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Michael McKean talks 'Better Call Saul,' growing up in Sea Cliff and more

Michael McKean will soon star Off-Broadway in "The

Michael McKean will soon star Off-Broadway in "The True." Credit: Getty Images/Dimitrios Kambouris

Fans of the hit AMC series “Better Call Saul” will likely agree that the show’s secret weapon is Michael McKean, though the Sea Cliff-raised actor turns modest if you mention that.

Last season’s fiery finale left McKean’s character, cruel and psychologically troubled attorney Chuck McGill, in . . . well, let’s just say considerable peril. The season 4 premiere on Monday will clarify his condition, and McKean is quite candid about it here.

Known for comedy (“This Is Spinal Tap,” “Laverne & Shirley”), he’s also flexed his dramatic muscles, including last year's Broadway revival of “The Little Foxes." This fall he’ll star Off-Broadway opposite Long Island-raised Edie Falco in “The True.” He also hosts the Cooking Channel’s “Food: Fact or Fiction” (which his daughter co-produces), and co-stars next year with Frances McDormand in the Amazon miniseries “Good Omens.”

McKean, 70, and his wife, actress Annette O’Toole, live in Los Angeles.

It’ll be tricky here to avoid spoilers, but given last season’s finale, it seems your character is in for some major changes.

Yeah. Some months ago I did a few interviews with “Saul” co-creator Peter Gould, and we said, hey, look, Chuck is dead.  The “Better Call Saul” Twitter account put out a really flattering piece basically saying, “Goodbye, Chuck.”

And yet I gather we haven’t seen the last of him. There’ll be flashbacks, dream sequences . . . ?

Oh, yeah, you’ll see Chuck again. I won’t tell you which episodes. But I did a couple this year. We were shooting [last season] and I was in my car in Albuquerque when the guys [co-creators Vince Gilligan and Gould] called me and I said, “If this is the death call, I’m pulling over.” So I pulled into the parking lot of a used bookstore and we had a lovely conversation. It made sense to me as far as our story goes. And I said, “Do I go out with a bang?” And they said, “Oh, yeah.” That’s all I cared about.

Sounds like you’re busy. You’ll soon co-star Off-Broadway with Edie Falco in “The True.” Two fellow LIers. Have you worked together before?

No. I’ve met her once. She came to see “The Little Foxes” last year. There was a knock at the dressing room door, and it’s Edie Falco — and Aida Turturro. [He laughs.] I said, “Are the rest of the Sopranos here?” It was amazing. In “The True,” I play a guy who really existed — Erastus Corning, who was mayor of Albany for 40 years. He grew up with Nelson Rockefeller, and they had this bitter rivalry. Rockefeller had the money, but as the mayor of the capital of New York State, Corning had power. Edie plays Polly Noonan, Corning’s mouthpiece, his spokesman. But also . . . kind of . . . his Jiminy Cricket. She was the man, to a great extent. It’s a remarkable story.

Have you gotten back to Sea Cliff lately?

Sure. I own the house I grew up in. I have so much crap in the basement. Eventually I’ll get it out and we’ll sell the house. But right now I have family living there. Sea Cliff . . . is a lovely town. I first lived in Hicksville . . . then moved to Sea Cliff when I was 7. That’s been the “home place,” as they say in the South. The last time I was there was in October. I walked to all the places I used to go. You know what nostalgia means, literally, right? It means the pain of remembering. We think of nostalgia as this warm, friendly thing, but it’s really about loss.

It’s bittersweet.
Exactly. [When I’m there], I do the same stuff I used to do. I buy a sandwich at the deli and sit and eat it in Clifton Park.


You told me once you were a Newsday delivery boy.

Yeah. And it’s about time I got a chance to complain. I first delivered the Long Island Daily Press, and they were great — you could fold them up and toss them. You couldn’t do that with Newsday . . . it was a different size. So . . . I had to change my whole style.

You’d perfected your newspaper toss?

Oh, it was great. I even had some people in Sea Cliff who had a circular driveway. I would just zip up one side, fling it right in the middle, and then be on my way.  With Newsday, I had to place it under the mat. [He adopts a tone of mock indignation.] I’m still a little burned up about it.

Well, if you want to come back, the paper is now packed in a plastic sheath, so you can toss to your heart’s content.

I’ll . . . I’ll get back to you on that. [He chuckles.] If things get slow here …


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