Robert John Odenkirk is an American actor, comedian, writer, director, and producer. He is best known for his role as smooth-talking lawyer Saul Goodman on the AMC crime drama series Breaking Bad and its spin-off Better Call Saul, and for the HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show with Bob and David, which he co-created and starred in with fellow comic and friend David Cross.
From the late 1980s to 1990s, Odenkirk wrote for television shows Saturday Night Live and The Ben Stiller Show, winning two Emmys for his work. He also wrote for Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Get a Life and acted in a recurring role as Agent Stevie Grant in The Larry Sanders Show. In the early 2000s, Odenkirk discovered the comedy duo Tim & Eric and produced their television series Tom Goes to the Mayor and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! He directed three films, Melvin Goes to Dinner, Let's Go to Prison, and The Brothers Solomon. He was also an executive producer of the sketch comedy show The Birthday Boys, developing the show with the comedy group after seeing their work at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. In 2015, he and David Cross reunited, along with the rest of the Mr. Show cast, for W/ Bob & David on Netflix. Odenkirk co-wrote, produced, and starred in the Netflix original film Girlfriend's Day which was released in 2017.
The success of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul led to acting work in high-profile projects, such as Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne; Fargo, written and created by Noah Hawley; The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg; Disney/Pixar's Incredibles 2, written and directed by Brad Bird; and Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig.
Early lifeOdenkirk was born in Berwyn, Illinois, then raised in Naperville. He is one of seven siblings born to Walter Odenkirk, who was employed in the printing business, and Barbara Odenkirk, Catholics of Irish, German, and Dutch descent. His parents divorced in part due to Walter's alcoholism, which influenced Bob's decision to avoid alcohol as much as possible. He describes his father as "remote, fucked-up, and not around." Odenkirk would later say that he grew up "hating" Naperville because "it felt like a dead end, like Nowheresville. I couldn't wait to move into a city and be around people who were doing exciting things." Walter Odenkirk died of bone cancer in 1986.
Odenkirk attended Naperville North High School and graduated at 16, he was "tired of high school", and because he had enough credits, he was able to leave high school when he was still a junior. Because he was so young and thought he would be awkward at any college, he decided to attend the local College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. After a year, he went to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, "honing his sketch-writing and performance skills with live shows on both colleges' radio stations." He began his foray into comedy writing as a radio DJ for WIDB, the local non-broadcast college station at SIU. At WIDB he created a late-night radio comedy show called The Prime Time Special. He worked beside other fledgling stars like Greg Weindorf and Matt Helser. After three years of college, Odenkirk was three credits short of graduating when he decided to try writing and improv in Chicago. He completed the credits while living in Chicago, and received his bachelor's degree from SIU in 1984. First studying with Del Close, Odenkirk attended "The Players Workshop of the Second City" where he met Robert Smigel, and they began a collaboration that would last for years and take Odenkirk to Saturday Night Live. He also performed at the Improv Olympic alongside notable comedians Chris Farley and Tim Meadows.
Odenkirk said his strongest comedic influence was Monty Python's Flying Circus, primarily due to its combination of cerebral and simple humor. Other influences included radio personality Steve Dahl, SCTV, Steve Martin's Let's Get Small, Woody Allen, The Credibility Gap, and Bob and Ray. He visited Chicago's Second City Theater at the age of fourteen. His younger brother is comedy writer Bill Odenkirk.
Work in television
''Saturday Night Live'': 1987–1991Odenkirk was hired as a writer at Saturday Night Live in 1987 and worked there through 1991. Working alongside Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien, he contributed to many sketches they created, but felt uncertain of the efficacy of his own writing at the show.
He acted in several small roles on the show, most visibly during a 1990 parody commercial for Bad Idea Jeans.
During his final year at SNL, he worked alongside Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock and Chris Farley, but eventually he decided to leave the show in order to pursue performing. He has credited SNL with teaching him many lessons about sketch writing, from senior writers like Jim Downey and Al Franken, as well as his friends Smigel and O'Brien.
When SNL took its 1988 summer break, Odenkirk returned to Chicago to perform a stage show with Smigel and O'Brien, titled Happy Happy Good Show. The following summer he did a one-man show, Show-Acting Guy, directed by Tom Gianas. During his final summer hiatus, he wrote and acted in the Second City Mainstage show, Flag Burning Permitted in Lobby Only. In that particular show, he wrote the character "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker", for Chris Farley, which would later be reprised on SNL.
Various writing and acting work: 1991–1994In 1991, Odenkirk was hired to write for the TV show Get a Life, which starred Late Night with David Letterman alumnus Chris Elliott. He wrote for The Dennis Miller Show.
Odenkirk's friendship with Ben Stiller, with whom he briefly shared an office at SNL, would lead to his being hired for the cast of The Ben Stiller Show in 1992. Working as both a writer and actor on the show, he created and starred in the memorable sketch "Manson Lassie", and helped the show win an Emmy Award for writing. However, the show had already been canceled by the time it won the award. Odenkirk served as a writer on Late Night with Conan O'Brien for the show's 1993 and 1994 seasons.
Odenkirk met David Cross at Ben Stiller; shortly afterward, the pair began performing live sketch shows, which eventually evolved into Mr. Show with Bob and David. In 1993, Odenkirk began a recurring role on The Larry Sanders Show as Larry Sanders' agent, Stevie Grant. He would continue the character through 1998. Also in 1993, he had brief acting roles on Roseanne and Tom Arnold's The Jackie Thomas Show.
