LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bob Odenkirk has known he wanted to immortalize the playful poems he created with his kids since they were first scribbled down years ago.
The Emmy-nominated actor always assumed “Zilot & Other Important Rhymes,” hitting shelves Tuesday, would be a project he completed once his son and daughter had long been out of the house. “Maybe when I was a grandpa,” he mused.
But when the entire family hunkered down under the same roof for the better part of 2020, he and his daughter Erin, the younger of the two siblings, wanted to create something that fosters wonder and joy in children in the midst of abundant despair.
“We tried to make the most of the limitations, the situation. But you know, that was a hard time for everyone in the country,” Odenkirk recalled of the coronavirus pandemic. “Erin’s an illustrator and an artist. And I thought, ‘Let’s just get to work on that book.’”
So they dusted off the whimsical rhymes they had collaborated on nearly two decades ago. Odenkirk added some new ones and his daughter, who was remotely finishing up at the Pratt Institute, enveloped her bedroom wall with her father’s poems as she sought inspiration for accompanying artwork during study breaks.
“I’d put them on my closet door right by my desk. And I had this wall of pages,” Erin, now 22, recalled. “Every day, I’d pull like two or three down and I’d try to do a sketch.”
The duo looks back fondly on that time of collaboration. But they both admit the process was not without challenges.
“There’s tension there. I mean, think of any business partner or any project partner you’ve ever had,” the “ Better Call Saul ” star said. “You’re trying to make choices and decisions together. And in this case, you kind of can’t leave, both because there’s a pandemic and because you’re in a family together.”
Overall, however, they say the experience brought them closer and helped them get to know each other in new ways.
“Zilot & Other Important Rhymes” — a title inspired by a word meaning “fort” that Odenkirk’s son made up as a child — shows a distinct amount of respect for its young readers, not shying away from daunting words and concepts like bacteria and climate change. Odenkirk said this was in keeping with his philosophy as a parent when he was raising young children.
“I’m not trying to be overly complex, but not being afraid to use language that was a little more complex and refined than most people talk to their kids with,” he said. “I want kids to be comfortable around words and feel that they can use them and maybe even make a mistake, use them wrong and learn and then not feel embarrassed.”
Though he has of late opted for more dramatic roles — he starred in the hit series, “ Breaking Bad ” and played the titular role in its spinoff, “Better Call Saul” — Odenkirk spent much of his career as a writer (he has two Emmys for that) and actor in sketch comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”
A regular on the picket lines in both Los Angeles and New York since the Writers Guild of America went on strike back in May, Odenkirk has been a member of the WGA for more than three decades. But last month’s news that the writers had struck a deal with the studios didn’t deter Odenkirk from heading back to the picket lines with the still striking actors in Los Angeles the following day.
“I always knew we would get here. These are challenging negotiations. And we have to hold out. And this is where a strike gets really hard and hopefully people suffer on both sides, especially the other side,” he said, alluding to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
“We have to show the AMPTP that the things that we’re arguing about and discussing are of a crucial enough level that it matters to us that we’ll suffer,” he said.
But his shrewd understanding of Hollywood negotiations has not stopped him from encouraging his own children to follow in his footsteps and pursue careers in the arts — though he acknowledged some ambivalence.
“You want them to have expansive ideas of what they could be in the world and contribute to society and to the community and entertain themselves with their work. But it is a tricky business and hard to make a living in,” he said.
His daughter said she is grateful for her dad’s encouragement to pursue a career as an artist — something she is currently doing in Brooklyn following her recent graduation. But she also had to navigate growing up in a creative household with strong opinions.
“I’m a pretty sensitive person, and I think I struggled at a certain point with having my own sense of taste,” she said. “It was a funny mix of encouragement and also a very quick development of taste that could sometimes be inhibiting.”
“Honestly, I think kids who grow up in Hollywood tend to have a more realistic sense of the business than kids who don’t,” her dad said. “They have this interesting gift of belief that it’s possible and also a sense that it’s not as glamorous or as without care as it might look like from a distance.”