Jonathan Ray Banks is an American actor. His first notable film roles were in the films Airplane!, 48 Hrs., and Beverly Hills Cop. He has received critical acclaim for his roles in the TV shows Wiseguy and Breaking Bad.
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Hello! We are Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut) and Gordon Smith (writer of “Five-0”) from AMC’s Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. For the next Hour we will be taking your questions on all things Better Call Saul, “Five-0”, Breaking Bad and more in celebration of Season One of Better Call Saul releasing on Blu-ray today (http://amzn.to/1QeIDXN ). Here is a clip from the special features disc which shows how we brought “Five-0” to http://bit.ly/1RJm0by
NOTE: Jonathan is joining us via telephone from the Breaking Bad Smithsonian event in Washington D.C.
Ok thank you for your thoughtful consideration and kind words! That was fun. -Jonathan
are you guys preparing your Emmy speeches for next year? Cause you're definitely getting them for S2.
Thank you for the jinxing, Constance.--Gordon
I kid, I kid. Thanks for the vote of confidence!!--Gordon
Hi Gordon and Jonathan:
Congratulations on all the success you've had as a collaboration in S1.
Gordon, I’m impressed how you and the writing staff managed to build a new world for Jimmy to play in rather than resting on your laurels (the world you built for Walt).
Now that you’ve established Jimmy’s world, will more easter eggs be planted in relation to Jimmy’s world, instead of just Walt’s? Obviously, 1.01's shoebox could lead to many places.
Hmm. I think all our "easter eggs" tend to be finding a small touch that will hearken back to something that the audience has already seen. So, the deeper we get with Jimmy, the more we can call back to BCS, vs BrBa. But we think of it as one world, so it's hard to differentiate for us.--Gordon
Did you just reply to yourself? --Anonymous
In the heat of the moment, yes. Also, I'm the worst, so there's that.
How would Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad be different if David Cross had gotten the part instead of Bob Odenkirk?
I think Bob Odenkirk would then have been free to pursue his political inclinations, and would have risen to become Supreme Autocrat of All Earth--long may he reign! So really, I think we may have dodged a bullet.--Gordon
First of all, big fan. But I was wondering at what point did you decide that you liked the character Mike?
First day. I worked with Aaron Paul on my first day. I am pretty jaded. I have been around a long time. But i looked at that kid and I said "This is an actor". -Jonathan
You guys looking forward to eventually working with Giancarlo Esposito again? Is that going to happen anytime soon?
Oh man, we'd love to work with him. We have hopes and dreams for how that could happen in a satisfying way, but beyond that I can't really say much!--Gordon
Hello! First off, thank you guys for your consistent effort in bringing us the best show(s) possible, it does not go unappreciated. This is a question for both of you:
You've worked with Adam Bernstein and Colin Bucksey as directors. Can you talk about the differences in their process and their approaches to working with you as an actor or a writer, respectively?
I think that both of them similar in that they do not over direct. With both of them 90% of the time I have to agree with with their direction. They are both artists in the subtle touches. - Jonathan
They're both fantastic directors, first off. They really start with the idea that the script is what they want to support, and attack it from there. I think they have a slightly different style--Colin works fast and furious, and Adam is more chill--but they're both consummate pros and fantastic shotmakers.--Gordon
Hi guys! Thanks for the AMA.
Gordon Smith: How did you get the BCS writing gig seeing as you had no TV writing gigs outside of BrBa/BCS?
Johnathan Banks: How different is the set/crew with BCS to BB? Almost the same?
Almost the same! And they are dear friends. There is so many stories and there is a lot of life lived in that crew...I love them. - Jonathan.
Sheer luck. I got lucky getting on BrBa as a PA, and lucked my way up the assistant chain. Basically, by the end they staffed me because not doing so would've been like shooting a puppy for them. I think basically, I got the gig because they couldn't handle seeing my sad face if they didn't do it.--Gordon
Mr. Banks: How is it for you to work with Mike's character, knowing his fate in BrBa. How do you think it reflects on the way you impersonate him.
Mr. Smith: Are you gonna make us cry again? Cause I need to get prepared.
It's NOT an impersonation. Let's start with that. I truly care about this character and I try not to let the future impact what I do in the present. -Jonathan
I always try to make people cry. I walk up to them and say mean things. It's just a thing I do. That said, we do have some heartstrings gripped in our grubby little writer hands, and we are hoping to tug them!--Gordon
Jonathan, how are you dealing with the attention and fame associated with a role like Mike Ehrmantraut. Are you annoyed by it? Sick of fans asking for selfies with you?
