Jeremiah Bitsui may have the magic touch in terms of finding roles on iconic television shows. The 41-year-old actor has played memorable parts in both Breaking Bad and Yellowstone. He has since returned to the Breaking Bad universe as Victor, one of Gustavo Fringe’s henchmen, in the prequel spinoff Better Call Saul. That’s as impressive as it gets especially when you consider Bitsui came to Hollywood at the age of 19 to become a director, not an actor.
Now, Bitsui is making his presence known on another critically acclaimed program, Dark Winds, as the villainous character, Hoski. In conversation with Digital Trends, Bitsui explores his introduction to acting, his inclusion in several iconic shows, the excitement of returning to Better Call Saul, and why playing a Navajo character in Dark Winds has been a dream.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: You seem to have had a role on every good show on cable television in shows like Dark Winds, Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, and Yellowstone. Do you have the magic touch?
Jeremiah Bitsui: Oh, thank you. It’s been an honor and a pleasure. I mean that’s the odd thing. I was just thinking about this the other day. I moved to L.A. when I was 19. The goal was to become a director. Then, I started doing some acting labs. They wanted directors to feel out what it would be like to be in the actor’s shoes. Fellow directors ended up kind of just saying, “Hey, can you act in my thing,” and it kind of went from there. So I’ve been following this ride, which has been amazing. With that being said, it’s kind of like I never went to film school. I went to business school. But the best thing is learning from all these sets. Taylor Sheridan, Vince Gilligan, etc. All of these wonderful projects have been I’ve been able to be a part of.
As an actor, do you know when you’re on a special show right away, or does it take some time away to realize the significance of the project?
Yeah, good point. I think you have a feeling, in the sense. I think similar to the current show, Dark Winds, there’s definitely a corporate culture in the sense that the cast and crew feel engaged. It always helps to have leads that are energetic and happy to be there. I think that’s kind of the secret sauce, you know. The writers as well feel like they can have the liberty to take off with the material. That’s the one thing that I can say that kind of spans across all of these really successful shows that I’ve been blessed to be a part of. It’s just that special element that creates a wonderful working culture.
Dark Winds has received rave reviews. How did you first get involved with this project?
I think it was about a year ago we were working on Better Call Saul, and right in the middle of that, I knew of the project [Dark Winds]. I knew this was something that Chris Eyre, who is an executive producer, story creator, and also a friend, he’d been working on for a number of years. So he kind of put it out there. He says, “Hey dude. This is something that’s becoming real.” So first I was excited for him, and then he said, “You know, there may be something in there that we can do together.”
I did my part. I did a little tape for them, and Zahn and Kiowa both reached out and said, “Hey, we’d really love for you to play this character.” I said it would be an honor. Let’s see if I can get through the process of approval.
I was able to basically step off of Better Call Saul in a wonderful episode that allowed me to say goodbye, which is emotional. Now it wasn’t the way that I thought I would be ending my time on the show, but wonderful that I was able to bookmark that, and then go on to this new thing, which was pretty amazing. So that transition was one time in my life I’m always going to remember.
This is the second time you’re working with Chris Eyre with the first time coming on A Thousand Roads. What was it like working with him again?
Chris is great. He understands actors. At the same time, he’s very technical on the directing side and knows exactly what he wants. He can speak to a DP and speak the right language, and then speak to an actor and speak the right language to get the performances, which is really a gift. At the same time, keeping everybody at ease, which is a challenge on its own. So you find some directors that maybe they’re a little bit more technical.
It’s the same thing with actors. They’re mushy and [have] feelings and all of that. “I don’t want to get involved. I’ll stick to the DP and tell them exactly what I’m trying to see and make sure they look good. “And then some [directors], the focus is more really on the performance. But with Chris, it’s both. He gets in there, man. He’s all about the whole world and keeping things at a good pace while being calm, which is the trick.
Your character is kind of a sinister guy in Dark Winds. What can viewers expect to see out of him this season?
Good question. Hoski is definitely introspective and really a complex character. He’s driven by his purpose and what he’s trying to accomplish, which has a social militant objective. But same time, kind of being teased by the fruit of what he realizes that he can have and what he can get. So that all is really interesting about him.
He’s also experienced a lot of trauma in his life. There are things he’s never dealt with, and you’re seeing all of that kind of unfold. So he’s tricky. He’s got a lot going on in his head, and I think the way he’s trying to make sense of that is mixed-up objective, which he’s trying to accomplish. That’s what he pours himself into.
