[The following story reveals major spoilers for the episode, "Rock and Hard Place."]
"No, it wasn't me! It was Ignacio! He's the one!"
Fans soon learned how Ignacio's () story ended just thirteen years ago, as Saul Goodman blamed him for something he supposedly did to Lalo. On tonight's tragic episode of Better Call Saul, Ignacio was a natural fit for the audience.
Ignacio "Nacho" Varga sacrificed his life for his father in the closing moments of the Gordon Smith-directed episode "Rock and Hard Place," and like the episode's title, Ignacio found himself in a rock and a difficult place.
During a season four flashback on Breaking Bad, Gus strong-armed Ignacio entered the role of a double agent. In season four, Gus also wanted Ignacio to die, protecting his own long-running revenge plot against the men who murdered his beloved partner, Max (James Martinez).
Ignacio reached an agreement with Gus that required him to pay his life for his father, but instead of being shot in the back by Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui) during a parley with the Salamancas, Ignacio broke free long enough to grab Juan Bolsa's (Javier Grajeda) weapon, say his piece, and save his life.
"It's extremely tragic. It's Shakespearean, but it's what makes the character iconic. He lived and died for true love. It gives me shivers just thinking about it," Mando tells The Hollywood Reporter.
During his final days on set, Mando was somewhat embroiled in the Better Call Saul crew's tributes to the character. They surprised me by wearing Nacho shirts to set, and everybody had these tear tattoos. It was just so painful for everyone. I knew the character so much until that moment, but I wasn't sure how much he meant to them., Mando says.
Mando discusses all of the "ominous" events that hoped to prolong his tenure on the Breaking Bad AMC prequel/sequel in part two of a recent with THR.
After being overturned by many monsters for so long, Ignacio decided to go out on his terms. What you did tell him and his ultimate goodbye?
It's incredibly tragic that the character is so iconic. It gives me shivers simply thinking about it. He sacrificed his life despite being offered power, money, and influence. It's also remarkable that the writers performed a master job.
What makes your final days on set stand out?
This episode is full of fascinating moments. Right before my first day of shooting, I cut my finger. (Mando holds up his scarred hand.) I couldn't move my hand. I couldn't feel any nerves moving up from my left hand, so I had to wait a week before shooting.
The day we shot desert stuff, the cameras were on Gus and the Salamancas first. Right as we were supposed to turn the cameras on me, this massive storm hit us. So, we had to literally run back before our cars sank into the sand. Then, lightning had struck the tree in front of my house, and the fallen tree blocked my entry into the driveway. There were so many horrifying and immediate implications to me and the crew.
Everyone had these tear tattoos on Nacho shirts. It was so emotional for everybody. I knew the character meant so much to them until that moment. So the crew was right there with me, and it was a stunning sendoff.
After years of biting his tongue, Ignacio taught the Salamancas as well as Gus how he really feels about them. On the day, did you offer a variety of different flavors? Or was each take quite consistent?
When cameras were on them, the angles were quite different. But as we had a day to think about it, Gordon [Smith] told me that after the cameras turned around, I was able to play it completely different. At first I was a bit hesitant to the note, but finally I got it. Every individual person in the scene, without exception, is murdered. It's kind of strange because they're all there to witness [Ignacio's] death.
It's very clear he's walking into his death, and the audience is also there to witness his death. For the first time, he considered whether or not to do the right thing. He also put his ego aside and is perfectly willing to tell the story that will save his father, regardless of what he or she thinks. And finally, his gesture is very courageous. He was no stranger to regret or doubt or second-guessing. So he was incredibly committed to sacrificing himself.
Did you anticipate a similar outcome from the start?
When I first learned this part, I wanted to honor the New Mexican culture; it was crucial for me to play a character that was not a stereotypical brown-skinned bad guy. And then I saw a documentary that didn't depict them in the best way. They said that they would commit human sacrifice for the people to destroy the rain, and it sounded very barbaric. And then I saw a Latin American historian tell the same story, explaining that the winners committed human sacrifice to save the planet.
Their connection with life, death, and the afterlife was very, very different from our Western understanding and fear of death. It wasn't so much about if you die, it's about when you die, and what you die for. So I thought it was unbelievably beautiful that the episode begins with the rain falling down on this purple flower that also symbolizes peace.
Ignacio and Manuel Varga are among my favorite Better Call Saul scenes. Were you and Juan Carlos Cantu present for each other's side of that painful final phone call?
I requested that there be no one on my side of the call. I didn't play Juan Carlos, but Rich [Sickler], the AD, read those lines off camera to me. I was happy to assist him in his phone call, and he did the same thing for Gus and Mike, so I was happy to be there and support him for that. In the moment, I thought it would be ideal if Juan Carlos wasn't there.
Good luck to my favorite Saul character, Michael.
Honestly, your words have made my day, and more than that, they make me very sensitive. The character makes me so happy, and hearing you say it, which demonstrates all the sacrifice and effort, and fills me up with gratitude.
The interview has been reviewed for clarity and scope.
Mondays on AMC, Better Call Saul will be released.