Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston chatted with viewers on www.amc.com immediately following the East Coast airing of the season finale.
darth_alpha1: How much knowledge about chemistry do you really have?
Bryan: Very limited. I had to go to USC to do some research and shadowed a chemistry professor there, and was able to glean as much as possible. But it’s a constant brush up because it’s something I haven’t even thought about or studied in 35 years. So definitely rusty.
series_fan: Does the portrayal of a terminally ill character take a physical toll on you?
Bryan: Yes. When you have a scene or an episode where I’m coughing a lot or where I’m in a lot of pain, you’re grimacing and touching and holding your body tight. And that’s just one take. They have to do it from different angles. It is exhausting, but I sleep well at night.
s.elmore: What made you take on such a powerful and serious role after doing Malcolm in the Middle?
Bryan: I think the answer is in the question. It’s a powerful and serious role, and I recognized that in a script that was brilliantly written by Vince Gilligan. It was impossible to pass up. If you look at the script, you see this man who I understand who carries the weight of regret on his shoulders, feeling like he’s failed himself in life. It’s brilliant. It’s fantastic. It wasn’t difficult to fall into. Scripts like this are very rare, so if you are able to come across them, you don’t take the granted. The comedy is very different, because Malcolm was very physical comedy, sometimes silly. Breaking Bad has much much darker comedic elements to it, so it’s different kinds of humor. Laced within the humor are dramatic and compelling heavy issues. So it’s especially hard to be able to bring comedy into that kind of environment.
MEDaVinci: How did you prepare for your in-car scream at the end of Episode 6?
Bryan: To put it in context, that was after I was able to face Tuco and demand the money that he stole from us. And the way I felt about that was Walt was completely out of his element, but with this newfound stimulus of adrenaline and testosterone pumping in his veins, he felt omnipotent and that he could do anything. I wanted to feel that for Walt any emotion of fear or apprehension or doubt was squashed down, I wouldn’t allow it to show itself. I felt like Walt was just hanging on tightly to bravado, and once he felt he was in the clear and succeeded and had done everything he wanted to do, Mt. St. Helen’s erupted and this I am alive, I am awake primal scream erupted and there was joy and screams and big smiles, one time we did it and I was weeping. I wanted to allow it to be whatever it was going to be, and have it be a surprise to him, and so it was a surprise to me as well.
Kelly33: What was your reaction when you were told you had to shave your head? Were you reluctant or all for it?
Bryan: Not at all. It’s just hair. And again, you see what that action could create as far as dramatic appeal. It was right for the character, it was a drastic move, but one that was empowering for Walt because the chemo was making him lose the hair anyways, and ya know screw it. Move on. As a show of solidarity for what I did, I personally shaved about a dozen heads of our crew, including our show runner, Vince Gilligan. I think he wanted to show that he’s amongst us as well. It was really nice. I did some coaxing for others but some people were like yeah let’s go. So I would take the shears after lunch and I would shave their heads. One a day kind of thing. When I had to lose 16 pounds, a lot of people signed up for the same diet I was on, so it was like Oprah’s show. We’re going to diet together, we’re going to shave our heads-come on girls, we can do it.
athunn: How does Walt a man of science and certainty—feel about the ambiguity of “illegal” activities?
Bryan: The term “breaking bad” is a southern colloquialism and it means when someone who has taken a turn off the path of the straight and narrow, when they’ve gone wrong. And that could be for that day or for a lifetime. And Walt is that kind of guy. He’s never even gotten a parking ticket, he’s always done things the right way. It’s not until these dire circumstances are presented that a decision needs to be made. He has the weight of regret on his shoulders and it’s suffocating him. But the last thing he wants to do is put his family through this hardship of taking care of a dying man, he still dies anyways and he leaves them penniless. That’s the personal legacy he leaves for them and he couldn’t allow that to happen. And it’s from that point that he makes this decision and goes on that journey. It’s an impulsive decision. It’s an emotional one. He’s backed into a corner. It’s not a pragmatic or practical decision. He is putting the blinders on, and knowing that if he really thought about it he could talk himself out of it, and justifiably so. He decides to make this bold, desperate move out of the set of circumstances he’s given. The way I look at it, that’s the only way he could make that decision.
Kapuhi:Are you intending on making more physical changes for the character?
