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Rhea Seehorn Talks ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ Success and the “Wild Ride” of Vince Gilligan’s New Show

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Kim Wexler continues to pay dividends for Rhea Seehorn. When Bad Boys: Ride or Die directors Adil and Bilall endured an “emotional rollercoaster” in 2022, they found an escape through their binge-watch of Seehorn’s acclaimed series, Better Call Saul. The two Belgian directors became so taken with her performance as Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) romantic partner in crime that they told themselves that they’d find a role for her to play someday. Well, someday came soon, as they then had a general meeting with her regarding Bad Boys: Ride or Die and the role of U.S. Marshal Judy Howard, the daughter of Joe Pantoliano’s beloved Bad Boys character, Captain Conrad Howard.

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“Believe me, there was a part of me that was like, ‘Do they know me from anything?’ But I pretty much assume that of anybody; it wasn’t really specific to them. So I think it was Bilall who was like, ‘Kim Wexler!’” Seehorn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I loved that they knew my work and that they weren’t meeting me cold, as a suggestion. They had really given some thought to what they thought I could bring to the Judy role, and I was extremely flattered.”

In preparation for the role, Seehorn watched a supercut of Pantoliano’s scenes as Captain Howard, and she also revisited another one of his films, The Fugitive, since her dogged U.S. Marshal character is also tasked with catching the framed fugitives of Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence). She even included a few touches that are reminiscent of Pantoliano’s past work. 

“In the Fugitive-looking scene where Judy comes in [at the start of the manhunt], she is popping Pepto Bismol, which was a reference to him [and his reliance on it in Bad Boys for Life],” Seehorn says. “The spewing curse words when she first lands in the rain is another one, so we tried to put some small references to him in there.”

With Bad Boys: Ride or Die opening to a robust $56.5 million, Seehorn is just now becoming aware of how much relief Adil and Bilall’s action-comedy has provided the industry and summer box office. The reason she was behind on the times is because she’s been hard at work in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on her new and still-untitled Apple TV+ series with Breaking Bad creator and Better Call Saul co-creator, Vince Gilligan

Gilligan shot Breaking Bad’s pilot in 2007, and he’s written with an existing frame of reference in mind ever since, whether it’s Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul or El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. But now, with Untitled Vince Gilligan-Rhea Seehorn Apple TV+ Series, he’s no longer bound by those parameters. Thus, he’s free to roam, and according to Seehorn, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“Vince is continuing to play, and he’s just pushing himself to a wild ride on this one in the best way. He’s vacillating between tones and between genres like he and Peter Gould did on Better Call Saul, but it’s even more pronounced now,” Seehorn says. “I bring that up because he’s not as hemmed into how this is different from the mothership of Breaking Bad. It doesn’t need to be able to circle back to a predecessor.”

As for following in the footsteps of Bryan Cranston, Bob Odenkirk and Aaron Paul as Gilligan’s lead actor, Seehorn is embracing the challenge that comes with being atop the call sheet, and she’s continuing many of the same practices of her counterparts, such as reaching out to her co-stars to run lines during downtime.

“It is a new role for me, but I’m doing my best. I’m having so much fun. It is a very challenging role and a very challenging show in the best way. It’s everything that an actor would want,” Seehorn shares.

The three-time Emmy nominee is also looking back on Peter Gould’s series finale of Saul and how she felt about the closing moments in the prison yard that ultimately omitted a beat where Kim returns Jimmy’s finger guns with finger guns of her own. 

“I was sad when I saw that it was cut. I just thought it was so cool. It was such a great callback that says, ‘Hey, we’re still a team in some way,’” Seehorn admits. “But when [co-creator] Peter [Gould] told me the reason that they cut it, I am absolutely on his side now. It should not look like a reset in any way, and to do the finger guns again, he was like, ‘Every time I watched it, it read like Kim is back in the game and she has not progressed and is not moving forward.’ And so it was really important to him that that not be the message, and I fully agree with that.”

When Seehorn was cast on Saul in 2014, she proceeded to catch up on Breaking Bad, as well as its discourse, and she was shocked to find out how female lead, Anna Gunn, was treated by a toxic contingent of the audience. Thankfully, as Gunn recently told yours truly, she now feels a noticeable shift in how she’s received by the public. 

“I came to that [issue] later and I was blown away, because I just think [Anna Gunn is] brilliant. She brilliantly fulfilled the obligations of her role and how you’d really react if your husband was acting like that and doing those things,” Seehorn says. “So I kept hoping I could live up to how great she was … I was like, ‘What if they compare me to [Gunn and Betsy Brandt] and I’m not as good?’ So I was actually worried that the fans would not accept non-Breaking Bad family members.”

