(This article contains spoilers for the Season 5 finale of “Better Call Saul.”)
“Better Call Saul” has had more than its share of bad guys. But drug cartel henchman Lalo Salamanca has emerged during its last two seasons as the one who smiles the most — and is one of the most dangerous.
As played by Mexican-American actor Tony Dalton, Salamanca has a mischievous air and a charming demeanor that masks a ruthless brutality. He is quick to smile and tease his adversaries, turning his charm into a lethal weapon.
In the Season 5 finale, Salamanca survives an assassination attempt ordered by his archenemy, drug king Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), by escaping into a tunnel underneath his villa in Mexico. He returns to find the gunmen have killed his mother and wiped out his guards. He walks away from the scene with a cold glare that all but guarantees that there will be blood when the series returns for its sixth and final season.
Talking last week from Mexico, Dalton discussed his excitement in playing Salamanca, what it was like to plow through a fake tunnel, and his views on what may happen next season.
Q: Lalo has really established himself in the last few seasons as a great bad guy.
A: It’s been exciting. I’m very grateful to (executive producers Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan) and the writers and crew to give me the opportunity to come to Albuquerque and play with them for a while.
Q: What do you particularly enjoy about playing Lalo?
A: Before Lalo, I was doing this show in Mexico for HBO Latinoamerica called “Senor Avila” about a hitman. He’s a very dark character, very somber, very stoic. I did that for four years, five seasons. So be able to turn that around, put some charm into this guy, make him more fun was a joy to do.
Q: The more charming he is, the scarier he is.
A: He’s got to be a little scary. Otherwise the story doesn’t more forward. I also look at Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), my uncle in the wheelchair. and he’s got these crazy expressions with his eyes. I figured, “If I can grab some of that, which might look ridiculous in another context, but being his nephew and also a psycho, it makes sense.” It justifies it. Yeah, you got charm, but you have these huge, strange, wide-open eyes. Like, “What’s wrong with this guy?”
Q: Lalo is evil, but he’s undeniably very smart. He also seems to be a few steps ahead of everyone else, which is kind of his superpower.
A: He’s got a head for numbers, for sure. Plus, if you’re going to go up against Gus Fring, you better (be) a worthy adversary.
Q: How do you get into character?
A: I have a couple of references that I keep in the back of my mind, from the way that he walks to the way that he moves and reacts. And then always keeping it light. Lalo doesn’t take anything personally. He’s like Jules Winnfield, the guy Samuel L. Jackson played in “Pulp Fiction.” He’s a huge villain, but he’s kinda cool about it.
Q: Fans have no idea what’s coming in the last season, but judging from your expression at the end of the episode, things are going to be pretty rough. Can we expect scorched earth?
A: I don’t know. But whatever Vince and Peter and the writers are cooking up is going to be pretty extraordinary. In the script in that last scene, it says, “Lalo has vengeance in his eyes and is heading north for revenge.” I went, “Whoa!” You never saw Lalo mad until then. It just became personal.
Q: What was it like filming that episode?
A: It was great. Even when I was reading it, it was like “What the hell?” I was jumping up and down in my apartment saying, “This is unbelievable.” I knew when we were doing the previous episode that they were building this huge tunnel. That took up like a whole stage. And it was just for that scene. It was amazing. I was like “Wow. This is huge. I have a lot of responsibility here.”
Q: In last week’s episode, Lalo has this tense confrontation with Kim (Wexler, the wife of Jimmy McGill, played by Rhea Seehorn), and she really dresses him down. Lalo doesn’t say anything during that scene. What is going through his mind?
A: One of the things I was trying to get across without words was how he had this respect for Kim. What she’s saying — “Get your house in order” — is right. Also, it was like he’s thinking, ‘I’m going to Mexico, I’m getting all huffy-puffy about something that is probably nothing. I’m free. Let’s get the hell out of here.” If she hadn’t stepped up and said something, Lalo was going to kill her and Jimmy. But it became like a mother scolding her child. He never saw it coming. Rhea is amazing in that scene. She’s such a great actress. She was bringing it home so you have to step up and act properly.
Q: So what is your prediction about Lalo in this last season?
A: I don’t know, man. But the cool thing about Vince and Peter and the writers is, whatever you think is going to happen, the complete opposite happens. I’m just here for the ride. I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.
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