Bryan:Yeah. I am. I lost 16 pounds in ten days, once the character undergoes his chemo treatments. And my sister in law just underwent breast treatment, and she told me you lose your desire to eat and that food tastes like metal — it’s just too much to bear so you drop a lot of weight, you lost interest in eating. So I thought it appropriate not only to lose my hair, but also my weight. I went from 186 at the start of the series because Walt needed to be a little pudgy and soft. And when he goes through chemo he drops down and I got down to 170. So that’s where I finished in tonight’s show.
tunlvzn: Do you think Vince will let you stretch your legs and direct a few episodes next season?
Bryan: It’s a possibility. I’m thinking of officially throwing my hat into the ring there to direct. It would have to be the first episode because the most important time in directing is your preparation week, and the only time I would have to prepare is before the show starts. We’ll see, I’m not sure if it’s going to happen, but I’m leaning towards asking how they’d feel about it. I’m not interested in writing. Writing for television is a different structure. You really need to take advantage of being in the writer’s room. They begin three months before we shoot, and they break out the stories for the entire season, and it’s really an organic process that in order to write an episode you have to be in that room. You have to know where the arc is going to go so the next episode to pick up. It’s virtually impossible. That being said, I’m fortunate enough to have the ear of Vince and the writers, so two or three weeks after they meet I’ll pop my head in and I don’t hesitate to offer suggestions or ideas. Sometimes I’ll have a dream about an aspect of a character that I’ll remember and throw that out there, and if they like that and can incorporate that, that’s fantastic. But they’re brilliant on their own, and they’ll create some wonderful material for us.
M3G4B!T3: Do you worry about becoming a sex symbol or at the very least a rock star because of your role in Breaking Bad?
Bryan: Do I worry? My goodness. I haven’t thought of it. I think knowing that I wore the tightie whities from a comical aspect for Malcolm and now I wear them for a sad commentary, I can only come to the conclusion that that’s what America wants to see. I think maybe I have indeed become a sex symbol to all the octogenarians. I think what’s happening to Walt is a transformation. Little by little he’s going through a metamorphosis. For the past 25 years he’s denied himself the range of emotions human beings allow themselves to express.He’s got a deep-seeded depression, and yet he has a son and wife that he loves — it almost creates more depression when you can’t feel justified to be depressed. And then we see he does have reasons. So what happens with him is this volcano of emotions blows it top, and he can no easier put the cap back on than he can allow his emotions to keep from running amok. He’s feeling more emotions, and he’s liking it. So as far as the hat and the sunglasses, he’s experimenting with taste. Whereas before he wouldn’t have had an opinion, now he does. Now he has a taste, and he wants to explore new experiences.
Yogi: How many people dying of cancer would take this path?
Bryan: It struck me a little while ago when I was asked a similar question how he could do and justify making crystal meth. I realize the decision to make meth is largely circumstantial. That if Walter White was a mathematician, I think he would have found some way to count cards and go to Vegas and make money that way. The genesis was not to make crystal meth, the genesis is to do something, anything before I die, and that was stimulus to provide for my family. And I would say to Yogi and other people who are questioning Walt’s decisions, is that we’re not asking for approval, just understanding. What would any one of us do if faced with a similar set of circumstances, if you were told you had one year left to live and you were the head of a household, what would you do? And what Walt does in that desperate situation and desperately wanting to leave something useful behind, he decides to do this because he is a chemistry professor. This is his realm, this is what he knows. What are the options? He can’t get more insurance because of a pre-existing condition. His wife is going to nurture him in his slide to death — emptying his bedpan, wiping his drool, and then he’s still going to die and leave them penniless. Those are the thoughts that are running through Walt’s mind and it haunts him. So I think as abhorrent as his decision may appear to many people, it’s a last ditch effort to do something that may benefit his family before he dies.
Dudefella: Where’d you learn to drive an RV like that?
Bryan: It’s a big old sloppy bus. It’s fun what actors get to do. I remember all the physical challenges I had on Malcolm in the Middle. And I don’t have those same types of things here, but here I get to race an RV down a desert road at breakneck speed. I’m so lucky. You’re moving so much before the steering wheel responds. It broke down at the end of the episode. They leave it to where we can go out and fix it or we could dump it. The writers will go on that question ad infinitum. They’ll spend hours and hours wondering what will be the best possible new story arc for the show over the course of thirteen episodes, and then do the same for each character. I have no opinion on it. The RV is a little stuffy to work on, it gets a little cumbersome with all the crew. Wherever they want to place it, that’s fine with me.
