It burns your skin, it burns your nose, it’s very bad for you. Kids out there, don’t do it.”
The inside of Nacho Varga’s oil tanker was a set
Smith also revealed that the outside of the tanker was a real tanker, but modified for safety so Mando could lower himself into it. But, the whole inside of the tanker was a Better Call Saul set.
“There’s this huge materials question,” Smith said. “How much weight can you put in this thing, how much weight can the stage bear, how much weight can all these things do as well as can Michael navigate and how can you do it? We had to test all of those things.”
Smith said they tested different solutions for the weight they added to the set. They also built the set for camera placements.
“We had to test the camera movement with a stunt performer and make sure that his action was right, then walk right up because the resets on this were very, very extensive,” Smith said. “Once Michael went in, you can’t just throw him back in and run another take. We had to wash him down, dry him off, redress him and put him back in.”
Mando reminded Better Call Saul fans that Nacho was already beat up by the time he reaches the tanker. So doing a second take involved more than just taking a shower.
“Redo the makeup, redo the scratches the same way,” Mando said. “It was at least an hour reset.”
Michael Mando held himself under the ‘oil’
Mando added that he wasn’t actually sinking into the fake oil, either. The set was designed so he could hold himself under to create the Better Call Saul illusion.
“When I get into the oil, underneath the oil is a narrow hallway,” Mando said. “On either side of the narrow hallway is wooden boxes. So the oil looks like it’s all full but the reality is to my right and left is all walls. So they don’t have to fill that empty space. You can’t sink in that. It’s super heavy. So the only way to get in is you have to use the ledgers on the side and you have to literally drown yourself and hold the ledger to stay underwater otherwise you float back up.”