Bob Odenkirk was dazzled by the mastery of Steven Spielberg earlier this year. But the actor had some pretty good moves himself.
He played key Washington Post reporter Ben Bagdikian in the filmmaker’s latest effort, “The Post,” a best picture Oscar contender about the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 against the directives of the Nixon administration, which attempted to stop both the Post and the New York Times from making the secret papers — and their information about the war in Vietnam — public.
Being in such a high-profile project would make for a good year for anybody. But Odenkirk went on to receive nominations from both the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (the Golden Globes) and SAG-AFTRA (the SAG Awards) earlier this month for his critically acclaimed performance in “Better Call Saul.”
The series, which likely won’t return until next fall, went to some dark places last season, taking Odenkirk’s offbeat, lovable rogue lawyer and pointing him squarely in the direction of the shady character he is to become in “Breaking Bad.” For his part, Odenkirk is hopeful Jimmy McGill will eventually find some happiness when all is said and done.
“That could be a journey that we're really going on with this guy. I would love to see that,” the actor. “I like the guy. I feel bad that he becomes Saul Goodman. I would like to see him ask the question of why it’s not good to be Saul and ‘What is a better way to live?’ For the long term, so that you can live with yourself.”
Much as he ponders his direction on the “Saul” set, Odenkirk also had to wonder just how precisely in control Spielberg was on his “Post” set.
“Whenever there was a group scene, he would end up sticking me and David [Cross] next to each other,” Odenkirk recalls of his onetime sketch comedy partner. “We did ‘Mr. Show’ on HBO together. So I'd look at David and he'd be like, ‘Does he know? Is he doing this on purpose?’”
Spielberg shot the film, which opened last week, in just 44 days, and there was little time for a formal rehearsal before production. Odenkirk is particularly grateful to Tom Hanks, who plays Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, for having most of the ensemble up to his house in upstate New York for a weekend to rehearse on their own.
“We had so many scenes as a group, the group of people who work at the Washington Post. Then there's, of course, a lot of scenes that are Tom and Meryl [Streep as Post publisher Katharine Graham]. … It's a wonderful exploration of their two characters as well as being a really smart, multifaceted look at this intersection of government secrets and journalism and the public's rights. It just has a lot going on.”
It’s also as relevant as a film can get with its 46-year-old story about 1st Amendment rights emerging in a year where the free press has come under constant fire.
“We're in a very complex time regarding information. What's true and what isn't, what are your rights to limit that information. This movie couldn't be more relevant in that theme,” Odenkirk says.
“But the fact is, I think with all that's going on in the movie and my fun little story, which is kind of a suspense story, [is that] Ben Bagdikian was a true believer in journalism. It was a calling for him. When the question came of should we publish these papers, he felt strongly that they should be published, and that's how you assert the right to publish.”
During production, Odenkirk admits he had two major concerns. The first, obviously, was doing his job well. The second was not discomforting Spielberg with his “acidic point of view.”
“Steven is a light-hearted person who's also capable of being earnest and sentimental. I think my sensibility is more cutting and maybe even you can say mean-spirited,” Odenkirk admits.
“I didn't want to insult or hurt his feelings or say something rude that would make him feel uncomfortable. He's such a good person and I feel like he sees the world through generous lenses. I don't. I'm a comedy guy. I come from comedy and we tear the world down, and that's what we do.”
He adds, “I think we pulled it off. I tried to be very nice. As far as the acting part, I hope I made him happy. He left me in the movie. We can say that.”