Rhea Seehorn Wants You to Find “Hope” in Science Fiction
The Better Call Saul star reflects on her new indie sci-fi Linoleum and gives a status update on her mysterious next project with Vince Gilligan.
After six seasons on one of TV’s buzziest hits, Better Call Saul fan-favorite Rhea Seehorn would love to see her new sci-fi dramedy, Linoleum, receive some of that same attention.
“I'm desperately hoping that lots of people watch it,” the Emmy-nominated actor tells Inverse of her first post-Saul project. “It's a film that you should watch because it's funny, it’s dramatic, it's a mystery.”
Written and directed by Colin West, Linoleum stars Jim Gaffigan as Cameron Edwin, an aspiring astronaut languishing away as the host of a failing children’s science TV show. He and his wife, Erin (Seehorn), are on the brink of divorce, and the strain on their relationship is only exacerbated by the aftermath of a mysterious space-race-era satellite falling from the sky and landing in their backyard. The surreal ensuing events include the arrival of a doppelgänger, an unusual teenage boy, and a flying car.
Filmed in 2020 just before Seehorn began production on Better Call Saul’s final season, Linoleum wasn’t the most glamorous few months of her life (“We had a lovely Ramada in upstate New York,” she jokes), but she couldn’t help but feel a sense of hope. Fittingly, she hopes that others seek the film out for that shared experience.
In a conversation with Inverse, Seehorn talks about the “magical realism” of Linoleum, why she still isn’t over Better Call Saul, and her untitled new sci-fi series with Vince Gilligan.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
I have to begin with the most pressing Linoleum-related question: If you were the host of a children’s show, what would that look like?
I love science exploration shows, like, if you remember, In Search Of. In my head, I’d want to be like Bill Nye; it seems playful but then it's also super heady, intellectual. Doing the kid-friendly element, I don't know, I'd really probably be making the props.
By the way, the props team on this film absolutely crushed it. And, oh my God, the art direction, production management, costumes, and Ed Wu's cinematography. The handheld, lo-fi elements to depict this sci-fi, otherworldly quality was really interesting.
I’m glad you mentioned this being sci-fi, because, after watching the entire film, I was left wondering if we can use the sci-fi term. So where do you land on that? Did you view it through that lens or more as this human relationship drama?
It has a sci-fi element to it. I know Colin categorizes it as a drama, comedy, love story, mystery, with a sci-fi element. [Laughs.] But I think it squarely lands in that world of magical realism to aid and abet storytelling that involves really intangible things, like unconditional love, time, linear time, reality, and your reality versus the reality others have. It’s like my favorite films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lars and the Real Girl, or The Lobster. I love that allegorical kind of element to storytelling, and I think that Colin did it with such a light touch. He's asking a lot of very big questions, and not supplying the answers, which I find very brave, especially for a younger filmmaker.
You just talked a little about it, but what was it about this idea and character that you couldn’t pass up?
The script is written in a way that you do know some of the twists and where it's going prior to if you were just watching it, just because of the physical descriptions. But I was fascinated by it and the oddity of this science show within the show, and there were all these really fun elements. But then it was also Colin's letter to me, in which he described that this was born of his experience with his grandfather having dementia, passing away, and going through that experience with him. And Colin came away from it with a hopeful message instead of just drowning in the sorrow of it. He had all these beautiful thoughts that came out of it about time, what it means to take care of each other, what it means to say that you did something fantastic with your life, and the altered reality of, is it necessarily wrong if somebody is finding peace by defining their reality differently than yours? It was just all these wonderful things, and then I talked to him on the phone and understood the cog in the wheel that Erin should play in that storytelling. I just knew I had to do it, and I was thrilled that he thought that I was the right person.
I don’t know how Colin did it, but in a world where so many of our best movies and shows are dark and depressing, this story, which could be that, is somehow upbeat and inspiring.
It is! It's hopeful, even though many people have reported that they were sort of verklempt at the end; they weren't expecting to have such an emotional reaction. I think it definitely is one of those films that meets you where you are, depending on your own personal experience and if you have gone through any of these things: where you had to be the practical person to somebody else being the dreamer, or losing track of what you wanted out of your life, or forgetting to look around and realizing that you have a great life. There's a lot of elements that wash over people, with this love story at the middle of it and what it means to really share your life with another human on this long journey, if that's what you're after. The ending can be sad, and there's sadness with the larger statement of what's going on at the ending, but I find the whole film to be quite hopeful.
If you just read a very basic logline for this film, you could be like, "Ugh, great, another middle-aged white guy having a midlife crisis." And a lesser version of Linoleum would have the disapproving wife there with the sole purpose of being disapproving, and so how refreshing was it to dig into a character like Erin who is much more than that, and is going through her own struggles and crisis?