No. I love it. -Jonathan
Okay, let's be honest here. I don't know who made me cry worse in "Five-O" because there was Jonathan who in general does an incredible job anyway. There was the improv that was just heart wrenching. Mr. Smith though, incredible writing. Question though, Jonathan, are you at the 50 year mark in acting yet?
I got my first pay check in 1967 playing Dr. Jon in Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke", so that makes 48. -Jonathan
Jonathan, does it take effort to be so understated? With such a violent, wise character you could be going really broad - but you keep it a nice internal, slow boil.
Dear suaveitguy, I would usually give a smart ass answer because it is my nature but I love film-making. I love the camera. It will pick up every nuance. So my answer to you is that I try to be very honest and trust my cinematographer. -Jonathan
How stressful is it when you approach writing/creating episodes with closer ties to BB? The first season of BCS was terrific, but almost a complete departure from BB. At some point, it is going to get closer to the original series and all the baggage that comes with comparisons. Does that challenge make anyone nervous?
I read somewhere that "nervous/anxious" and "excited" live millimeters away from each other in the brain, and it's easy for them to cross over or get confused. So, either I'm very very excited, or very very nervous.--Gordon
Everyone knows that color is its own character in Saul. Is this a consideration when writing an episode?
Sometimes. More often, we'll talk about something being "colorful" and then nail down the specific color when we're prepping the episode. That said, it certainly has and does come up--the blue of the blue meth came up in scripts a lot in BrBa.--Gordon
Hello, Mr. Banks and Mr. Smith! Thank you so much for doing this AMA! My question is this: What do you feel was the most emotional moment you ever filmed/wrote on the show, whether it be on BB or BCS? Thanks!
Mine is Gordon's monologue about my son. -Jonathan
Yeah. Same for me. That was just chanelling so much feeling to try to find the right words. My god, watching Jonathan film it was quite a thing. I doubt I'll be lucky enough to see anything like that moment coming to life again in my career again.--Gordon
What has been your favorite episode for S2 so far?
The one where the President orders that all lawyers be... but I've said too much.--Gordon
What were your initial thoughts about making a spinoff out of Breaking Bad? Were you guys hesitant to join in?
No hesitation to join--so stupidly lucky to get the chance! I didn't really know what the show would look like at the start, and it was really cool to see it come into shape.--Gordon
Not one bit. Absolutely not. If anything I was excited. It was a no-brainer and I was in to it immediately. -Jonathan
Hello, gentlemen, and thank you for doing this AMA!
Jonathan, you've been pretty vocal about your ideas for Mike Ehrmantraut's past, and whether its in line with what Vince and the team came up with or not. I wanted to ask you about your first reactions upon reading the script for 'Five-O'. Did it make perfect sense to you? Other than giving you an incredible opportunity to really showcase what you could do in some intensely emotional scenes, how did you feel about the reasons behind Mike 'losing his soul', so to speak?
And Gordon - how did you and the writing team approach Mike's enhanced background?
We kept coming back to the question: how did this guy--who we think of as honorable, and we knew came from a Law Enforcement background--get to this place? And, once we decided he was working as a parking lot attendant, how did he fall so low? We generated all these pieces as we were breaking the first four episodes of the season, and then it became clear we wanted to do them all at a run. Then it became just trying to figure out how to structure that story--how much did we need to see? How could we best break people's hearts? And we knew Jonathan could break our hearts, so we wanted to figure out the best stuff to give him toward that end.--Gordon
Great question! Thank you, Eva. Gordon Smith wrote me a love letter. He gave me a great opportunity as an actor. It all dates back to when we were on Breaking Bad. http://bit.ly/1RJm0by -Jonathan
Jonathan, your on-screen presence always creates such a charged atmosphere. What happens when you venture out in real life? Do people expect "Mike" and how are they surprised? Thanks!
Quite often people expect Mike and I see there disappointment when I open my mouth and they think "That's not Mike!"-Jonathan
Thanks for doing this AMA! I want to say that Five-O is one of my favourite episodes of BCS, as Mike is my favourite character from the show (and Breaking Bad too), and it's excellently written. Some weird questions here:
-How are the cars in the show chosen? Are they randomly chosen, or is some thought put into it? There are some interesting choices.
