In The Mix

He Walks. He Talks.

Mark Margolis brings back a younger, fiercer “Tío” Salamanca in Better Call Saul.

Ann Farmer
  • Rory Lewis

At the conclusion of season four of AMC's Breaking Bad, fans regretfully said adios to Don Héctor "Tío" Salamanca.

The enfeebled former drug runner blew himself up at Casa Tranquila, his retirement home, in order to take longtime nemesis Gustavo Fring with him.

But then came the prequel.

Like other characters resurrected in Better Call Saul, a somewhat younger, spryer Héctor reappeared in season two, no longer mute or in a wheelchair.

"I love playing him," Mark Margolis says. "I love the power that he has. I love having henchmen looking after me." In addition, "I like that he doesn't have to work too hard at anything."

Actually, in his first appearance in Better Call Saul, Héctor did engage in a tense battle of wits with Mike Ehrmantraut, Jonathan Banks's seriously intimidating cop-turned-criminal.

"I love that guy. He's tough," Margolis says, noting that his only comparable experience was a stage reading years ago opposite Morgan Freeman. "I had to say incredibly racist things. That was the second toughest thing."

Since his first film role — playing an "unhappy guy on the plane" in the X-rated 1976 movie The Opening of Misty Beethoven — Margolis has logged more than 150 film and TV credits and appeared in dozens of on-and off-Broadway plays. He was Antonio Nappa in HBO's Oz and Arthur Solloway in Showtime's The Affair (until an accident sidelined Margolis and Arthur was prematurely killed off).

Most of all, though, fans still approach him about his Scarface character, Alberto "The Shadow."

"I say, 'That was 34 years ago,'" Margolis, 78, explains. "They say, 'Well, you look the same, man.' I say, 'Well I guess I looked old then.'"

Better Call Saul has brought many changes to Margolis's routine. "I spend a lot of time in the makeup trailer to make me look younger," he says. He gets hooked up to a wrinkle-reducing machine — and even gets to wear clean clothes. "Yeah, I had pissed-in pajamas" in Breaking Bad, he recalls. "They made sure the whole crotch area was stained."

He also talks. In Breaking Bad, Héctor communicated using a bell taped to his wheelchair. One ring, yes. No ring, no.

Héctor's first words in Better Call Saul similarly went right to the point: "Coffee. Black," he ordered (in a Spanish accent), when he suddenly materialized before Mike in a diner. "I'm very good at accents," Margolis says. And scowls. Despite an almost wordless performance in Breaking Bad, Margolis was Emmy-nominated in 2012.

As for season four, starting August 6, Margolis can't reveal plot points, of course, but he does offer this: "Aaron Paul can't come back" as Jesse Pinkman. "Because he'd have to be 10 years old."

The downside to prequels is that you know what lies ahead. For Héctor, that's a wheelchair. Even so, Margolis confesses, "I don't know how we get to that."

The first three seasons of Better Call Saul are available on Netflix and iTunes.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2018