Seehorn adds: “Historically, people tend to not like anybody that’s an obstacle to your hero or even your anti-hero. So that can happen, but certainly, when it goes way too far and reeks of sexism and bullying and abuse, then it’s not about the story anymore. So I am happy to hear that she feels like she’s getting a different reception these days. It’s the reception she should have always had.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Seehorn also discusses the differences between Bad Boys: Ride or Die’s set and her television sets, before explaining why you shouldn’t expect any more of her trademark ponytails on the new Gilligan show.  

Well, congratulations on being a part of the number one film at the box office. The industry sorely needed a healthy opening weekend like this. 

That’s what I’m hearing! I’m now catching wind of all this. I’m getting all these texts from reps and friends alike that went over the weekend. They’re just saying, “Oh my God, [Bad Boys: Ride or Die] is so much fun, and it’s bringing summer movies back.” So I’m really happy. I thought the film was so much fun when I got to go see it at the premiere screening. I was like, “I love this! I love this for summer! Let’s do it!” (Laughs.)

Rhea Seehorn as Judy in Bad Boys: Ride or Die. Sony Pictures

So I spoke to your directors, Adil and Bilall, and, of course, I had to do my civic duty and ask about you. And they surprised me when they said they were Better Call Saul fanboys. A ton of highly regarded directors (Guillermo del Toro, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky) are fans of Saul, so I shouldn’t have been all that surprised, but did they make their fandom apparent to you pretty early? 

Yeah, they asked to do a general with me when they were trying to figure out this role of Judy [Howard] and when it started shaping up as to who she was and what kind of character she was going to be. So I was asked to do a general with them, and I really loved their film Rebel and the last Bad Boys movie that they directed. And, believe me, there was a part of me that was like, “Do they know me from anything?” (Laughs.) But I pretty much assume that of anybody; it wasn’t really specific to them. So I think it was Bilall who was like, “Kim Wexler!” And I was like, “Hi!” (Laughs.) But yeah, they are both huge fans. They’re filmmakers who love studying film and other filmmakers, and so they’re huge fans of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s work. So I loved that they knew my work and that they weren’t meeting me cold, as a suggestion. They had really given some thought to what they thought I could bring to the Judy role, and I was extremely flattered.

With Bad Boys: Ride or Die being a Sony movie, did it help that you already have ties to Sony through Saul and Untitled Vince Gilligan-Rhea Seehorn Apple TV+ Series? I assume it was easier to work out scheduling between the two. 

Yeah, I don’t know anything other than Sony being involved with scheduling, because of when Vince’s show was going to start and also the strike causing an interruption in [Bad Boys: Ride or Die] filming. So, Sony, as far as I was told, was helpful and really encouraging of us being able to figure out the schedule, and I was thankful for that.

When I saw the Bad Boys: Ride or Die trailer, I said to myself that you were playing Tommy Lee Jones’s role in The Fugitive, and sure enough, you did. But I didn’t realize that you were playing the daughter of Joe Pantoliano’s Bad Boys character, and he also played a character who was partnered with Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. So did you feel like you had to revisit or reference The Fugitive given the type of role you were playing and Joe’s connection to both? 

Well, Adil and Bilall, because they’re film buffs, they brought up a lot of references, and they actually told me to take a look at The Fugitive. But, by no means did they say to do an impression of Tommy Lee, and thank God, because I would’ve failed miserably. (Laughs.) So I was excited about looking at these film references, and I was also super excited that I was supposed to be playing the great Joe Pantoliano’s daughter, which I learned during my general. 

So I watched all the Bad Boys films again, and then they edited just Captain Conrad Howard’s [Pantoliano] scenes into a reel for me. I then watched that a lot, and then I was like, “Can we do a little bit of the comedy?” So I don’t know if you can see it, but in the Fugitive-looking scene where Judy comes in [at the start of the manhunt], she is popping Pepto Bismol, which was a reference to him [and his reliance on it in Bad Boys for Life]. The spewing curse words when she first lands in the rain is another one, so we tried to put some small references to him in there. And then I got to meet him at the premiere. I never once got to meet him while filming, but I ran up to him and I was like, “I don’t know if you know who I am, but I played your daughter in the movie.” He was so funny. 

(L-R) Tony Vinciquerra, Chairperson and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Joe Pantoliano and Rhea Seehorn attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Columbia Pictures’ Bad Boys: Ride Or Die After Party at the Sunset Tower Hotel on May 30. Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images

You also played a mother, something you last did in Linoleum, which is still one of my favorites from last year. Overall, is it rare for mother roles to come your way?

