One of the most powerful characters in "Breaking Bad" -- a series filled with powerful characters -- was Mike Ehrmantraut.
The former cop turned hitman, fixer and adviser to some of the worst of the worst, was wonderfully portrayed by veteran actor Jonathan Banks.
Banks reprises his complex role in the new prequel "Better Call Saul," which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC. The series follows huckster lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), showing how he arrived to be the shady lawyer we all came to love in "Breaking Bad."
amNewYork spoke with Banks about the series.
Without spoilers, what are you able to say about Mike in this prequel?
Well, you're gonna learn a lot about Mike's backstory. By the time you get to episode six, there's an episode that's pretty much dedicated to telling you at least partially why Mike is Mike.
Would you say Mike is inherently a bad guy?
Well, Mike's definitely not a good guy, but you know what? The thing about Mike is Mike knows that he's not a good guy and Mike knows that he lost his soul. Even though he can't save others, he has a tendency to look out for them.
What makes Mike such a memorable character?
It starts with the writing, and [the writers] like Mike. They like that character. He could have been the thug that walks through and that was all, but they gave him many dimensions.
Do you enjoy the tough guy role?
Oh yeah. I mean, you get tons of stress out when you play bad guys -- [like] a little kid out in the yard with a mask on just being wild. Yes, it's wonderful.
You seem like a genuinely nice guy. Are people surprised when they see you on the street?
You know, I think they're more disappointed. What they do is they start to talk to me and you see their faces drop and they go, "Oh god, that's not Mike. Who the hell is this impostor?"
How has your life changed since you signed on?
Well, you know, it's funny because I've done this professionally and I got my first paycheck 47 years ago and it's not like it was all just wonderful. It was some brutally hard times as I look back on it. I kind of refused to see them that way then, but you know I'm old enough now that ... I know how monumentally lucky I am and at the same time you take it in stride a little bit. ... You can't take the good or the bad all that seriously. You just do your best and you move ahead.
How do you think this show is going to appeal to "Breaking Bad" fans?
I think these writers are so good. They're going to give you a different rhythm and a different beat. It's a show that, as far as I can see, really stands on its own.
A guy like Kelsey Grammer played Frasier for 20 years. Could you see yourself playing Mike for the long term?
No, no, there will come a time, just out of dignity to Mike. This is my opinion -- Mike has to burn out at some point. Mike knows too much about Mike. And there's a lot of things about Mike that's very hard to live with. He's a better man than what he became.
What's it like working with creator Vince Gilligan?
What's it been like? First of all, we're talking about a good guy. He directed the first show that we did and the sole direction I've gotten from Vince Gilligan that I can remember in the last 3-4 years was at a distance -- he was over at the monitors and I was in the silly booth and he stuck his head out from behind the monitors and he looked up at me and I stuck my head out to see what it was. He looked at me and went, "Less stink eye." And that is my direction, which I totally understood.
"Better Call Saul" premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC.