News

Better Call Saul’s Michael Mando on Nacho's 'Transcendent' Path to 'Breaking Good'

Mando reflects on his character's six-season evolution and digs deep into the symbolism of Nacho's journey in the game-changing episode, "Rock and Hard Place."

by | April 25, 2022 | Comments

Michael Mando in Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 2

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

“No, it wasn’t me. It was Ignacio. He’s the one,” Saul Goodman exclaimed at gunpoint in the season 2 finale of Breaking Bad. The episode “Better Call Saul” aired in 2009, long before the Bob Odenkirk–starring prequel, Better Call Saul, hit AMC. Yet, in this one passing line of dialog, while Saul was confronted by a masked Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the character Ignacio “Nacho” Varga, played impeccably by Michael Mando, was born.

Nacho has undergone a profound evolution since his early cartel days as Tuco Salamanca’s (Raymond Cruz) obedient right-hand man. And season 6 has found him in a precarious position. In the season 5 finale, Nacho assisted Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) in his plan to destroy Lalo Salamanca’s (Tony Dalton) compound, allowing Fring to make a power play within the criminal cartel world. It was supposed to be Nacho’s final crime, as he was laying the groundwork to pursue a better life for himself and his father.


Spoiler warning: If you would like to avoid spoilers for Better Call Saul season 6 episode “Rock and Hard Place,” stop reading here, as we discuss major plot points from the episode.


Michael Mando in Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 2

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Nacho’s plan backfired. The mission to take out Lalo failed. And after evading capture in Mexico, going so far as to hide from the Salamanca cousins by submerging himself in an oil tank, Nacho faced two eye-opening truths about his fate: He was a pawn in Fring’s grander agenda, and he was going to die because of it.

“Rock and Hard Place” is Nacho’s swan song. It’s an episode that, thematically, runs parallel to Jesse Pinkman’s own journey to redemption in El Camino, the Breaking Bad sequel film.  But while both characters ultimately break good, in Monday’s episode, Varga’s life came to an end in the desert under the hot New Mexico sun.

Thirteen years after Saul Goodman uttered Ignacio’s name, Mando put a powerful punctuation mark on the Better Call Saul character. Rotten Tomatoes had a video call with the actor — emotional in talking about his final episode — about his experience playing the role over the past six seasons, the symbolism featured throughout Monday’s episode, and the character’s enduring legacy within the Breaking Bad universe.


Michael Mando in Better Call Saul season 6

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Aaron Pruner for Rotten Tomatoes: How has your perspective of Nacho changed over the past six years, and how has Nacho’s perspective of his environment and situation changed?

Michael Mando: To be on a show that’s like Breaking Bad and be the only character breaking good has been a tremendous surprise for me and a huge responsibility that the writers have given me to play. It fills me up with gratitude and responsibility to represent that sort of moral desire when the current of the show is really pushing hard in the other direction. And it makes for great, great drama.

How has Nacho’s perspective changed? Or has it even?

Mando: When I got this role, I researched heavily. I wanted to make the New Mexican people proud. I researched the history of the Aztecs and the Mayans. The historians on one side said that these people were savages who would sacrifice human life for the Gods to bring down the rain. But the historians from Latin America told a different story: The strongest men of the village played a competitive sport in front of the whole community. And it was the winners of that sport, who willingly sacrificed themselves for the greater good of that community.

I believe towards the end, Nacho transcends his environment and transcends his life in a way. He looks at the world, at his relationship with death, and transcends life.


Michael Mando in Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 3

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Can you walk me through Nacho’s state of mind in the episode’s opening moments?

Mando: That episode was so beautifully written and directed by Gordon Smith. And it was full of symbolism. If you zoom in on the white shirt that Nacho wears, you’ll see symbols on it. The piece of jewelry that he keeps, the washing himself from the darkness, the last meal, the last call, the last goodbye, and then, finally, the trial in front of the heavens. Right there, under an open sky, he’s someone standing up for what he believes in, in the face of these sociopaths.

So throughout that particular opening, Nacho was a man who knew he had his back against the wall. Like the episode title says, “Rock and Hard Place.” He knew that this was his defining moment in life. And his super-objective was to secure the safety of his father who represented virtue and integrity in his universe and his community.

Talk about the phone call with his dad. What does that call signify to Nacho? Was this the moment he accepted his fate? Was this when he decided how he’d go out?

Mando (visibly emotional at the recollection): When a character is so beautifully written, you can point to specific moments and say, “That’s when Nacho becomes Ignacio. That’s the moment where he becomes the icon of what he was meant to be. He becomes a hero.” He’s staring the sunset in the eyes, and he has a window to escape. He calls his father and the subtext is: Would you run away with me and live happily ever after? And his father says no. At that moment, Nacho knows: In that case, I will sacrifice my life for you.


Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 3

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Tel)

How would you describe Nacho’s relationship with Mike? Is he the father figure Nacho was looking for?

Mando: Mike represented a friend. And sort of a confidant, as well. At some point, Nacho transcends that relationship and starts breaking good. While Mike tragically continues to break darker and darker, deeper and deeper into the bad.

Is this a changing dynamic Nacho was always aware of?

Mando: Look, Nacho always loved and respected Mike. But I think Nacho was a little bit more of an idealist and a romantic. Nacho meant what he said and was willing to die for what he believed in. I think Mike has a slightly more duplicitous relationship with virtue and morality. Nacho makes a decision that he will live and die for the right thing, and he will do it here and now. And I think Mike isn’t willing to.


Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 3

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Throughout the show, Nacho has presented himself in a reserved, quiet, respectful manner. But his final scene found him letting out all his anger, aggression, and rage towards the Salamancas. What was your experience filming that scene?

Mando: It was an unbelievable experience. That day, they started the cameras on the Salamancas and Gus Fring and his men. By the time they turned around on me, a huge sand storm hit and we stopped and ran inside. The next day, when I shot the scene and I went home, lightning struck the tree in front of my house and fell in front of my driveway. I couldn’t get home.

Maybe the universe was trying to tell you something?

Mando: You know, I had cut my finger the day before my first day really deeply on the nerves, and I couldn’t feel anything shooting up to my left shoulder. So I had to take about a week and a half off. So they shot everybody’s scenes first. When we finally got there, it was an unbelievable magical moment. The crew had Nacho shirts on with little teardrop tattoos on the eyes. It was just it was a moment that meant so much to so many people.

Do you believe Nacho got the end he deserved?

Mando: The iconography of Nacho is of sacrifice, true love, and courage in the face of insurmountable adversity. So to play a character who truly sacrifices himself for the integrity and the virtue that he aspires to is the most heroic thing. They’ve turned Nacho into this incredible character, who is probably the only one here that’s breaking good. That responsibility that the writers have given me fills me with tremendous gratitude. He has really become a dream role.


Michael Mando in Better Call Saul _ Season 6

(Photo by Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks already have their next projects lined up. What’s next for you?

Mando: Well, what would you like to see me in?

Oh, it’s up to me? Well, considering your background in theater, maybe something Shakespearean would be fitting.

Mando: Cool. I’ll tackle Hamlet next.

That seems fitting.

Mando (quoting Shakespeare’s Hamlet): I know not “seems.” ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother…

I’m in. And it goes without saying: Congrats on a stellar run as Nacho. To use paraphrase, your Emmy-worthy performance was “transcendent.”

Mando: Thank you. Please put that in so I can show that to my mother.

