Ursula Coyote / AMC
Friday, July 11, 2014 | 10:15 p.m.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Michael McKean is joining series star Bob Odenkirk in AMC's "Better Call Saul," the much-awaited prequel to "Breaking Bad," with Jonathan Banks, another star from that wildly popular drama, also set for the new venture.
Best-known from the film "This Is Spinal Tap," McKean will play the brother of Saul Goodman, the character originated in "Breaking Bad" by Odenkirk. Banks will continue in his role as "fixer" Mike Erhmantraut.
Other cast members announced Friday at the summer TV critics' tour include Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian and Michael Mando.
"Better Call Saul" takes place in 2002, about five years before the starting point of "Breaking Bad." It vaults wily lawyer Saul Goodman from supporting status as the counselor for meth dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman (who were played by "Breaking Bad" stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul) into the series spotlight.
But when "Saul" viewers meet him, the man who will become criminal lawyer Saul Goodman is known as Jimmy McGill, described as "a small-time lawyer searching for his destiny and hustling to make ends meet."
On the heels (though not soon enough for impatient fans) of "Breaking Bad," which concluded its AMC run in September, "Saul" is set to premiere in January for a 10-hour first season. A second, 13-episode season has already been ordered.
Vince Gilligan, who masterminded "Breaking Bad" and has co-created "Saul" with Peter Gould, told reporters that cooking up the new series is "a leap of faith or stupidity into the unknown."
While it might have seemed easy to revive the belovedly corrupt Saul Goodman, Gilligan said he soon realized "we didn't know who this guy was at all, when you think about it."
"Breaking Bad" viewers know that, for all Saul's flamboyance and braggadocio, he was a man of mystery and charade. After all, even his name is calculated.
"One question we ask ourselves a lot is, what problem does being 'Saul Goodman' solve?" said Gould, who as a "Breaking Bad" writer created the character in that series' second season.
Another issue: "We know where this guy is going" as he approaches the "Breaking Bad" time frame. "We can't, for instance, in the first episode, have him lose an arm," said Gilligan.
"We could make him partially mechanical," Gould joked.
Many characters from "Breaking Bad" might potentially make appearances in "Saul," but both producers vowed caution in how they might be folded into the narrative.
"We're trying to make something that stands on its own," said Gould, "not a series of old favorites, the equivalent of a clip show."
Both Gould and Gilligan agreed the challenge is daunting — but fun.
When pressed by reporters for more details on the new show, Gilligan promised, "Anything that was possible on 'Breaking Bad,' storytelling-wise, is possible on 'Better Call Saul.'"