CaperGuy: Skyler is very hot looking. How do you prevent yourself from falling for her during the love scenes?
Bryan: I don’t prevent myself from falling for her. I’ve had crushes on many of the women I’ve played opposite. I don’t try to prevent from getting crushes. It just helps you as an actor. The problem is if you’re doing a show like this and you don’t have an attraction. That would be the problem because it couldn’t help from seeping into your acting, so no I let it be. On the other hand Anna and I are both happily married to our respective spouses and we intend to keep it that way. So it’s the best of both worlds. We get to go to work and flirt and kiss and hug, and then we go home. It’s like the best wife you could have. And I agree. I think she’s very hot.
fluttergirl: I hadn’t realized you were such a versatile actor. I’m a latecomer so I’m catching up watching re-runs. I even re-watched The X Files “Drive” episode, which is one of my favorites. You’ve played roles that were very challenging emotionally — from the hyperactive Hal to the fatalistic Walt. My question is, once you finish a project, is it hard to let go of the character you played? Do you become attached to him? Do you incorporate a small part of him into yourself?
Bryan: That episode of X Files was where I first met Vince Gilligan. He wrote that episode ten years ago. And he had me in mind when he wrote Breaking Bad, thinking that this is the guy who could do this. He’s really the reason I’m in this show because he was my champion from the very beginning. The script came through my agency and they said he wanted to meet me — we had chatted a couple times when we were shooting X Files, and I read the script and I was blown away and I sad yes get me this meeting right away. And our twenty minute meeting ended up being an hour and a half, and we got blown away, and we just started pitching each other on what we thought this man was like and what we thought of him and the conditions that were raised in the pilot. I pitched him my idea on what he should look like physically, what his emotional state would be like in my opinion, his clothing his walk, his silly little mustache, that he’s a little soft, that the character Walt has taken up room in his life, and he’s not being very productive. I think the first mention of a dormant volcano came up at that point — Walt doesn’t even know what he’s capable of. He’s been self-oppressing for so long, he’s not even sure what he’s capable of feeling any more. From a dramatic point of view that’s wonderful to play, it’s dangerous. To answer your question, I think it’s the other way around. You’re able to create a character from your own personal experiences and/or your imagination. So for instance, I am playing this character Walt who is a chemistry teacher — I don’t have personal experience in that so I had to use my imagination and learn and develop truncated personal experience in learning the character. Then you have my character murdering a man — well I’m not about to go murder someone: “Your honor, it was for my character.” So you have to imagine what it would be like, and it takes a lot of that kind of preparation and work. I try not to take that home with me. When I’m at work I really try to focus just on the work. Then as I unbutton those shirts and shoes, so goes the character. I leave him at work. Now I’m not terribly successful because when a character becomes a part of you it gets inside you and I dream about the character, I daydream about the character. It’s hard to leave you, but through experience and time you’re able to learn certain methods of moving on. The most important aspect of a working actor is to thoroughly invest and enjoy the moment of time that you’re in, whether it’s on screen or on stage, and then when it’s time to move on you can say I got everything out of that experience and it was wonderful. And thus was my experience on Malcolm — seven years and a great cast and crew and writers, and now it’s over. The show is now dead and we bury it and I don’t intend to mourn. The mourning period is over and it is short. You shed some tears when you realize you’re not going to see people every day, so that’s why it’s important to embrace the moment and the people you work with, because in our business it’s very perishable, and it goes by quickly. And you have to move on.
Shayla: How was it for you shooting in the ABQ?
Bryan: I really enjoy Albuquerque and New Mexico. I’m used to Los Angeles, so reducing the population helps ease the stress. It’s over 5,000 feet so the air is crisp and clean. Lots of outdoor activities. The only thing that was an obstacle is that I live in LA with my wife and my daughter, so that made it difficult to figure out logistically because I still really like to be with them, and they with me. We’re still learning as we go. For 7 years I lived two miles from the studio for Malcolm, and I drove four miles round trip. I got spoiled, and now I’m two states over, and it’s a little bit of an issue, and we’re working on that and we’re making the best of it. I actually did buy a townhouse there I’m so confident we’re going to come back, and I didn’t want to live in rented furniture. So as early as last week I bought a townhouse in a neat area of Albuquerque. Dean lives in Corrales, which is much more rural than where my place is. He’s got three little kids. He wanted to get a house, and it’s quiet out there and his kids are enrolling in school. My daughter is a high school freshman here in Los Angeles and we have a life here, and so what I wanted to do with a townhouse was, while I’m there I’m comfortable and when I’m not I lock the door and fly home. So it makes it easier.
