For Better Call Saul's Michael Mando, life has been punctuated by strange twists of fate
In an interview with Q’s Tom Power, the Canadian actor opened up about some of these coincidences
This post contains spoilers about Season 6 of Better Call Saul. Click the play button above to listen to Michael Mando's full conversation with Tom Power.
Michael Mando wasn't familiar with Breaking Bad when he auditioned for the role of Nacho Varga in its prequel, Better Call Saul, but looking back, he's convinced he was fated to land the part.
"I walked in on my father who … was watching the final two episodes of Breaking Bad," Mando recalled in an interview with Q's Tom Power. "I saw the name Vince Gilligan at the end of the screen and I immediately thought, 'Wow, I'd love to work with him.' And then in a weird twist of [fate], two weeks later, I get the audition and his name is on it.… It seemed like it was fated, if you believe in that kind of stuff."
For the Canadian actor, strange coincidences have been common in his life and career. While studying international relations at the University of Montreal, Mando's mother, whom he hadn't seen in years, was shot in a carjacking that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Not long after, he was shot in an unrelated incident. Those unfortunate events led him to discover spirituality and his passion for the performing arts.
"I had to leave university to go see [my mother] after years of not seeing her," Mando told Power. "When I came back to Montreal, I think I was reading a lot of books about spirituality and stuff. And that's where my acting career and Montreal really came into play. I left university, joined the Dome Theatre [now named Dawson Theatre, the venue for Dawson College's acting program] — it was just going to be for a semester, and I ended up never leaving the profession."
Coincidentally, seven years later, Mando's father was shot during a robbery at his store in Angola and survived.
"I remember this woman once saying tragedy happens in threes," said the actor. "It's like this freakish thing, you know, it had nothing to do with my upbringing. My father is a chemist. He's got a PhD, a doctorate in chemistry. And it's just weird. It's like one of those things where you go, 'Wow, that actually happened.'"
Mando had an incredibly close relationship with his father, who raised him and his brothers as a single parent in several cities across four continents. The actor called his father his hero.
While shooting Season 5 of Better Call Saul, Mando learned his father had terminal cancer, which he felt mirrored his character's experience in the show as Nacho tries to save his father's life.
"Season 5 was the hardest season of my life," Mando told Power. "There were moments where you would be in the middle of a scene and you realize that you're talking about your real life.… It feels like I'm doing this weird thing with my brain where I'm not acting anymore and I'm talking about what I'm living. And it made me feel really, I guess, sick in a way. It made for great television.… So that paid off in a good way. But during it, it felt existential."
In 2020, Mando's father died, just before the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul began shooting. Season 6 sees Nacho sacrifice himself with a gunshot to the head after ensuring his father's safety from the Mexican drug cartel he's trying to extricate himself from.
The death scene was written to be "excruciatingly physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual." The actor's tour de force was aided by another freak event when inclement weather approached and lightning struck.
"That was an unbelievable day," he recalled. "Right before the cameras turned on me … there was this unexpected sandstorm. And we had to kind of run out and get out of the desert. When I got home, lightning struck the tree in front of my house. It was an ominous feeling because all these things that seem like coincidences are happening on such an important scene, on such an important episode for me.
"What that did is it gave us the chance to come back the next day and revisit the approach of that scene. And essentially, Gordon Smith — the writer, director — and I figured out that it wasn't so much about [Nacho] giving it to the cartel and having this kind of like 'F you' speech, but it was about him doubling down on what he believed and his love for his father."
Although he's listed dying on a show and snakes among his biggest fears, when Mando first learned that his character was going to be killed off in Season 6, he said he simply felt "immediate gratitude" for the opportunities he's had.
"I realized, you know, no matter how much talent you have and how hard you work, there's a twist of [fate] in having the opportunities that I've had. And I have to be grateful for that because it's beyond me really — or beyond just me."
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Kaitlyn Swan.