Last week’s episode of Better Call Saul began with a relic from the distant past: the top of the fancy tequila bottle that Jimmy and Kim deployed in their very first Robin Hood scam. (Aww, how sweet!) This week’s installment begins with another mysterious object, one from the near future: a curved piece of glass on the desert floor being pelted with a few rare drops of rain.
As we now know (and if you don’t yet know, now is the time to stop reading—spoiler alert!), this is the shard of broken glass that Nacho will use to stab Juan Bolsa and steal his gun, just before taking his own life. Yes, after years of outwitting, outmaneuvering, and outmuscling the law, the cartel, his sworn rivals, and even his alleged friends, Ignacio “Nacho” Varga has finally come to the end of the line. And, not for nothing, he has done it on his own terms.
It was Nacho who chose to sacrifice his own life to finally secure his father’s protection. (We know he’ll be safe because Mike says he’ll make sure of it.) It was Nacho who told Gus and Mike that he would play along with whatever scenario they proposed. And, inevitably, it was Nacho who gave Gus a momentary scare by flipping the script. He chose not to run, not to be shot in the back, and instead seized Bolsa’s gun and pulled the trigger himself. Respect.
As soon as I finished watching the episode, I wanted nothing more than to hear from Michael Mando, who has portrayed Nacho for six seasons over seven years. In a phone call, he told me how he learned of Nacho’s fate, why he had to take time off from shooting the final season, and how he feels about playing a character who breaks good when everyone else is breaking bad.
Vanity Fair: Congratulations on a fantastic run. When and how did you find out about Nacho’s demise?
Michael Mando: I received a call the winter before we started shooting. I was in Montreal. [Executive producers] Peter [Gould], Vince [Gilligan], and Melissa [Bernstein] said, “Brace yourself for a tour de force performance. We will require you to be physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. You’re gonna have your own feature film inside this season.” And I was immediately grateful for the challenge.
That’s amazing. And it seems like it came true.
You know, those guys are the best in the business and they always deliver. To play a character that’s breaking good when the whole show seems to be breaking bad has really turned into a dream role of mine.
When did you get to see the actual script?
I was discovering the scripts as we went. So I read 603 a couple of days before we started shooting.
What was the day like, when you shot that final scene?
That whole episode was riddled with symbolism in real life. I had cut my finger really deeply. I was doing my own stunts and I had cut my thumb, and I couldn’t shoot for about a week and a half because I had lost sensation in all the nerves in my left arm. And the day we were shooting that final scene, right before we turned the cameras on Nacho, a huge sandstorm hit and we had to literally run back to our cars and leave the desert before our cars would sink in. When I went home that day, lightning struck the tree in front of my house and it fell in front of my driveway and I couldn’t get in. There was all this symbolism, where we were kind of giggling, going, “What is going on?”
Did you cut your thumb shooting one of your scenes in the new season?
No, not at all. I cut my thumb doing the dishes! The porcelain plate broke; it was an old porcelain plate. It broke and cut my thumb. I couldn’t shoot because I was doing my own stunts and I couldn’t get a close grip.
Now that’s relatable. I can imagine doing that. I can’t imagine kicking an air conditioner out and jumping out of a hotel wall.
I did all my stunts except two. I have to give credit to Victor Lopez. He did the jump. And there was another stunt driver who did the car collision. Those were the only two moments where they swapped me for a body double because the insurance wouldn’t cover it.