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Article updated: 11/12/2013 5:24 AM

'Breaking Bad' star called Naperville 'Nowheresville'

Naperville native Bob Odenkirk played Saul Goodman in “Breaking Bad.” Now a spinoff series “Better Call Saul” is on the way.

Naperville native Bob Odenkirk played Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad." Now a spinoff series "Better Call Saul" is on the way.

 
In Alexander Payne's domestic drama "Nebraska," Naperville native Bob Odenkirk plays a man with dreams of being a newscaster.

In Alexander Payne's domestic drama "Nebraska," Naperville native Bob Odenkirk plays a man with dreams of being a newscaster.

 
In Alexander Payne's domestic drama "Nebraska," Naperville native Bob Odenkirk, center, takes on some local bullies.

In Alexander Payne's domestic drama "Nebraska," Naperville native Bob Odenkirk, center, takes on some local bullies.

 
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When your "From Suburbs to Showbiz" team read what comedian/writer/actor Bob Odenkirk once said about his native suburb of Naperville, we could barely keep our jaws from mopping the floor.

Right there on Wikipedia, Odenkirk said that he grew up "hating" Naperville because "it felt like a dead end, like Nowheresville. I couldn't wait to move into a city and be around people who were doing exciting things."

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We contacted the co-star of the hit TV series "Breaking Bad" (he plays sleazy attorney Saul Goodman) and Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed domestic drama "Nebraska," opening Nov. 22, and asked for an explanation for this unabashed Naperville bashing.

"Well, you have to remember I was 16 years old when I was in Naperville," said Odenkirk, 51. "I felt like I was offstage when I wanted to be onstage. I felt like I was watching from afar all the people who were movers and shakers, the people who were living exciting existences. That's what I wanted to do."

And?

"I didn't want to be in the suburbs when I was 16 and 17 and 18," Odenkirk continued. "I couldn't wait to get out and go to Chicago or some other big city. New York intimidated me. Frankly, Chicago intimidated me, but I wanted to be there! Come on! Doesn't every teenager feel that way?"

Gee, when he put it like that ...

"I would worry if my teenagers said they liked (the suburbs), that they didn't want to experience the big city."

All right. We concede his comments can be classified as a youthful indiscretion. Since we had Odenkirk on the phone, we hit him with a question that pops up every time we see a comic performer nail a dramatic role, as Odenkirk does in the upcoming "Nebraska."

Why are comic performers good at dramatic roles, yet dramatic actors are terrible as comic characters?

"That's a good question, and I think you're right," Odenkirk said. "Can I say with some humility that your thesis is true, that they (comedians) are better? I want to say they (comedians) are more nimble. They can adjust.

"Some comic performers aren't very good at drama, but most of them are. Comedy is about commitment. Comedy performers are very aware of the moment and the turn in the moment.

"That's where the comedy is, in the tension, that turn of the moment."

Robert Odenkirk was born in Berwyn. He and his family moved to LaGrange where they lived until he was 5. Then, it was off to Naperville, where young Odenkirk finished out his adolescent sentence at Naperville North High School before shipping off to the College of DuPage at age 16.

"I spent a year at DuPage and I loved that year," he said. "I went to DuPage because I was so young that I didn't think I would fit in at a regular four-year school."

Next, a year at Marquette University followed by two years at Southern Illinois University. He left one course shy of a broadcasting degree (with a philosophy minor), so he picked that up later at Columbia College in Chicago.

Then came a whirlwind of opportunities. He performed open-mic comedy for several years. He wrote comedy sketches for "Saturday Night Live" (and won an Emmy).

He also wrote for "The Dennis Miller Show" and "The Ben Stiller Show" (another Emmy), then performed on "The Larry Sanders Show" before becoming a writer for Conan O'Brien's late night talk show.

With David Cross, Odenkirk launched the HBO series "Mr. Show with Bob and David." The Naperville fugitive made appearances in many comedy shows before landing his role in AMC's "Breaking Bad" in 2008.

The show, and Goodman, proved to be so popular that the producers announced they'll create a spinoff series "Better Call Saul," which could be a prequel and a sequel to "Breaking Bad."

"Producer Vince Gilligan told me 3 years ago that he wanted to delve deeper into the Saul story," Odenkirk said. "This is like someone saying, 'I have a winning lottery ticket. Would you like it?' What can you say except, 'Sure! I'll take it.'"

Odenkirk's serio-comic performance in the upcoming "Nebraska" will be a delight for his fans. He plays Will Forte's older brother, a guy who dreams of becoming a news anchor in a rather small market.

"I wanted him to be sympathetic and not be a complete buffoon," Odenkirk said. "Not making him just a joke. That's the challenge. Yet, he wants to be the Tom Brokaw of the Midwest."

Speaking of the Midwest, does Odenkirk think that people from the Chicago region are much different from people in other parts of the country?

"Yes," he said. "I think they're a little bit cynical, and they obviously have a great sense of humor."

Why?

"It comes from suffering through the weather," he said. "They're tough people. You have to laugh at life. You know to keep your head down. Things aren't always rosy. Californians and people from the Southwest have a lightness to them. There's more of a heaviness to Midwesterners that I respect."

-- Dann Gire

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good column feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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