MoochRex: Is Walter White one of the most challenging and satisfying characters you’ve ever brought to life?
Bryan: I think you ask the question because you sense it is. Walt is full. He’s a complex guy. You can look at an average guy walking down the street and he looks meek. But somewhere everyone has their breaking point, and we discover Walt’s through the first season. And you have to assume that anyone is like that — given a set of circumstances, anyone can blow. And regardless of the circumstances, when they blow watch out because they can be dangerous. And just by explaining that makes it incredibly enticing as an actor.
iconoclastrm: How much of the chemistry is true to life? I’d never heard of fulminated mercury, or that hydrofluoric acid wouldn’t dissolve a simple Rubbermaid storage bin.
Bryan: It’s true. Fulminated mercury does do exactly that. It takes on that look, that characteristic, that shape that was misconstrued to be crystal meth. And hydrofluoric acid, it’s highly toxic and if you drip it on your skin it will eat through layers of your skin. And it will also eat through glass and metal and porcelain but for some reason it won’t eat through plastic, which is why he asks for it. That’s what makes it funny but at the same time nerve-racking, because if Jesse had just listened none of this would have happened!
mistermysterio: What was the most difficult scene to film in the show and why?
Bryan: Well mistermysterio, the most difficult thing so far I think was getting on my hands and knees with the respirator on and cleaning up the liquefied Emilio. It was pretty disgusting. As an actor getting on your knees with an apron and gloves and you have to scoop up a liquid body and you see remnants of a jawbone or a kneecap. A few times I would catch myself starting to gag. What was it made of? If I remember correctly it’s like karo syrup and a gelatin extract, red dye and they mix it up and it has the consistency of a not quite formed Jell-o. There wasn’t a bad smell to it. You would think it would have a bad smell. But it was interesting. The marriage in acting for film is finding your place to be able to accurately hit the right emotion and thought process at any given time, but the dilemma is that you also have very specific places that you have to be looking or standing or moving or else the camera didn’t catch you, and you have to do it again. You do that a couple times as a beginning actor you realize I can’t waste this. It takes a lot out of you to have your emotions running full speed. After I get sense of the scene, I pay attention to my parameters and how far I can move, and it’s something you just kind of put in your mind and throw away, but there’s a sliver of awareness of where you need to be.
CaperGuy: How hard was it for you to audition for the role?
Bryan: I guess in a sense I auditioned for the role — my meeting with Vince for an hour and a half was my audition. I don’t know what other actors they were thinking about, but I was very fortunate to get another pilot offer for another network, and as I was contemplating that, Sony found out and offered me the role. So it was very surprising and fortuitous, but sometimes it works out like that in your favor.
Kyle7375: hows the chemistry among the cast and crew?
Bryan: No pun intended? It’s fantastic. You know, I’ve been acting for almost 30 years now, and I’ve been on sets that are very tense and nerve-racking or fearful, and I knew back then that if I ever had an opportunity to lead a cast or show, I knew what I would want to do. And I got to do that on Malcolm, and I’m doing it here. We just don’t have room for whining or bad apples. We are a family, and it doesn’t mean we don’t have frustrations, but we all need to get along, and if we can do that we’re going to have a much happier work experience. And it takes a while, but as long as people feel loose, and I like to feel loose, and we’re enjoying ourselves. And people love working for Vince, and you have crew members who want to get on this show. So you work so many hours and you want to be happy. So that’s the goal, to be proud of the work that we’re producing, and be happy and enjoy the experience.
devideo: How is BB shot? 35mm,70mm,HDCAM?
Bryan: We shoot on 16 mm. I just want to thank all of the fans of the show who have written in, and are curious and interested in the behind the scenes of Breaking Bad. I hope that you’ll stay with us. Please tell your friends to watch, because it really does help. if the ratings go up, we’re more likely to stay on the air. It’s a delicate situation, but whatever happens I’m very proud of the show, and I appreciate all of the wonderful comments that I’ve received over the last couple of months.