VIDEO: Bob Odenkirk on ‘Nobody 2,’ Chris Farley’s Final Days, and the Heart ‘Incident’ That Nearly Killed Him on Set
“Better Call Saul” star returns to the Stern Show ahead of his new memoir, “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama”February 28, 2022
A lot can happen in 11 months. Just ask comedian, actor, writer, and filmmaker Bob Odenkirk, who sat down with Howard on Monday morning, less than a year after making his Stern Show debut. Though he spent much of that time penning a memoir, shooting the final season of his “Breaking Bad” spinoff, developing a sequel for his hit action film “Nobody,” and even working on a fiction podcast with his son, a critical 15 or so of those minutes were spent receiving life-saving CPR and three jolts from an automated defibrillator after he suffered a near-fatal “heart incident” last July while shooting “Better Call Saul.”
As Bob described it, he felt lucky to even be alive. “I would have been dead if someone hadn’t immediately screamed and gotten someone there to give me CPR,” he told Howard. “CPR saved my life.”
Odenkirk specifically credited two co-stars with helping him survive along with the production’s health officer, Rosa, who administered CPR on him for 12-straight minutes before running to her car to grab an automated external defibrillator (AED) to effectively reboot Bob’s heart.
“It took three attempts to get me to [an effective heart] rhythm, which is actually a lot, Howard,” Bob explained. “When the defibrillator doesn’t work once, that’s not good. When it doesn’t work the second time, it’s kind of like forget it. But then they jacked me up to a third time and got me a rhythm.”
Other variables working in his favor that day included the fact the show had been shooting on set—Rosa didn’t generally accompany the crew on location—and Bob happened to be in great shape at the time after having vigorously trained for his action flick “Nobody.” “I was told that more blood was able to go to my heart during CPR because [my veins] were just a little bit bigger from a lot of working out,” he said.
“Some lucky things happened,” he continued. “But most of all, I was near my co-stars Rhea Seehorn and Patrick Fabian, who rushed right to my side. Rhea held my head and Patrick held my hand … I turned grey right away and stopped breathing, and they were just yelling and yelling … and then everybody [else] kicked into gear.”
Before moving on to other topics, Bob had a simple message for Stern Show listeners. “Take CPR classes because you can save lives with them,” he said.
Farley’s Final Days
In his new autobiography “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama,” Odenkirk writes about his decades-long career in sketch comedy and several friendships he made along the way, including with Second City co-star turned “SNL” legend Chris Farley.
Howard regretted never knowing Farley, but Bob stressed that wasn’t the case.
“You did know him a little bit, Howard, because everybody who saw him perform got a little piece of his soul,” Bob said. “Everybody got a piece of his soul like right away, like within 20 seconds of seeing him. That’s rare, man. That was true in real life, and it comes through the screen, too. You just saw this guy’s heart, you know, held out for you.”
“That was the thing about Chris that was very special and undeniable and made his potential even so much greater than anything that … we got to see,” he continued. “He could’ve done drama and done a really beautiful job with some parts as time went by, if he’d stayed alive, and I know he would’ve.”
Unfortunately, Farley overdosed on drugs and died in 1997. He was only 33. In the book, Odenkirk recalls his final interaction with Chris which took place behind a bar and through the cracked window of Farley’s limousine.
“Somebody came in and said Farley’s out back and he wants to say hi to you,” he recalled, explaining Chris had been partying hard and the drugs had begun taking their toll. “I guess he felt weird about coming in because … he was very aware of what he looked like and how people were perceiving him … He was way off the rails at this particular event where they were also having a ‘Saturday Night Live’ reunion. I’m sure people had been telling him all weekend, ‘What the hell is wrong with you, Chris? Go to rehab right now.’”
“Chris looked worse than I’d ever seen him,” Bob recounted. “That feeling of inevitability that I write about was the worst part of it all … That horrible feeling of, ‘This goddamn story is just going to play out in the corniest fucking way.’ Even Chris would’ve told you, ‘This is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to die.’”
On Deadly Ground
When Howard mentioned the unlikelihood of Bob starring in the action film “Nobody,” Odenkirk confirmed it’s a genre he’s spent more time goofing on than pursuing. “Mostly I make fun of action movies in my career in comedy,” he admitted. “I mean, David Cross and I once did a whole night where we showed a Steven Seagal movie and made fun of it.”
That idea might have spurred from the action star’s disastrous hosting of “Saturday Night Live” in 1991, which Bob was witness to. One issue that came up during the week’s rehearsals was Seagal’s notes for a “Hans and Franz” sketch. “He goes, ‘If I do it, I have to beat them up,’” the actor recalled. “It’s the most ludicrous scenario … No one’s thinking anyone beat anyone up here.”
As Odenkirk remembered it, Seagal’s behavior was consistent all the way through. “He kept saying, ‘I’ve never seen your show. I don’t know what you do here,’” Bob noted. “Like, really? You’ve never seen ‘Saturday Night Live?’ Where do you live?”
While things only got more peculiar with a lengthy sketch Seagal wrote himself that featured stunt actors, Bob imagined executive producer Lorne Michaels’ hands were, by that point, tied. “By the time you get to Wednesday, what are you going to do?” Odenkirk reasoned of the decision not to relieve Seagal of his hosting duties. “But it would be funny if he booted him on a Thursday and just did the show without him.”
Bob wasn’t ashamed to admit his career hit a rough patch shortly before Vince Gilligan cast him opposite Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” In his book, he said he’d basically gone bankrupt before landing the role. On Monday, he told Howard things got so bad his business manager had advised him to take out a $900,000 loan just to stay afloat.
“It was crazy because I don’t spend money,” Odenkirk said. “How the fuck does that happen?”
Bob said the financial problems came after he’d spent a few years directing feature films. He enjoyed the work but said it was far from lucrative. “I somehow got in this financial hole and … get this phone call from the assistant [of my] business manager. She’s like, ‘Hi, I need you to come in and sign a … $900,000 dollar loan.’” he recalled. “And I go, ‘What loan?’”
“I went to a different business manager. That was the first move,” Bob continued, explaining his next financial adviser told him to take on every project he could find. “He said, ‘Look at it this way: money is money’ … And I proceeded to live that way. Instead of being my picky, snooty self, I just said, ‘Look, work is work—let’s do it.’”
Everything changed again with another ring of the phone. “I get a phone call, ‘They’re going to offer you a role on ‘Breaking Bad,’ [which wasn’t] a popular show at the time,” Bob recalled. “‘Don’t say no,’ my agent says. I was like, ‘Dude, I haven’t said no in a year and a half.’”
Saying Goodbye to ‘Better Call Saul’ and Hello to ‘Nobody 2’
The sixth and final season of “Better Call Saul” arrives in April, and Howard wondered how Odenkirk felt about saying goodbye to Saul Goodman, the con-artist turned lawyer he’d embodied for 11 seasons on “Breaking Bad” and its eventual spinoff.
“I can’t wait for people to see this final season. It’s great. I think the writers delivered and there’s so much that happened in it,” Bob said of the new “Better Call Saul” episodes, adding that it will be fun to “move on” from the character but he still hadn’t processed it. “It’s been going on so long in my life, Howard. I’ve been playing this guy for like 15 years.”
Despite being one of the most acclaimed shows on TV, “Better Call Saul” is currently 0 for 39 at the Emmys. Odenkirk himself has been nominated for Best Actor four times but still hasn’t won.
“Is it time for you to win the Emmy?” Howard asked.
“I was told it was time,” Bob laughed. “Come on, Emmy people!”
“What about the final show, Bob?” co-host Robin Quivers wondered. “The final show is always a big deal. Did you do it right?”
“I think we did. It’s a killer ending. Boy it’s good,” Bob concluded. “It’s not a spoiler but one of the cool things about the final season is that the two shows, ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul,’ have never been more connected.”
As Bob waves goodbye to one franchise, he’s also working hard to get another one off the ground.
He told Howard he hoped there will be a sequel to his 2021 hit “Nobody.” “We’re working hard on one,” he said. “The challenge is the [character] popped, right? … In his world he exploded, and I think we found a clever way to make something out of that—make more story out of it.”
Odenkirk felt one reason “Nobody” was successful was because his character made for a somewhat relatable action hero. “[Audiences] went, ‘No, he really does look like my neighbor. That really does look like the house he’d live in, and the car he’d drive, and the coat he would wear,’” he concluded. “And I want to keep that.”
Bob Odenkirk’s memoir “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” is available Tuesday, March 1. “Better Call Saul” Season 6 premieres April 18 on AMC.