There's A Big Difference Between Tuco In 'Breaking Bad' And 'Better Call Saul'

"Breaking Bad" fans remember Tuco Salamanca as the violent drug dealer, known for his terrifying outbursts, disdain for chili powder and snorting meth straight out of the bag.

Spoiler alert for the first two episodes of "Better Call Saul."

While Tuco was killed in Season 2 of "Breaking Bad," circa 2009, Raymond Cruz reprised his character in this week's two-episode premiere of "Better Call Saul," the prequel based on the story of Saul Goodman, née Jimmy McGill. Although Tuco was still his erratic self in the 2002-set episodes, he was noticeably calmer and more rational than we've ever seen him -- we can't imagine '09 Tuco getting talked out of skinning two guys to death. HuffPost Entertainment caught up with Cruz to find out why the younger Tuco was so different and whether or not his uncle and crazy cousins will be back.

When did you find out you'd be in the "Better Call Saul"?
When they were in the writing stages they had to figure out when I’d be available and they had to work out the timing. When they approached me, it was a few months prior to production. I was very enthused about it.

So you had no idea before that?
No, I thought I was dead and gone, buried, over, done. It’s like getting married again when you’ve gotten divorced to the same person. Big surprise.

How did you keep it a secret?
That was the thing, they wanted to surprise the fans so we were all sworn to secrecy. You were hoping you could keep the people around you quiet, and it worked. Inside you’re like, “Oh, my God, I can’t wait to see when it comes out.”

Were your friends and family surprised when they saw the episodes?
Oh, yeah. I got text messages from a bunch of my friends who were like, “You didn’t tell me! I didn’t even know.”

Tuco is pretty much Jimmy’s introduction to the criminal world and in a way helps usher in Saul.
You notice that from the very beginning of the episode. [Saul] is basically in the middle of trying to survive and get ahead, figuring out what’s ethical to him. “How good can I be and still make it in this business?” Then all a sudden he’s thrust into our underworld. We literally drag him out to our world of hell and drop him in the desert and change his perspective on things.

That scene in the desert with Tuco and Saul negotiating is fantastic.
Yeah, that’s the writing, it’s so good. When I first read the scene I was excited about it because I love the give and take between Tuco and Saul.

Did the Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould give you much description for where Tuco’s story is at in 2002?
Of course. In the very beginning, we discussed it because the blue meth doesn’t even exist yet. It’s a very different perspective. When you’re taking on the character you’re looking at things differently because you’re not altered by this new mind-altering drug that takes you places emotionally where you wouldn’t normally go. Tuco’s still a live wire, he’s very much a physical, mental, emotional threat. But later on in “Breaking Bad” when he’s under the spell of the drug, it just heightens everything and pushes him that much further. Here, he still has a bit of a conscience, he thinks about what he’s doing. Still very dangerous, but there’s a little more thought before he acts.

At this point in “Saul,” is Tuco definitely involved in the meth business?
Yes. But it’s low-grade meth, it’s not this super pure meth that Heisenberg ends up creating. It’s dirty meth and I doubt that Tuco’s using it. At this point he’s just a businessman.

So his abuelita, is she Hector “Tio” Salamanca’s mother?
Yeah, she’d be Hector’s mother. She’d be the head of the family. And you know in “Breaking Bad” that family’s very important to Tuco. It’s why he does everything that he does, to protect his family.

Do you know where the rest of his family is at this point in 2002? Tio or Tuco's cousins?
We don’t allude to that in the script at all, but Albuquerque in the desert’s a weird place. It seems so vast and empty, but to look around you, there’s all kinds of creatures hiding in the sand.

Do you know if they’ll return as well in “Saul”?
I don’t know, to be perfectly honest.

Will you be back in any more episodes?
I have no idea. Just like every other fan, I’d be excited to see who else pops up.

It’s cool to see Tuco’s bodyguard, No-Doze, and brother-in-law, Gonzo, in Episode 2.
Ah yea, I loved that. They’re such a part of Tuco’s team in “Breaking Bad.” You really see that they’ve been there from the beginning.

We also see there's still animosity between Tuco and No-Doze dating back to before “Breaking Bad.”
When he talks out of place, yeah. You know what happens to him later on when Tuco’s on meth. But at this point Tuco’s very calm, but there’s some animosity underneath it.

I hope we get to see Tuco come back soon and spill some more salsa.
That would be great. I hope they ask me to come back and do another one.

"Better Call Saul" airs Monday at 10:00 p.m. ET on AMC.



"Better Call Saul"