All aspects of the show — writing, directing, producing, and acting — are done predominantly by indigenous and native people. As a native actor yourself, what has it been like to be a part of a show like this?
It’s a dream in the sense that there’s never really when a time when we’re involved vertically and horizontally. You see us in this show, from the production assistants all the way up to the executive producers/writer. Then you see us as all the actors, and we’re telling our stories, and we’re writing our stories, which is really kind of sensational because there are nuances within our culture and Navajo culture as opposed to other cultures.
We have 500 nations, and each culture has its own nuances and things that are very specific to them as well as language. So it’s pretty amazing. And so for me, the interesting thing is to be Navajo and to play a Navajo character who I actually want to play, and that I think is done right. It’s hard to come by. I find myself playing roles that may be a little bit more ethnically ambiguous. But I always make the focus the story, and I think this is a wonderful story that they’ve crafted.
The show has been renewed for season two so this type of storytelling is clearly resonating with the audience.
Yeah, and it’s cool. Back home where I grew up, you can now see people are getting a taste of what it’s like. So maybe I’ll have an impact on tourism as well back home.
Switching gears to Better Call Saul, a show I absolutely adore, it’s coming back for its final run of episodes. In your wildest dreams, did you ever think you would return to play Victor in this universe?
Never. And to be honest with you, when I first landed the role in a season two episode of Breaking Bad(“Mandela”), I thought it was a one-off. I thought, “Oh, cool. Yeah, that seems like a really cool show.” I read the script, I loved the script, and then I started watching the show, and when I watched the first season of Breaking Bad, I was just blown away. I was like, “Wow, I got to be on that show.”
So it was in reverse for me and never really thought about coming back to Breaking Bad. They came back and they said, in true Breaking Bad fashion, “Hey. Welcome, and your character’s name is Victor.” I think it was actually Aaron Paul who welcomed me to set and revealed this so it was pretty amazing. I was excited.
Honestly, going into season three of Breaking Bad, I had no idea what they were bringing me back. I think it was the nondescript customer [who] was the character. And then it blossomed into this amazing story. So to answer your question, I never expected anything else. I think I ended it being a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime type thing. You have Anthony Hopkins praising us, and Samuel L. Jackson reciting some of our content. It was pretty amazing. So I thought that was the best that it could get. I was just kind of like cool, and next thing you know, we have Better Call Saul coming back, and they bring me back into the mix. So it’s been the gift that keeps on giving.
Are you allowed to say what the better show is, Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul?
Oh, my God. I think it’s like wine, you know? I think it just gets better with time. Two separate shows, two totally different shows, a lot of the same creators and writers and storytellers and, of course, actors. But you have two different shows in my mind. Even though we’re playing the same character, there’s a different depth to Better Call Saul than there is [to] Breaking Bad.
You’re able to see how they’ve kind of marinated this universe into Better Call Saul. Having time to think about it, having time to live in these characters, there’s a certain richness definitely that comes from Better Call Saul, but Breaking Bad will always have a warm place in my heart.
For me, Breaking Bad was ahead of Saul at first, but I think Saul has caught up to it in these last couple of seasons.
Especially these last few episodes and the next ones that are coming up. From what I know, it’s going to be crazy.
Bigger monster, Walter or Gus?
Oh, God. You know, I got to go with Gus just because I work with him. I think what makes Walter deadly is his ability to connive into certain situations and outsmart and outgun from a planning and a strategic side … just kind of being really scrappy. I think [with] Gus and his downfall, he’s very organized and as you’re seeing in the season, he’s someone that’s very methodical. So from that side, I’d say that he’s maybe a little bit deadlier. For Walter, it’s from the hip, out-thinking and just being scrappy.
Your death in Yellowstone was very important in shaping the rest of the show, especially Kayce’s story. Looking back, how does it feel knowing that your character had such an important impact on that show in just one episode?
You have Taylor Sheridan, someone I’ve always wanted to work with after watching Hell or High Water and Sicario. And so to step onto that show [Yellowstone], when I’m talking about that culture, you could feel that he was crafting something pretty amazing. To step into that character, and first, not knowing the longevity, and then realizing how they just wanted to take the stakes up high.
Because from my understanding, they may have been playing out that scenario a little longer, but he [Taylor] wanted to go high octane right off the bat. And so we jumped right into it. We got right into the minutia so it’s very cool. I know that I was a sacrifice from the beginning, but for a good purpose. I think the show has really turned out to be something special as well.
Dark Winds airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC and is available to stream on AMC+.
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