Not since Prison Break has a show had as many bald crime-committing characters as Breaking Bad it’s prequel, Better Call Saul. Of the many, many aerodynamic men featured on the show, one of the most popular is Mike Ehrmantraut, a super-competent crime connoisseur responsible for more ass whippings than an abusing donkey farmer. A character who exists, in part, because the actor playing him slapped Aaron Paul like right across the face.
That actor is Jonathan Banks, a journeyman actor who’s been in the business for literally half a century at this point, infamously cutting his teeth in a comically misinformed sex ed video from the 1960’s where he believes a girl getting her period makes her better at bowling in which he somehow simultaneously looks both 12 and 40.
Anyway, while never really considered a leading man, Banks’ commanding presence and haggard look made him a popular casting choice for producers wanting to cast him as a criminal, a cop or a criminal cop, which probably says a lot about America we’re not prepared or willing to get into right now.
Incredibly Banks ultimately being cast in Breaking Bad is reportedly a result of his involvement with a TV show released decades before called Wiseguy, on which he played a character called Frank McPike. Who believe it or not was supposed to be a heroic character despite looking like a lawyer who defends dog-kicking athletes.
Now the story goes that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was a fan of the show in college and thought of Banks when a scheduling conflict meant Bob Odenkirk couldn’t commit to appearing in a 4th episode of the show’s second season. Specifically Odenkirk’s character, Saul Goodman was going to be the one who showed up to coach Jesse when his girlfriend overdoses on heroin.
Since Odenkirk couldn’t turn up, Gilligan quickly created the character of Mike, envisioning him as Goodman’s “Cleaner” with the intention being that the character would only appear in that one episode to deliver the necessary dialogue required to move the plot forward. What Gilligan didn’t imagine though is that Banks would slap the fuck out Aaron Paul.
To explain, that moment wasn’t in the script and Aaron Paul certainly didn’t know Banks was going to walk up and slap him clean across the swede. Or at least he didn’t during the audition, because according to Banks he just walked in and did it because it felt like something a character like Mike would do. Paul disagreed and, according to Banks, complains about it all the time.
Which is fair considering Gilligan liked the interaction so much that he added the slap into the script, which fans ended up loving leading to Mike being brought back and ultimately becoming one of the show’s main characters. All because Banks felt like Mike wouldn’t put up with a fuck up like Jesse Pinkman’s shit. Which admittedly, is correct.