For sure. It's fun because you could mistake her for being just that box in the early scenes you see, when she's just irritated with him. And I hope people watch the film more than once, because even those early scenes where he's saying, "I saw this car fall," and she's quite dismissive of him and sort of pissed and trying to go to work, it's a valid response to have in any marriage or partnership in that moment. But it's even more valid once you get to the end of the film and understand that it is simultaneously her remembering what she went through when reality first started to be distorted for him, and that feeling of, what are you even saying? What is coming out of your mouth? And trying to keep a firm grip on reality, and to try to keep someone you love from slipping away. And then you see that she has to be the practical one and the bill payer.
So Colin and I talked at length — as did Jim and I — about how, early on, it was important that I not place the burden of being likable and palatable on myself just because I didn't want people to say, "Ugh, it's a shrew wife. He's fun and she's a pain in the ass." It was important for me to just let her be as irritated as she should be in that scene, and trust that the full scale and the full breadth of what Colin is going to show is really going on with this woman will suffice for the storytelling. Like, we'll make the character larger, and I think he did.
Considering that there’s so much content out there, and this is a smaller film that isn’t playing on 3,000 theater screens, what would be your pitch for why prospective viewers should seek out Linoleum?
Because I said so! [Laughs.]
Works for me!
Because of everything you're saying. Like, it is hard to pin down, but it is absolutely a film that, if you don't watch it with someone, find someone else who's seen it to talk to right afterwards. And I hope that you had the experience that I did, where, even knowing everything I knew about the film, I was very surprised by the way I experienced it. A part of your brain is trying to keep up and you could treat it like the Sixth Sense, where it's like, “Oh my gosh, what does that mean? And when she was talking to her daughter, did it really mean this?” But that's not the point at all. The whole thing is just this artistic experience of the messiness of life.
“I’m anxiously awaiting scripts for Vince's new show, but we haven't started yet.”
I'm desperately hoping that lots of people watch it. There are beautiful performances, my whole cast is just absolutely delightful in all of their roles. It's a film that you should watch because it's funny, it’s dramatic, it's a mystery, it's magical realism. In the end, honestly, it’s a hopeful film about the acceptance of our time on this planet. To just accept the messiness of being a human, and to celebrate that, even when life is chaos, and there’s a lot of chaos around us right now, that you can still find a way to find love, to love yourself, and to do something fantastic.
Linoleum was filmed before you wrapped Better Call Saul, but have you yet taken on a new character post-Kim Wexler? I’m not sure where you are in the process of starting your reunion with Breaking Bad and Saul creator Vince Gilligan.
I've been prepping the new season of Cooper's Bar, the comedy series that I do. And I’m anxiously awaiting scripts for Vince's new show, but we haven't started yet. I just basically text all of my Better Call Saul cast and crew and insist that they stay friends with me.
A few years ago, I was talking to Bryan Cranston in anticipation of him making his TV return with Showtime’s Your Honor, and he shared that he purposely stayed away from TV to both give himself a break from his iconic character and for audiences to have a break from him so that they could accept him as whatever he played next. As you come off of starring as the beloved Kim Wexler, can you relate to that? And what has the experience been like trying to put her to bed and prepare to step into your next role?
Well, I am not on the level that Bryan Cranston was coming off of playing Walter White! But I do love that fans have such ownership of the Kim Wexler character. They literally think about her as a living, breathing human, and like to talk to me about her on the street as though she's a third party, and it's really fun. I love, love, love that character, and I think [Saul co-creator] Peter Gould nailed the ending and was respectful of the characters and the fans in how smart the ending was. And to answer some things about Kim, but not too many. Peter would say to me all the time that when you have a character that is enigmatic like that and inscrutable, if you answer too many questions, you'll pop the bubble; the soufflé will crumble or deflate. But I thought he answered just enough. Meanwhile, I was supplying my own subtext the whole time, so she's very real to me. I've been making up her inner thoughts and biography for seven years.
Our show would air, and then we'd go away for 10 months while they'd write, and then we go back, and I don't think we’ve fully accepted that we're not going back. Bob has said the same thing. It probably will be a little while. Our last six episodes are still eligible for the next Emmy season, so we'll be together campaigning for that; this Sunday, we go together to the SAG Awards to celebrate our nominations. I'll be very sad when I run out of things to force these people to hang out with me.
Well, you already have an excuse to hang with Vince, and you guys can make everyone else come join you there.
Yes, at least I have Vince to hang out with me. And he loves to work with the same people, so I think I'll get to see a lot of my crew and writers and directors and producers.