''Mr. Show'': 1995–1998Created by Odenkirk and David Cross, Mr. Show ran on HBO for four seasons. The series featured a number of comedians in the early stages of their careers, including Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Jack Black, Tom Kenny, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Brian Posehn and Scott Aukerman. While nominated for multiple Emmy awards in writing and generally well liked by critics, it never broke out of a "cult" audience into larger mainstream acceptance due to being a premium cable show. After Mr. Show, Bob and David and the writers from the staff wrote the movie Run, Ronnie, Run. The film was an extension of a sketch from the first season of the show. However, the studio took production control away from Cross and Odenkirk during the editing stages, and the pair disowned the final product.
After ''Mr. Show'': 1999–2008Odenkirk starred in numerous television shows and some films. He has written and produced many TV pilots, including The Big Wide World of Carl Laemke and David's Situation, but none have made it to air or been picked up as a series.
In 2004, Odenkirk received an unsolicited package including the work of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Inspired by their unique voice, he connected with them and helped them develop a semi-animated show for Adult Swim called Tom Goes to the Mayor. He assisted Tim and Eric with the development of their second series, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. He had a number of small featuring roles on TV shows, including Everybody Loves Raymond, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Seinfeld, NewsRadio, Just Shoot Me!, Joey, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, Entourage, Weeds, and How I Met Your Mother.
Odenkirk was in consideration to play Michael Scott in the pilot of The Office, a role which ultimately went to Steve Carell. Odenkirk finally guested in the final season of The Office as a Philadelphia manager strongly reminiscent of Michael Scott.
''Breaking Bad'' and other works: 2009–2014In 2009, Odenkirk joined the cast of AMC's Breaking Bad as corrupt lawyer Saul Goodman. He appeared as a guest star in three episodes of the second season, and eventually became a series regular for the seasons after and remained on the show until its final season.
In 2011, Odenkirk wrote and developed Let's Do This! for Adult Swim, starring as Cal Mackenzie-Goldberg a "two-bit movie mogul and head of Cal-Gold Pictures as he leads a collection of crazy, fame-hungry strivers chasing Hollywood dreams". The pilot can be seen on Adult Swim's website.
Odenkirk executive produced the sketch comedy show The Birthday Boys which starred the comedy group of the same name. Odenkirk also appeared in and directed a number of the sketches on the show as well. It premiered on IFC on October 18, 2013. In 2014, Odenkirk played Police Chief Bill Oswalt in FX's miniseries Fargo.
In fall of 2014, Odenkirk played Dr. Stork, a podiatrist who specializes in cutting off people's toes, in Adult Swim's anthology series Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories.
''Better Call Saul'': 2015–presentOdenkirk currently stars in the title role of Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad spinoff. Primarily set in 2002, six years before the character's debut in Breaking Bad, the series follows lawyer Saul Goodman's journey from court-appointed defense attorney origins to his eventual status as a successful, though unscrupulous, criminal defense lawyer. He is also credited as a producer for the series.
The first season consists of 10, 47 minute-long episodes, with a second and third season of 10 episodes following in early 2016 and 2017 respectively. The fourth season is available on Netflix as of February 9, 2020, and the fifth season premiered on AMC on February 23, 2020. The show will have a final sixth season, which has yet to start production.
Odenkirk has been nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for each of the series' four seasons.
In April 2020, with the end of Better Call Saul in sight, Odenkirk established his own production company Cal-Gold Pictures and signed a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television. Odenkirk, with Cal-Gold, plans to develop stories that are unique with dynamic characters and social relevance. Former Comedy Central vice president Ian Friedman will served as Cal-Gold's head of television.
''With Bob and David'': 2015It was reported in April 2015 that Odenkirk was teaming with former co-star David Cross to produce a new sketch comedy series based on their previous production, Mr. Show, called W/ Bob and David. The series was commissioned by Netflix with the first season having been released in November 2015, featuring four, 30 minute-long episodes along with an hour-long behind the scenes special. Odenkirk and Cross both write, star in and produce the show.
Odenkirk has expressed interest in doing more seasons.
''Girlfriend's Day'': 2017Odenkirk co-wrote, produced and starred in Girlfriend's Day, a Netflix original film. This film noir comedy about a greeting card writer was directed by Michael Stephenson and influenced by Chinatown. It was a movie Odenkirk had wanted to make for 16 years, after Mr. Show writer Eric Hoffman sent him the original script and they began developing it.
Other work in filmOdenkirk's first roles were very minor parts in films such as Wayne's World 2, The Cable Guy, Can't Stop Dancing and Monkeybone. In 2003, Odenkirk directed Melvin Goes to Dinner and played the role of Keith. The film received positive reviews from critics and won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film and Music Festival. It was later self-released in five cities, then distributed on DVD by Sundance.
In 2006, Odenkirk directed Let's Go to Prison, which was written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, and starred Will Arnett, Dax Shepard and Chi McBride. The film received a 12% "All Critics" score from the website Rotten Tomatoes and had a total box office gross of a little more than US$4.6 million. The following year Odenkirk directed The Brothers Solomon, written by Will Forte and starring Forte, Will Arnett and Kristen Wiig. The film received a 15% "All Critics" score from Rotten Tomatoes and had a total box office gross of approximately $1 million.
After starring in Breaking Bad, Odenkirk began to have more prominent roles in critically successful films, such as Little Women, The Post, The Disaster Artist, The Spectacular Now, which received the Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and the Alexander Payne-directed Nebraska, which was nominated for a Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Personal lifeIn 1997, Odenkirk married Naomi Yomtov, who was later the executive producer of W/ Bob and David. They have two children together.
Discussing costume choices on Better Call Saul, Odenkirk stated he has a bit of color blindness, and leaves it to the costume managers to select the right outfits for his roles.
On December 15, 2019, his alma mater SIU announced it had awarded Odenkirk the honorary degree of Doctor of Performing Arts.