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Tony Dalton talks 'Better Call Saul,' more

Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca in AMC's

 Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca in AMC's "Better Call Saul." Credit: AMC/Sony Pictures Television/Greg Lewis

 Great TV crime dramas need great villains, and "Better Call Saul" finally got one this season (which wraps Monday, AMC, 9 p.m.). His name is Lalo Salamanca. 

Forty-ish, with sweptback hair, Lalo is a charming, resourceful, intelligent stone-cold killer. The man who plays him, Tony Dalton, is all this and more. 

 Except, rest assured, that last part. 

 Dalton, 45, is famous in his native Mexico — like Brad Pitt-famous — but relatively unknown in the U.S. That all changed when he was named a full cast member this 6th season, as Juarez cartel underboss and arch-nemesis of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). He quickly broke out for the exact right reason — Dalton's a terrific actor — but he also brought to the show something that it had been missing. 

Let's call it the fear factor. Fans know it: That chill that goes down their spine when he's on screen. 

Born in Laredo to a Mexican father and American mother, Dalton would become a movie actor, screenwriter and star of the stage in Mexico, then, more recently, a TV star in HBO Latinoamérica series like "Sr. Ávila."

I spoke with Dalton recently — both of us in lockdown, him in Mexico City, having a barbecue with his girlfriend. An edited version of our chat:

     You're a rock star on Mexican TV but until now invisible on U.S. TV. Why the long wait to come here? 

It's not like I was looking to work in the United States [and] the opportunities that presented themselves were not the ones I was looking for. [Besides] I'm already doing really interesting things down here. 

You went from Laredo to the Harvard of Method acting, the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institutein New York. I'll bet there's a story there. 

I was sent to boarding school on the east coast when I was 12, 13 … then at Strasberg did plays with other student-actor-fellow-waiters who are still my friends to this day [but] it was just not working out or working out on a very small scale. [I then] moved to L.A., which I guess turned out to be the same thing as New York except on a bigger scale.

What happened? 

 What happened is what happened all the time, which I felt was this curse. I'd go on casting calls and would get 'you don't look Mexican, but you're not American either … Are you white or not? Can you do this with an accent or not..'

How did the 'Breaking Bad' brain trust find you? 

 My manager called and said, 'hey, you want to fly up here? They want to see you.' Two years ago, on my birthday, I got on the plane [and during the screen-test] decided to do something a little more light than the character I did in 'Sr. Ávila' — with the same amount of intensity and menace but also as a carefree guy, sort of a Mexican Errol Flynn."

Lalo is critical to the whole series. Do you know how "Saul" — how he — ends? 

 Nothing, man, nothing! They tell you nothing. You're winging it. Whatever comes is great, even if your character ends at some point. You hang up your hat and say 'thank you very much, that was a great run.'


 Like all seasoned actors, you are indeed a pragmatist. 

 Everything that comes to me is a huge surprise. I expect nothing. I have been doing this so long and there are so many stories about people who think they are finally going to make it, then … It just beats you down to the point where actors my age are just a little more humble.


Fans — like me, I suppose — always seem to want to know about the set, as in "is it a happy set?" or "do the actors hate each other? " Well? 

Mike [Mando, who plays another 'Saul' breakout, Nacho Varga] is a great human being, and we do everything together — hike, go-carts … and Jon Banks [ Mike Ehrmantraut] is amazing. [Dalton then affects Banks' gravelly voice]: 'Hey kid, you working tomorrow? Let's go have dinner …' These guys, the whole cast, they're genuinely nice, good people."

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