That’s a good question, and you’re right, I haven’t played a lot of mothers. I’m a mother in Linoleum and Bad Boys, but I didn’t get to do much mothering in Linoleum. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if people out there haven’t seen Linoleum, please do. But this one was really fun to form a relationship with Quinn Hemphill [Judy’s daughter, Callie], who was just awesome and lovely, and we got along really well. She’s a very talented young actor, but still figuring out different parts of the business. And I’m no sage or guru, but I enjoyed trying to be helpful to her as a mentor whenever possible because she’s a bright shining star.

This is the biggest movie you’ve ever worked on, so what are the fundamental differences from what you’re accustomed to in Albuquerque? Is it mainly just more people and more equipment and more waiting around?

(Laughs.) Well, I was going to direct another episode of Cooper’s Bar season two, the show I executive produced [for AMC Networks/IFC], but I wasn’t able to because of this Bad Boys film. So I was still EP’ing up until the night I flew out to Atlanta to start filming Bad Boys, and I believe I was performing that night on Cooper’s Bar as well. We made that on a shoestring budget for like $5, and because the light was coming up during a nighttime scene, we were just gunning and gunning trying to get it done. And then I landed in Atlanta the next morning to shoot Bad Boys the following night, and the nighttime set was Mike’s house where Judy discovered that the kidnapping happened. And there were seven times as many people as we had [on Cooper’s Bar] and seven times as much equipment and seven times as much money and everything else. And yet, I literally got out of the van, and I just heard people yelling, “The sun’s coming up! Go, go, go!” And then I was like, “Oh, it’s the same.” There’s just so much fun equipment, and you can flesh out any idea that you might want to do. And, as you saw, the action sequences are absolutely insane. So you get all of these extra things, but time is still short no matter what you’re trying to make. It still comes down to the relationships, and it still comes down to what you can get on camera before the sun comes up.

You’ve been around some gifted improvisers in your day, but was it quite something to observe Will Smith and Martin Lawrence do their version of it? 

As a fan, I was a little sad that I couldn’t be around to watch more of their scenes and rapport, but, because Judy is tracking them and hunting them down, I didn’t really get to be around them a lot. 

I figured the wedding reception gave you a chance to see what they’re about.

Yeah, and we shot a lot more of the wedding reception. I need to see the film again because there’s different things that need to get cut in any movie as you’re editing it down and finding the pace of it, but I was definitely present for [Marcus’] toast and the falling apart. So everybody was laughing, and then the camera would swing around to Judy, who’s supposed to be a Miss Pissy Pants at the wedding. So I had to keep trying not to smile, but they are a lot of fun together and watching their professional rapport, as well as their friendship, was just a really sweet thing. It’s still as strong as ever, and it’s a great and fun thing to watch. 

Rhea Seehorn (L) and Will Smith attend the Los Angeles Premiere of Columbia Pictures’ “Bad Boys: Ride Or Die” After Party at the Sunset Tower Hotel on May 30, 2024 in Hollywood, California. Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images

So I noticed the new haircut that you showed off recently, and naturally, my mind wonders if this was a way for your new Vince Gilligan-created character to avoid any ponytail overlap or reminders of our beloved Kim. 

(Laughs.)

Was that actually the reasoning for the chop?

Yes and no. I cut my hair as soon as we finished Saul to about shoulder length just because I had not been able to cut it for so long, and having that specific length of a ponytail and all this styling, it needed a pretty big chop. But I also think I was trying to find a way to mourn the end of that show. I loved it and I loved the character so much, and I just needed to do that for me. So I’ve had shoulder length for a while, but when we started this new show, I was just beginning to build this new character with Vince and doing a lot of costume fittings and makeup meetings. So we were all just trying to figure out who she was, and I threw it out there that I thought that this might be the right haircut for this character. And Vince agreed. Trish Almeida, the head of the hair department — who actually designed Kim’s ponytail and that whole arc of the story that went down with the ponytail — she is the designer on this show as well. She’s also a close friend of mine, and she immediately was like, “Yes, I totally think this is the look we should go for.”

How are you adjusting to life as the definitive number one and tone setter amongst the cast?