-What cars do you currently drive? And what is your dream car?
-Is there any interesting anecdote that happened behind the scenes?
-What is your current jam? (favourite song ATM)
So completely not random. Vince and Peter agonize about those choices and Dennis Milliken (our transpo coordinator) go through so many options for pretty much every vehicle you see. I don't know if it's a dream car, but man Teslas are pretty. And my current jam is probably The Answer by Savages.--Gordon
Gordon: is it an exciting process to see your words come to life through an actor's interpretation?
So exciting. It's like that moment in Frankenstein when the doctor yells out "It's Alive!!!!"--Gordon
Hi guys, thanks for the AMA!
Do you have any pre-filming or post-filming traditions on Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul?
Post-filming, I usually just slink off set, get on a plane and go back to Burbank. Pre-filming, probably some dry heaves.--Gordon
Yes, I sacrifice a small woodland creature and read the entrails to see how the season will go. -Jonathan
When does Better Call Saul air on Netflix again?
Soon, I think! The DVD/Blu-Ray is out today!--Gordon
Hello Mr. Banks and Mr. Smith. Thank you for doing this AMA. I grew up in Albuquerque. Was there any cool places, anything that you liked being there? How was it?
Oh man, so many. Astro Zombies on Central keeps me sane while I'm there, feeding my comics habit. And I swear by Flying Star. I eat there as much as humanly possible. I also love hiking the petroglyphs if I ever have the time.--Gordon
I absolutely love it there. One of my favorite Italian restaurants in the world has to be Torino's. And of course I love the Isotopes. - Jonathan
Hi Jonathan Banks! Is there anything you would want to change on the fate of Mike on BrBa? Because I think he is one of those who don't deserve to die on the series.
Die, thank you. I don't think so. I am in for the ride for the writer's concern. I can't remember anything that I objected to. I always kind of knew that Mike would get smoked. -Jonathan
First off, you guys are awesome! Thank you for doing this! And congratulations to you, Mr. Banks, for sharing your Ask Me Anything with the delightfully wonderful Gordon Smith.
My question is for you. I am having trouble with my mail delivery person. They've been "losing" my mail, giving me mail that's intended for other people, and leaving passive aggressive notes in my mailbox. How do you think I should go about remedying this postal problem?
Hmm. That's a tough one. Have you, perhaps, tried speaking to their postal supervisor? The people at the USPS really want to be responsive and serve the public, so maybe it would be as simple as having a conversation with them and working it out!--Gordon
Gordon, I would really like to write for television, but I'm not entire sure where I should start?
It's tough. The most important thing is to keep writing while you look for an entry. There's no "right" way in--some folks write a pilot and it gets attention right out of the gate. Other folks, myself included, need to find an entree by working themselves up. I think trying to talk to people who are working in the industry or want to can help a lot: I've gotten virtually every gig I've ever had through friends and acquaintances who knew me and were willing to vouch for me. So a broad network can help get a foot in the door!--Gordon
Ever been to a place called Sobleman's in Milwaukee? I'm heading to lunch there in a little bit and I'm not sure what to order.
Never been there, but probably the burger.--Gordon
What's it like to see the development of Bob Odenkirk's acting? I'm not saying he was ever a bad actor, but I have always seen him portray comedy rather than drama. He seems to be handling it exceptionally well.
We've had a lot of quote-unquote comedy actors through the years in dramatic roles--Bill Burr and Joe DeRosa for example--and they've all been great. Bryan Cranston was primarily known for comedy before BrBa! I think it goes to show that the tools are the same, no matter what. It has been fun to watch Bob flexing those muscles, though!--Gordon
I asked this question to both Bryan and Aaron during their AMAs and enjoyed the responses; I would love to get your take as well Jonathan and Gordon.
I live in Albuquerque and love to see our city showcased as such a main character on monumental shows like Breaking Bad and now Better Call Saul. I’m curious how you feel about our city overall? Also what were some of your favorite places to frequent while in town? Thanks for the AMA.
I really like ABQ. It's got a personality and feel that is unique. One thing I think is super cool are all the public light displays--on the Big Eye, or at the underpass heading into downtown. It makes the city feel alive in a real way!--Gordon
What actor has surprised you both the most with what they did with a role?
