Breaking Bad Creator Vince Gilligan Answers Fan Questions - Part I

In Part I of Vince Gilligan's two-part fan interview, the Breaking Bad creator and executive producer talks about the origins of Heisenberg's blue meth and the show as a sociological experiment. (Click here to read Part II of Vince Gilligan's interview.)

Q: What was the first character you created apart from Walt? Also, how much of the series is improvised by the actors? – Trionout

A: Every now and then Bryan Cranston might come up with a different line or two, but on the whole the actors stuck pretty closely to the script. I would say it’s not much in the way of improvisation, but the writers and I didn’t worry too much if an actor transposed the word “the” with the word “a,” or other stuff like that. And as far as the second character created, I can’t say for sure because I’m not sure I remember 100 percent. I probably started with Walter White and fanned outward from him. I probably thought about who would a guy like that would be married to, so most likely Skyler was the second character I created.

Q: I'm very interested to hear what other possible endings you came up with on the journey, and at what point you realized that the ending you had was the right one. – Horton Jupiter

A: It took the longest time to come up with that ending, probably the better part of a year. I had a lot of worries along the way that we weren’t going to come up with a proper ending. We had this image for the longest time that was more or less the ending that you saw -- except that instead of going to the meth lab, Walt went on and stumbled down the street and collapsed and he died on his own in a hospital hallway without anybody realizing who he was. Or we had a version where Walt actually survived and maybe Skyler or Junior and the whole family were wiped out. Stuff like that we considered but probably didn’t think about for too long because our guts told us that was just too dark and too depressing. We wanted the right balance of Walt paying for his sins and yet we wanted some sort of a note of triumph at the end of it all. He got a whole lot of money to his family; trouble is he’s destroyed his family in the meantime. Even the pick of the final song of the series reflects that – the Badfinger song has got a tinge of sadness to it and yet the chord structure is almost kind of triumphant.

Q: Since you never took chemistry, I understand, I'm wondering how you knew the subject contained such a wealth of magic plot devices and what the research process was like. – Elizabeth

A: I never took chemistry and I feel that’s a shame. I actually wish I had. I was a bit intimidated by math in high school. I signed up for calculus and after about the first day or two I felt that it was so overwhelming that I changed to a typing course and learned how to type, which actually was pretty helpful given my chosen career. But I wish I had not allowed myself to be intimidated out of taking science and math courses. Having said all of that, even though I don’t have a proper school understanding of chemistry, I read a lot of Popular Science magazine, and I have a lot of a layman’s love for science and chemistry and physics. I knew enough from watching Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye the Science Guy that chemistry was obviously a very fascinating subject. But of course, the science on Breaking Bad sounds so real because of the expert help we received, starting with Dr. Donna Nelson at the University of Oklahoma. She was our technical advisor on the show – we would come up with some of these ideas and then run them by her and see if they made sense.

Q: I was wondering if you would comment on the origins of the blue color of Heisenberg's meth? – Brenda Neary

A: We had this instinct that it would be helpful to have something distinctive about Walt’s product. And we figured it should be nice and clear and not cloudy that a proper product would be. We thought yellow would be a terrible choice because it would remind people of urine, and we figured green would be an odd color and we thought blue was a good choice because it feels clean. We called up Dr. Donna with our fingers crossed, asked her if she thought it was possible for this product to come out as blue. She looked into it and said not really, and in fact, if you add a color, chemically speaking it would mean the product is probably less pure and been adulterated. And that worried me when I heard that. But she said, you know at the end of the day this is a fictional story and I’ll help you get the chemistry as right as I can. Sometimes technical advisors will be very rigid and say it will never work that way, never in a million years, but she was very good that way.

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Q: You've said that Breaking Bad became a sociological experiment. Are you ready to share the results? – sonyaraskolnikov 

A: I think the results are to be determined by the viewer. The individual fan needs to ask themselves if they rooted for Walt the whole time, or did they lose sympathy the whole way, and how do they feel about him now that it’s over. And there is no right answer. What interested me is that I assumed that people would lose sympathy and lose patience with Walt along the way, the more greedy and selfish he became. But lo and behold, it seemed to be the opposite was in fact that case. It seemed to be that people who were fans of the show were sympathetic to Walt no matter what he did, which is I think very interesting. So that to me, was at least part of the sociological experiment; how viewers interacted with Walt and how they felt about him after six years.

Click here to read Part II of Vince Gilligan's interview, in which the Breaking Bad creator talks about casting comedians and his favorite Internet tributes to the show.