How often have the star and creator disagreed about Walt? And how do they feel about the ending?
The "Breaking Bad" team of Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston in a recent appearance on Sundance Channel's "The Writers' Room."
Bryan, you've played so many different iterations of this character over five seasons. Do you have either a favorite or one that was the most challenging for you to get inside of?
Bryan Cranston: It was a little easier in the beginning because he was easier to relate to. I enjoyed the scenes in the classroom because it gave Walt a moment of being in his element. I wanted to make sure those scenes were filled with a taste, a flavor of passion that the audience would see and go, “He's enjoying this. He does belong. He's a chemist. And he got waylaid to becoming a criminal but his true passion is chemistry.” So that was then, and now it goes on to this journey that devolves into this morass of pain and torture. I think there were some points when it would catch me when Bryan is reading the script and like I'm not quite into Walt's head at the time, and I think, “Wow, why would he do it?” And then you go and you read it a second time more subjective as the character and it's like, “All right, yeah. There's a turn.” Because your impulse when you read as yourself is, like you said, “What an asshole. Why would he do that?” So instead of judging it at the point and putting up a wall you have to go justify why would he be. Well obviously, he's down a track that allows him to make those moves, and it's not only justifiable to behave that way at that time, it's warranted. That's where he is at that moment. So I think those are the toughest times, when I was doing something that is abhorrent in any day-to-day behavior. And then you open up and say, “That's where Walt is, though.”
Vince, when did you tell him how the show was going to end?
Bryan Cranston: He didn't. He told me in script form.
Okay. So what's your reaction when you got to that point?
Bryan Cranston: Well, I thought I said…
Bryan Cranston: The sex change operation, brilliant, well-couched. There's no way that anybody could have identified that coming.
Vince Gilligan: There's meaning in a lot of levels.
She is the one who knocks with knockers.
Bryan Cranston: Yeah, with knockers.
Vince Gilligan: He is the one who has knockers.
Bryan Cranston: And I took my old penis and I stubbed it so I can use it as a blackjack…
We're going down a bad road.
Vince Gilligan: Do you think there's anyone who's done that, by the way? Just kept it?
Bryan Cranston: Kept their penis in a jar?
Vince Gilligan: Or made it into like a Lucite paperweight?
Bryan Cranston: I sure hope so.
Vince Gilligan: Somebody out there must have.
Bryan Cranston: Yeah.
Vince Gilligan: It's a big world.
Bryan Cranston: What was the question?
How did you feel reading that final script and seeing, A)that this journey was going to be over for you and B)seeing how it ended?
Bryan Cranston: Vince has been the captain all along. I've been a first officer, but just that. And people would ask me, "Oh, last eight, you feel the pressure? Feel the that mounting?" And I said, "Honestly, no. But see that guy pacing and knocking himself in the room and pulling his hair out? He is. He had the burden. I'm getting the words, he is the script writer, and I read them." But the burden was all on him and he knows that and he felt it. And he needed to agonize through it in order to make sure that he got everything. You know, he cannot just be satisfied that it works. Is there something else (to do in addition to that)? We have this finite time to get it right. It was perfect. My response to the question, how do you want it to end, was "I want it to end exactly as Vince Gilligan wants it to end." Because I know he's gonna take the utmost care in crafting this and the only thing I can tell you is that he did. It ends in an unapologetic Breaking Bad manner that is going to be satisfying and rewarding to the fans.
Vince, when I talked to you and some of the early AMC executives for my book, I was told several times that there was a crazy original plan to end the first season before the writers strike happened, and you've said you didn't want to tell me about it because you might incorporate parts of it into the actual finale. Did you?
Vince Gilligan: I would say ultimately no. There were maybe a couple of roundabout elements that we might have touched upon but they were in that original season 1 ending but not in the series finale.
I want to get back to Walt's penis in a Lucite jar, because this is the sort of show would you might have done that. I’m thinking of Tortuga’s head on the exploding tortoise. Vince is a nice Southern gentleman who comes up with this sick twisted shit on a regular basis.
Bryan Cranston: This speaks to my point that everyone has the capacity of being evil. Whether or not you play it out in your mind, or whether you play it out physically in real-life, we have that capacity of dark thoughts. And I think people just need to own up to it and say, “Yeah, we do.” Given the right set of circumstances, education, parenting, loving, hugging, or lack thereof, you can become the best of who you're supposed to be or the worst of you're supposed to be.
Can you think of an example when you’re reading a script and said, “Oh my God, I can't believe we're actually doing this on a TV show”?
Bryan Cranston: That's like every episode. I'm not kidding; that's like every episode.
Do you have a favorite of those sort of scenes?
Bryan Cranston: Favorite? It's ridiculous, because the time that I ran over those two drug dealers totally surprised me. The time that he was able to use Tio with the bomb, I didn't see that coming. That he was able to use the Lily of the Valley and actually did poison Brock. When we shot the episode before and we shot a scene where he finds out that Brock was poisoned and Jesse comes and he's so distraught he wants to kill me. We shot that scene before I read the last episode.
Vince Gilligan: I didn't tell you that? That was mean of me.
Bryan Cranston: No, no. Because I didn't want to know because I'm legitimately saying, "Why would I do that?" You know.
Vince Gilligan: I'm not blowing smoke, I honestly had forgotten that, because you're a good enough actor and you're obviously just my 50-50 partner in this thing. I would have thought I would have told you, "By the way you, really did do it." Because then I’d say, "But Bryan, nonetheless play it like your absolute, play it like you didn't do it."
Bryan Cranston: Yeah. I never asked. I would only ask when I was directing. When I directed, in the second season and the teddy bear. I just didn't understand how to shoot that unless I had more of an understanding of the broad story of how we're going to use it. It was a teddy bear; he's under the water and missing an eye and it's scorched but how scorched? So I felt that I needed to know that in order to be able to understand how to direct that.
Other than that I didn't need to know, I didn't want to know. Because Walter White didn't have any predictability to his life. He didn't know he was gonna be alive tomorrow or next hour. He was twisting and turning. So to find out what happened in the next episode it didn't help me as an actor, because I'm twisting and turning. I'm so in the moment trying to figure out how to stay alive now that the idea of knowing down the road (doesn’t help). I didn't see the Lily of the Valley. I didn't see this happening in what we're gonna do in the last eight. And that's really good, when you can surprise me on this.