Y'know, they are all surprising and great. It's the kind of thing where if it looks exactly as you had in your head when writing, then it's probably dead somehow. But when you see it and it's new and strange and still feels emotionally right, it's super cool.--Gordon
Does Mike have any hobbies?
He goes fishing on weekends with Pryce and Caldera. -Jonathan
Jonathan, do you have any fun memories from being in Airplane?
Also, is Michael Ehrmantraut your favorite bad guy that you've portrayed over the years in TV or film? If he is - who's second?
The bad guy that I would really like to play is Brian de Bois-Guilbert. He is a reprehensible villain who falls in love with a women who was about to be burned at the stake. He ultimately gives his life for her. - Jonathan
Hi Jonathan and Gordon, thank you for doing this AMA, we really appreciate it as fans.
My question is, what were your instantaneous reactions to not winning the emmys? As in how did it feel when your names weren't called out?
I can tell you that as fans it felt horrible so I can't imagine how it must've been for you guys.
You guys were robbed, but there's always next year, and the year after that!
Aw. That's kind of you to say. I honestly did not expect to win. There was just no way. And, it would have felt... unearned for me. All I did was hold my breath and applaud until the cameras left and I was safe. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief.--Gordon
Hello Jonathan and Gordon! Question for Mr. Banks. If you could have acted alongside Spencer Tracy or Henry Fonda who would you choose and why?
Hmmm. I have immense respect for them both. I honestly could not make a choice there. Maybe lean towards Tracy. -Jonathan
In your opinion, what is the best TV show you haven't worked on?
Oh man. There is such good stuff out there. My list of stuff that just fills me with awe is long (everyone should be watching Please Like Me). I wish I had had a chance, back in the day, to work on either The X-Files or Twin Peaks.--Gordon
Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason -Jonathan
Jonathan...Mike is such a bad guy but has such heart, you play him so well. Is it a challenge to find a balance playing such extremes?
The short answer is "no". There have been a lot of violent men who had big hearts. And that is not to say or condone what they do or have done.-Jonathan
Hi again, Mr. Banks! If you will be given a chance to play another character on the BrBa-BCS universe, who would it be?
Probably my granddaughter. No, I think the answer is that I don't know because I am so locked into Mike.-Jonathan
Hey guys!! What do you guys find funny that shouldn't be funny??
Tough question. So many things. Comedy works best when there's a turn, something surprising, so sometimes you can get a laugh just by seeming to go toward something, and then landing in inappropriate territory. We watch the sketch from Life is Short where Liam Neeson wants to do comedy in the room, and everything in there should not be funny, but holy hell is that funny.--Gordon
Who's your favorite star wars character?
R2-D2. Isn't everyone's?--Gordon
what should i name my new kitten?
Is it fluffy? Then I'd go with "Fluffy."--Gordon
Thanks so much for doing this AMA!
Mr. Banks: I absolutely love Mike's character. How difficult was it for Mike to admit what he knew to his daughter-in-law? What was it like working with Steven Ogg?
Mr. Smith: What has been your most memorable experience writing for this show?
I mean, the lightning shutdown while we were shooting Five-O was very very memorable. Beautiful and stressful!--Gordon
Gordon, you rose from Office PA to writer in the last five years? Can you describe that journey? Is the access to the showrunners crucial to job advancement like that?
I was lucky lucky lucky. And yes, it didn't hurt to know and work closely with the producers/showrunners. By the time BCS came along, the knew me and liked me well enough so they could take a risk on me.--Gordon
Hi Jonathan and Gordon, just wanted to say you guys are amazing.
Jonathan: What's it like working with Bob (Saul) especially since you have been with him since BrBa?
Gordon: How was it writing Five-O? Knowing it was a different kind of acting range for Mike. I was surprised you were able to pull it off well!
We knew Mr. Banks could kill it, so that part was easy--we just had to make sure the material was up to his caliber. And thank you for the kind words!--Gordon
In the spirit of BBC Radio 4's, Desert Island Discs, if you were stuck on a desert island (with a record player) and could bring 3 records, which three records would you choose?
That's nearly impossible for me to say. I love music--it's pretty much my only true hobby. So any three would be like killing my darlings. That said, I'll pick three random ones I love: The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas (I can't look up the pianist right now, but I have one I listen to a lot), The Monitor by Titus Andronicus, and maybe... um... In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.--Gordon