.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Ovation comedies kong Pop TV live action serial killer Oscars Set visit cinemax VH1 halloween tv Pet Sematary werewolf Star Trek PlayStation critics international Holidays FXX women theme song child's play italian rotten movies we love marvel cinematic universe sequels Certified Fresh Fox News video breaking bad Comics on TV Valentine's Day TBS Musicals dark venice GoT Comedy boxing stand-up comedy ViacomCBS Legendary hollywood The CW royal family gangster 94th Oscars USA Network Endgame 2018 vampires dramedy Columbia Pictures finale TV Land 21st Century Fox discovery independent target scene in color Instagram Live supernatural japan slasher Exclusive Video OneApp elevated horror Disney superman reboot tv talk Calendar name the review Disney streaming service Syfy Sci-Fi 24 frames debate 2019 biopic Marvel Television Best Actor TCA Winter 2020 Shudder rt labs summer preview facebook Photos 2015 crime drama rt labs critics edition thriller miniseries broadcast Extras Black Mirror spanish language animated Broadway Classic Film dogs Acorn TV black comedy comic books 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 73rd Emmy Awards renewed TV shows Universal Pictures TV One obi wan Awards Tour Academy Awards Pride Month foreign 2017 Lifetime The Purge A24 Peacock Music Universal Cosplay art house TV renewals sopranos screenings spanish documentaries IFC 79th Golden Globes Awards X-Men casting video on demand Chernobyl Binge Guide Adult Swim Tubi laika talk show blaxploitation richard e. Grant Tokyo Olympics Television Critics Association Year in Review Star Wars Celebration canceled australia adventure doctor who news 2016 cancelled television Spectrum Originals indie nbcuniversal Comic-Con@Home 2021 Grammys Hallmark Christmas movies docuseries comiccon Logo Cartoon Network Comic Book disaster streamig Superheroes diversity historical drama die hard Rom-Com ABC Signature wonder woman 2021 Britbox biography Drama french scorecard Teen IMDb TV blockbusters Ghostbusters heist movie Opinion teaser San Diego Comic-Con VICE films vs. E3 zombie Fantasy crime Biopics Lifetime Christmas movies witnail razzies BET Awards telelvision japanese travel Amazon Marathons game of thrones Turner ID LGBT Rocky Character Guide space Bravo aapi monster movies godzilla Kids & Family mcc zombies First Reviews Dark Horse Comics TNT mob HFPA Writers Guild of America Interview political drama parents unscripted Ellie Kemper Lionsgate Mindy Kaling young adult Tomatazos Winners The Arrangement SXSW 1990s psycho Freeform hispanic marvel comics cancelled TV series Summer Showtime halloween Creative Arts Emmys See It Skip It USA new zealand Nominations superhero cancelled TV shows Lucasfilm rt archives ESPN cooking Reality Competition MTV book CMT Heroines Best Actress science fiction toy story The Walking Dead scary movies stoner 4/20 christmas movies screen actors guild Mystery Film Festival Toys festivals TruTV mutant 2020 TV HBO Go Sundance NBA cops war leaderboard Arrowverse Best Picture Hollywood Foreign Press Association television Thanksgiving ITV Fall TV award winner rotten IFC Films SundanceTV Schedule Trivia Turner Classic Movies Vudu batman Crunchyroll GIFs Hear Us Out cancelled comic book movies Neflix Musical kids Mary poppins dexter Family transformers streaming movies spy thriller technology Television Academy romantic comedy chucky Sony spider-verse Country dc saw CBS All Access Warner Bros. lord of the rings documentary based on movie 90s Brie Larson mockumentary archives 72 Emmy Awards MCU 99% Paramount Pictures Emmys Fox Searchlight Martial Arts nature RT21 Paramount Network Sundance TV Netflix Spike indiana jones Winter TV olympics Chilling Adventures of Sabrina jurassic park AMC social media Disney+ Disney Plus RT History YouTube comic book movie cars Walt Disney Pictures Reality composers sag awards adenture CBS TCA strong female leads twilight El Rey legend interviews sitcom zero dark thirty politics Disney Plus Trophy Talk dceu Alien posters franchise new star wars movies 007 know your critic genre ABC Oscar period drama Nickelodeon DirecTV Anna Paquin A&E Countdown 45 high school joker Paramount BBC Best and Worst Box Office Native remakes Apple TV+ fast and furious south america Crackle FOX Paramount Plus Masterpiece movie versus summer TV all-time LGBTQ HBO scene in color film series spinoff golden globes worst spider-man king kong sports Marvel Baby Yoda live event Polls and Games Geeked Week james bond worst movies prank green book hidden camera DC streaming service Song of Ice and Fire Marvel Studios Tarantino SXSW 2022 summer TV preview pirates of the caribbean Film mission: impossible deadpool SDCC The Academy kaiju best NBC New York Comic Con BAFTA First Look BBC One Spring TV what to watch Christmas robots WGN fresh Premiere Dates E! Amazon Studios Animation ratings Cannes 71st Emmy Awards FX on Hulu nfl hispanic heritage month Prime Video CNN adaptation Western justice league National Geographic The Walt Disney Company MGM Women's History Month game show children's TV Esquire Super Bowl Pixar basketball Action AMC Plus Captain marvel HBO Max YA YouTube Premium a nightmare on elm street football Infographic Wes Anderson Pirates festival BET Mudbound Sundance Now crossover Funimation comic GLAAD 93rd Oscars suspense BBC America Apple TV Plus Tumblr free movies Rock golden globe awards Epix series Elton John movies TLC cats Sony Pictures concert PBS quibi Image Comics comics Best Director Holiday Apple critic resources Netflix Christmas movies spain Red Carpet dreamworks canceled TV shows VOD DC Comics scene in color series trophy toronto Black History Month binge emmy awards hist boxoffice satire Focus Features true crime asian-american anime Mary Poppins Returns sequel Star Wars black Shondaland police drama Video Games OWN President scary classics The Witch APB TCA 2017 Starz Fargo YouTube Red target 20th Century Fox TCM ABC Family stop motion latino new york DC Universe Pop Election obituary WarnerMedia Travel Channel Amazon Prime Video singing competition book adaptation scene in color Amazon Prime reviews Awards DGA ghosts psychological thriller Indigenous jamie lee curtis cartoon romance dragons slashers Discovery Channel Trailer Comedy Central harry potter Tags: Comedy rom-coms Superheroe Quiz PaleyFest criterion aliens natural history Pacific Islander South by Southwest Film Festival Emmy Nominations Mary Tyler Moore Sneak Peek Watching Series Horror Podcast Rocketman directors NYCC TV movies trailers MSNBC streaming History crime thriller Disney Channel Hallmark cults blockbuster medical drama revenge king arthur TIFF anthology docudrama American Society of Cinematographers feel good Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt universal monsters Avengers Nat Geo FX CW Seed TCA Awards Hulu Food Network action-comedy popular Stephen King