“I can’t just play the guy’s girlfriend. If the most interesting thing about me is my boyfriend, I’m not going to get the part, because I would add all this subtext” – Rhea Seehorn
On Better Call Saul, actress Rhea Seehorn portrays Kim Wexler, the girlfriend of lead Bob Odenkirik‘s Jimmy McGill. It’s been the longest-running role for Seehorn, who has appeared in a variety of series including the short-lived The Singles Table, The Starter Wife, as well as Whitney, and Franklin & Bash. Speaking to Rolling Stone about her career, Seehron explains how she ended up acting after planning to become a painter and why she reports to set even when she’s not supposed to be in a scene.
Seehorn is thankful that her acting class that she took as an elective at George Mason University wasn’t a blow-off class because that is what got her interested in performing. She recalls, “Thank god it wasn’t a feel-good, let’s just lie on the floor, feel how we feel about ourselves class. It was all craft. It was practical aesthetics, handbook for actors — here’s how you break down a script, this is what an objective is, this is an obstacle. I was in such heaven that I never looked back after that.”
After that experience, Seehorn sought to emerge herself in theater by any means necessary. She explains, “I volunteered to usher at Woolly Mammoth [Theatre Company] for a year. I volunteered for stage-running crew, box office, anything to make that bridge between academic and professional, so that I could learn professional things, be around professional people, show that I was willing to put in the hours. Also, when I got out for auditions, I’m not knocking on a door of someone who’s never seen me before. They’ve seen me making the disgusting fried eggs for a play that lasted all summer.”
Unfortunately, like many actors Seehorn was not offered substantive parts early in her career and she struggled with it. She continues, “By then I was a 25-year-old blonde, so I would get sent in for the ingenue, but I would go at it as a character actor. I can’t just play the guy’s girlfriend. If the most interesting thing about me is my boyfriend, I’m not going to get the part, because I would add all this subtext of like, ‘No, no, no. There has to be something going on with her. Was she abused? Why is she just standing there?’ I didn’t get parts for a while because of that.” That led to Seehorn to get cast in roles that she was much more comfortable in, even if she became a type. She says, “I got typecast as something that I was very proud of, which was this very wry, sarcastic, knowing [woman].”
Curiously, though she mostly appears in scenes with Odenkirk, Seehorn makes a habit of being on set when scenes with other characters that don’t involve her storyline directly are being shot, like scenes with co-stars Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito. Surprisingly, Seehorn describes this as her being “selfish”:
“It’s a very specific tone of show. For me, it sits just outside of realism and naturalism. There’s something kind of poetic about the way people shift in their speech or the way events unfold. I like that music in my ear as much as possible between my work. It’s not about me staying in character and walking around making people call me Kim; but completely removing myself from set and then going right into a scene the next morning is not as easy for me as it is for some actors. So, it’s selfish. And then I’m also just getting a free acting lesson. Jonathan and Giancarlo, when I watch their scenes, they teach me how to use the camera in a way that I didn’t come into this series understanding as much as I’m aspiring to now. Sometimes, when Kim has intimate moments, I used to turn away from the camera, because I do treat the camera as another person that’s there, and the audience is often my confidant in the scenes, because Kim can be very silent and withholding. And I’ll watch Jonathan and ask him questions. Or I’ll ask Giancarlo, ‘How do you invite the camera into the most private of moments without looking showy or without looking deliberate?'”
However, all of this education still doesn’t instill much confidence in Seehorn regarding her acting abilities. She concludes, “When you’re 20-some years into your career, [it’s a lot] to have a role that is challenging and every season becomes more challenging. This season, I had scenes where I was like, ‘This might be the day when everybody finds out that I can’t act. The jig might be up today.'”