‘Better Call Saul’: Vince Gilligan Called Bob Odenkirk’s Urine Drinking Scene ‘The Best Moment of Acting He’s Ever Done’
[Spoiler Alert: Spoilers ahead for Better Call Saul, Season 5, Episode 8, “Bagman”]
There’s a moment at the beginning of “Bagman” when Jimmy McGill uses his some bottled water to clean a bit of dirt off his loafer. The camera zooms in on this small action under the heat of the desert sun and just like that, perceptive fans realize that Jimmy will eventually regret wasting that precious hydration soon. We’ve all seen Breaking Bad, and as showrunner Vince Gilligan so eloquently said, “There’s nothing good to come from going out to the desert.”
After a deadly shootout and a lot of wandering through the desert heat lugging hundreds of pounds worth of Lalo’s bail money, Jimmy is faced with an impossible choice: die of thirst or drink his own urine to survive.
It’s a pivotal moment that’s at once icky, poignant, and ultimately, proof that the Jimmy McGill we used to know has already died.
Director Vince Gilligan wanted Bob Odenkirk to drink real pee for the scene
Better Call Saul co-creator Gilligan returned to direct this pivotal episode, which he said during an interview was the most challenging work he’s done during his career. One request he had was for Odenkirk to use the principle of method acting and take a swig of real urine for the scene. But that suggestion didn’t go over well.
“I keep saying he’s a method actor, but I suggested we use the real thing and [Odenkirk] put the kibosh on that. I just thought, ‘If we’re really gonna go for it here,’ but he said no,” Gilligan told The Hollywood Reporter. “I believe it was water with a little bit of yellow food coloring in it.”
He didn’t want the important scene to become a joke
There’s something undeniably gross about drinking pee to survive but Gilligan was intent on the moment being tragic, not funny.
“I’ll be honest, I was afraid that that moment would play as inadvertently humorous,” Gilligan told THR. “I was afraid people were going to watch it and laugh. It was one of the biggest things I was worried about pulling off… I thought, ‘If Bob’s not fully committed and if I get it wrong as a director, people are gonna laugh at this.’”
Ultimately, the Academy Award-winning director was happy with the outcome. “I shouldn’t have worried, because Bob is so into the moment there. I think it’s the finest moment of acting I’ve ever seen Bob Odenkirk do, and that’s saying a lot,” Gilligan gushed.
Jimmy knows he has to drink urine to survive for Kim
In the moment that Jimmy decides to swallow his pride, quite literally, he’s not thinking of himself — motivated by Mike’s speech about who he has waiting at home, Jimmy is thinking of Kim. And there is a bit of humor in the scene as Jimmy is toting around his urine in a Davis & Main water bottle.
Gilligan said, “It’s amazing what actors do, the great ones especially. Some actors are wonderfully dramatic and they can’t be funny to save their lives, but then there’s people like Bob and Rhea Seehorn who can also be hilariously funny, but they can turn it on and off at will.”
He continued: “In that moment, yeah, if he had moved the muscles of his face another fraction of a centimeter a different way, you’d be laughing, but just because in his mind there wasn’t anything funny about it…. All I can guess is he was thinking, ‘There’s a woman I want to get back to, and for her sake I need to survive this.’”
We know Jimmy does survive and will in the end because as Lalo wisely observed, he’s like a cockroach that way. The interesting part will be seeing how different he is now that he’s experienced the real danger he’s in after becoming a friend of the cartel.
Catch new episodes of Better Call Saul Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.