How often have the star and creator disagreed about Walt? And how do they feel about the ending?
Eight hours to go. Eight more hours until we find out exactly what fate “Breaking Bad” has in store for Walter White. Eight more hours until we find out if creator Vince Gilligan can stick the landing on one of the most daring, breathtaking, awe-inspiring feats of dramatic gymnastics in television history. Eight more hours of watching Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris and company make us laugh, make us cry, and make us curl up into a terrified little ball. Eight hours doesn’t feel like nearly enough for this great show, does it?
I’ve seen the AMC drama’s final season premiere, which airs Sunday night at 9. It’s fantastic, as you might expect, but the ways in which it’s fantastic are better left discovered as you’re watching. (I’ll have, as usual, an episode review posted as soon as it’s done airing on the East Coast.) But before this last batch of episodes begins, I sat down with Gilligan and Emmy-winning star Bryan Cranston to discuss the rare instances when they disagreed about what was going on with Walt, about what kind of actor Walt himself has become in the series’ final days, and about how each of them feels about walking away from the best work either of them is likely ever going to do.
Bryan, the last time we talked, you told me the story about filming the “Run” scene from “Half-Measures,” and how what you had in your head about how Walt was feeling about this was completely different from what Vince was thinking, and that the edited scene played out very differently from how you had played it. Can either of you think of other times where you found yourselves on different pages about where Walt was, and how did that play out?
Bryan Cranston: You can count 'em on one hand throughout the course of six years. There was one time when it bumped me, when he moves back into the house, and Skyler's saying, "Did you sign the papers? Did you sign the divorce papers? Did you sign them?" And I move back in the house, I'm in the nursery sleeping on the floor. And she invites me to join Junior and her at the table for dinner. She set a place for me it's like… Okay. And then there was a scene (that got cut) where she came by and collected my dirty laundry and did my laundry.And then the following scene was I signed the divorce papers and left them for her. And it threw me, to think, “Wait a minute, if I want to get back in the family and she invited me to the dinner table, did my laundry, it's working, why would I sign?” So I think what happened is that you cut the laundry scene.
Vince Gilligan: Yes.
Bryan Cranston: We cut out that she did my laundry. And I think you tweaked it to where Junior said, "Can dad join us?" And it forced her to not be the bad guy again in his eyes so she said, "All right." And so that then corrected the bump. It's just like a speed bump; you go, “Oh, what was that?” And you have to then spot 'em, iron 'em out, and move on from there.
And Vince, do you remember a time where Bryan wasn’t playing a scene the way you had it in your head?
Vince Gilligan: I'm trying to think of a time where it wasn't what I initially saw in my minds eye but it turned out better. I'm not blowing false smoke as it were. I'm trying to remember…
Bryan Cranston: To me, it's like this: Vince wasn't able to be with us a lot. So on the set, we're truly trying to filter through and understand sensibility, the beats, the tiny nuances and we try to go with it. And as I would suggest to the writers, to the director and producer I said, "I really feel strong this way. Let's go this way." And that's what reshoots are for. If we miss this beat we'll come back and reshoot that beat. Especially if it's in a confined area or something like that, we'll just do it.
Vince Gilligan: Which again you can count on one hand how many times we reshot anything.
Bryan Cranston: There what's something in a car, after the magnets or something like that?
Vince Gilligan: That's right. It was one of the last scene of episode 501 after the magnet caper with the big electro magnet. And it was one of the proudest moments in the writer's room on that episode 'cause we had the magnet gag, it went off with only a bit of a hitch, that they had to leave the vehicle behind. But for the longest time in the writers room we felt like something was missing and we couldn't put our finger on it because Walt and Jesse, by the skin of their teeth, they get away they leave their vehicle there and they run off into the night and the original end of the act was they jump in Mike's car and they go peeling off into the night. We're like, "What's missing? Something feels weirdly unsatisfying." And then we thought to ourselves, "You know what's missing is a whole new Walt."
Because we've seen their brilliant cockeyed capers go off with a hitch and yet nonetheless be successful. But the new thing, the planting of our flag for that whole season was, “The king is dead, long live the king.” Gus Fring is gone; Walt has assumed the throne. And we realized in that moment that what was far better and more important to us then the whole magnet gag, as fun as it was, was seeing Walt in the backseat of that car driving away having Mike the fixer in the front driving angry as hell. "You screwed up, you left the truck behind. We're all gonna get busted." And Walt in the backseat going, "No we're not." "What do you mean no we're not? Why not?" "Because I said so." And when we came with that, we were so proud of ourselves because it was perhaps the point of the whole goddamn episode, and we didn't even have it until like the 11th hour. That's better than anything that came before. As fun as the magnet caper, is having Walt be Gus Fring or better, you know, in the back seat. And I think that's what that reshoot was about.
Bryan Cranston: I think it was Michael Slovis who directed that, and I think we all came up with the idea that I perhaps was a bit too aggressive with my response to Mike. It was more, "We're no gonna get caught, just because I said so. Stop talking to me". It was maybe a little more aggressive. And the word came back to be a little more, “I'm at peace with this; I know exactly what I'm doing. And I'm not going to get into your energy.” So again it's like a little fine-tuned.
And even by Walt's standards, he's such an arrogant prick in those eight episodes from last summer starting at that point.
Bryan Cranston: (mock indignant) What the fuck are you talking about?
Vince Gilligan: You know what, it's funny, but I tell you there's unearned arrogance and earned arrogance. And if you can defeat a guy as smart as Gustavo Fring and if you can beat him at his own game, you’ve got a right to swagger a little bit. And in that season he earned it, I feel.