It is a new role for me, but I’m doing my best. (Laughs.) I’m having so much fun. It is a very challenging role and a very challenging show in the best way. It’s everything that an actor would want. But it’s a lot of hours and a lot of balancing, such as trying to memorize the next script while I’m shooting the current one I’m doing. It’s also important to me to find, if at all possible, anybody that has a scene with me, be they series regulars or guest stars. I try to get ahold of them on the weekend or in the morning or during one of my fittings or anything. I like people to have run their lines and feel comfortable and safe with me before they get to set. I try to remember that I’ve been there and I know that it can be hard, no matter how accomplished you are, to show up on set straight from your hotel room and try to fit in. So, given the wonderful opportunity I have to ask for things like that, I try to use my time and my abilities and what people allow me as best I can.

Is it strange to live in Albuquerque without your now-former roommates Bob Odenkirk and Patrick “P-Fab” Fabian down the hall? 

It is! I’m standing right now in the house that we lived in. I’m renting the same house. And now I live with Trish, the head of the hair department I was just mentioning. But yes, it’s super weird that they’re not coming downstairs any minute to tell me that I’m being too loud. (Laughs.) I miss them.

On season one of Saul, there was a lot of talk about how they were figuring out the tone of the show as it went along, and you can sense that when you watch it. I think it was either music supervisor Thomas Golubić or composer Dave Porter who said that the first seven episodes all sort of work as their own pilots, tonally. Does this first season of Untitled Vince Gilligan-Rhea Seehorn Apple TV+ Series remind you of Saul season one in that you’re finding the tone and listening to what the show wants to be?

I do believe that that is how Vince and his crew of writers and directors work. I can feel them still figuring out different things and percolating. Vince is continuing to play, and I think he’s just pushing himself to a wild ride on this one in the best way. He’s vacillating between tones and between genres like he and Peter Gould did on Better Call Saul, but it’s even more pronounced now. I bring that up because he’s not as hemmed into how this is different from the mothership of Breaking Bad. He doesn’t have the same milepost that he’s got to stick to. It doesn’t need to be able to circle back to a predecessor. But I believe all of the stories were broken this time because of the strike. They went further along in how far the stories were broken before we started, and you can just feel Vince’s observation at all times. You can just feel that he’s figuring out what’s coming to the foreground, almost like mixing music. I feel like he’s equalizing and pushing buttons backwards and forwards all the time.

During the strike, I talked to Better Call Saul EP Melissa Bernstein again as part of Emmy coverage, and I knew that there was debate about where to end the series finale, but I didn’t realize that Kim’s prison-yard finger guns were a casualty in all that. Did you dwell on that cut at all, or were you pretty zen about it? 

I was sad when I saw that it was cut. I just thought it was so cool. It was such a great callback that says, “Hey, we’re still a team in some way.” But when Peter told me the reason that they cut it, I am absolutely on his side now. He wanted the audience to continue the stories of Kim and Jimmy after the screen goes to black in whatever way they think the story continues, but it was important to him that she doesn’t suddenly have a ponytail and is a full-time lawyer again. It should not look like a reset in any way, and to do the finger guns again, he was like, “Every time I watched it, it read like Kim is back in the game and she has not progressed and is not moving forward. She’s moving backwards.” And so it was really important to him that that not be the message, and I fully agree with that. So I’m on board, and now I’m zen about it.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

I just spoke to Anna Gunn for the first time, surprisingly. We talked about the way toxic fans treated her during Breaking Bad, but she did say that the tide has turned based on her recent personal encounters with fans. Now, you had a very different experience, fortunately, but in the early days, were you at all concerned about something like that happening, especially since it wasn’t limited to just Anna? 

See, I was very late to even hearing that. I read Anna’s [New York Times] op-ed piece, which was beautiful, but I watched Breaking Bad later than other people. So I made sure I didn’t read anything, and I don’t go on a lot of fan sites for shows because I don’t want spoilers. So I came to that [issue] later and I was blown away, because I just think she’s brilliant. She brilliantly fulfilled the obligations of her role and how you’d really react if your husband was acting like that and doing those things. So I kept hoping I could live up to how great she was, and being somebody that was new to the Breaking Bad family, I felt that way about all of the cast members. But, certainly as a female co-star, I specifically thought about her and Betsy Brandt. I was like, “What if they compare me to them and I’m not as good?” So I was actually worried that the fans would not accept non-Breaking Bad family members. That is what I thought, but you’re right, though, that, historically, people tend to not like anybody that’s an obstacle to your hero or even your anti-hero. So that can happen, but certainly, when it goes way too far and reeks of sexism and bullying and abuse, then it’s not about the story anymore. So I am happy to hear from you that she feels like she’s getting a different reception these days. It’s the reception she should have always had.

***
Bad Boys: Ride or Die is now playing in movie theaters.

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