The AMC dark drama, Breaking Bad will premiere the series’ final season on Sunday, July 15. The sometime-disturbing and violent series explores the desperate lengths a poorly insured, middle-aged chemical teacher diagnosed with terminal lung cancer will go to provide for his family after a fatal prognosis.
In the July issue, The Hollywood Reporter (read full article here) spoke with show creator, Vince Gilligan (X-Files), Bryan Cranston (Walter White), Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) and Anna Gunn (Skylar White, Walter’s wife) about getting the show made, casting the characters and the series ending.
Vince Gilligan reveals how the idea for Breaking Bad was conceived.
The idea was born out of a phone call from fellow X-Files scribe Tom Schnauz, who had read an article about a guy cooking meth out of an RV.
“I said, ‘That sounds like a good way to see America.’ It literally started as a joke,” Gilligan says, recalling his post-X-Files career uncertainty (he spent seven seasons on the series). “The idea of it suddenly struck me as wonderful for a TV show because who would do such a thing? And if he were indeed someone like us — meaning a couple of dopey middle-aged white guys — what would that look like?”
That strait-laced Gilligan could tell the story through a character as naive about methamphetamine as he was made the creative process that much easier. “They say, ‘Write what you know.’ And while I’ve never cooked or sold meth, I know what it feels like to be desperate, and Walt was desperate in the pilot,” notes Gilligan, who spent time at the Riverside, Calif., DEA’s office early on and remained in touch with drug agents.
Many cable networks passed on the show when it was being shopped around. Vince Gilligan had doubts about AMC being the right place for a show like this.
Gilligan was less confident, joking to Gordon: “Why didn’t you send it to the Food Network? It is a show about cooking, after all.”
Vince Gilligan fought for Bryan Cranston to be casted as Walter White but the higher-ups could not get passed his sitcom persona in Malcom in the Middle. The execs deemed Aaron Paul too old and good looking to play Jesse. Both Cranston and Paul were in X-File episodes and Gilligan remembered their stand-out performances.
Wowed by Cranston’s 1998 guest appearance on X-Files, Gilligan was dead set on hiring the Malcolm in the Middle actor for a role initially conceived for a 40-year-old. (“We pushed for him to be 50 because at 40 he’s a little too young to have this crisis. It was just so much more impactful to have him a little bit older,” says former AMC vp production Vlad Wolynetz.)
But the suits had trouble envisioning Fox’s suburban dad as their star and threw out film-star names including John Cusack and Matthew Broderick (both passed). “We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle. We were like, ‘Really? Isn’t there anybody else?’ ” recalls one former exec whose mind was changed when he saw the X-Files episode Gilligan urged each of them to watch, in which Cranston plays a desperate man suffering from radiation exposure. “That was a tricky part to cast on X-Files,” says Gilligan. “We needed somebody who could be dramatic and scary yet have an underlying humanity so when he dies, you felt sorry for him. Bryan nailed it.”
Paul, too, was far from a unanimous choice, and it wasn’t until he was auditioning for the part that Gilligan realized that the actor had appeared on X-Files as well. The concern was that Paul was too old and too “pretty boy” to be believable in the role of a young meth dealer. “He’s too good-looking? I had never gotten that in my entire life,” the actor laughs as he recalls the initial resistance.
Bryan Cranston wanted a change of pace from the comedy sitcom he was doing and didn’t need to make a creative decision based on financial reasons. Cranston understands, Walter is the coolest part he’s had to date in his 30-year career. The work is exhausting but worth the effort even if he has to go incognito for having such a high profile role.
“I wanted a change of pace, and whether that meant a comedy or drama, it was going to be different because I didn’t need the money anymore,” he says. “And I never wanted to be in a position where I should make a creative decision based on financial need. I didn’t want a ‘job.’ I didn’t need to work ever again.”
“I’m that guy in the airport with a hat and glasses,” says Cranston. “I like to sit next to old people at the gate because I’m sure they don’t watch the show.”
Bryan Cranston talks about the series ending, being family and what the show accomplished.
“This really is a family. We’ve gone through marriages, divorces and births of babies. We’ve grown a lot as people. And hopefully when we say goodbye, we’ll be able to look back and say, ‘That’s some damn fine storytelling right there.’ “
Vince Gilligan talks about ending the show before its expiration date.
“I always say, you want to leave a party when people say, ‘Aw man, they were so fun, why did they have to leave so soon?’ rather than, ‘Ugh, are they still here?’ “