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The Light from the TV Shows: Saying Goodbye to the Best ‘Bad’ Ever

I don’t know if you know this about me, but…I kinda like “Breaking Bad.” I realize this is probably the first you’re hearing of it, because I’m usually pretty closed-mouthed about it, rarely hyping the series to anyone and almost never mentioning that I watch it, but, yeah, I guess it’s a pretty all-right show, y’know?

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All right, enough pretending: obviously, I think “Breaking Bad” is basically the best show in the history of television, which is what I tell anyone who asks me what I think of it. You may disagree with my position, and that would be your right, but no series has ever captured my attention and proven so fascinating to me in quite the same fashion as this one, and when it ends its run on Sunday evening, I’ll be glad that it went out on the terms established by its creator, Vince Gilligan, but it’s going to leave a hole in my TV viewing habits that I’m going to have a very hard time filling.

With the show wrapping up, I decided it’d be fun to offer up a retrospective of all of the folks affiliated with “Breaking Bad” that I’ve talked to over the course of its run. If you’ve followed my coverage of the series over the years, you probably won’t be surprised to see just how many conversations I’ve had since Bullz-Eye first started spotlighting the show in 2009, but they’ve been a uniformly wonderful bunch, all of whom regularly made a point of expressing their gratitude for the coverage and praise that we gave the show. In turn, I’ve always tried to thank them for the gift they’ve given us.

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Goodbye, “Breaking Bad.” Thanks for the meth, but most of all, thanks for the memories. You’ve given me plenty of great ones over the course of these five seasons, and they won’t soon be forgotten…especially not now that I’ve got all of ‘em in one place! Mind you, when I say that, I’m actually speaking of these interviews, but it could also be said of the upcoming complete-series set – seen above – which, in addition to all of the episodes, includes a ridiculous amount of bonus stuff, both on the discs (most notably “No Half Measures,” a two-hour documentary about the making of the final eight episodes) and off (a Los Pollos Hermanos apron!), that no self-respecting fan should be expected to live without.

But enough of my yakkin’. On with the interviews!

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Aaron Paul – March 4, 2009

“The plan was originally to kill off Jesse at the end of the first season, but they really liked the butting-heads aspect of Walt and Jesse, the tug-of-war, and they thought it really worked. So Jesse and I are both very happy that they changed their minds.”

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Krysten Ritter – October 24, 2009

“There was a guy on set who had been a heroin addict for 13 years, but he’s been recovered and sober for a decade, I believe. But he was an amazing asset to me and a great resource. He was very open and willing to answer whatever questions I had…which was a little scary at first, because it was, like, ‘Oh, my God, how do I ask this person about the darkest days of his life?’ But that’s what he was there for, and he was so happy to help. I owe so much to him for my performance.”

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Bryan Cranston – November 10, 2009

“When ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ was over, I was looking for a drama more than a comedy…but if it was a comedy that came up, it would have to be as well-written as ‘Malcolm’ was, and it would have to be a different kind of character than I played on that show. That’s harder to come by. In drama, there were more opportunities, more options for me, and when I read this, it was just, ‘Good night, Nurse! I’m going after this sucker!’”

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Bob Odenkirk – January 14, 2010

“I talked to Vince (Gilligan), and I said, ‘I can do a shady lawyer, but the problem is I’m not Jewish. Saul Goodman is Jewish.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, no, no. He’s not Jewish.’ And he goes, ‘What are you?’ ‘I’m Irish.’ ‘Oh, he’s Irish. You know, he’s Irish, but he took this name to try to win the appreciation of the gangbangers who would use him, so they’d think they have a Jewish lawyer.’”

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Aaron Paul – January 14, 2010

“Jesse definitely has his faults and he has his problems with drug use, but (heroin) doesn’t necessarily have control of him quite yet. But you then see that the drug definitely had control of Jane. At the beginning, Jane was such a great influence on Jesse because she was clean and on the straight and narrow path. But then she just did a complete 180. She ended up being the worst influence for him possible, and they decided to do that dance together. They went down that dark rabbit hole, and it eventually took her. It’s tragic.”

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Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and Bob Odenkirk roundtable

January 14, 2010

“(Skyler) does not know what to do. And she’s placed in a position where, in order to protect her kids, specifically Walt Junior, she’s desperately tap dancing around trying to figure out which step to take. “Do I go here? What do I do? Do I do this? Do I do that?” And she’s weighing it constantly, and it’s a real state of chaos for her, I think, trying to figure out which path to go down.” - Anna Gunn

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Vince Gilligan – January 25, 2010

“My hat’s off to anyone who sustains a series for more than a season or two, because it’s tough. You always have the push/pull going on of ‘I want to keep them watching’ and ‘I want to keep giving them new things.’ To me, the way you hook people is to, oddly enough, parcel it out slowly. Don’t fill the waters with every bit of chum you have. Just put a little bit of bait.”

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Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul – January 25, 2010

Bryan Cranston: Just picture Justin Timberlake. Jesse’s replacement is Justin Timberlake. Talk about ratings, man, we’ll bust through. I think that’s what we really need. That’s what we need. Take one for the team, Aaron, come on. Don’t be so selfish.
Aaron Paul: Oh, man.
BC: I would much rather walk away after a solid amount of shows that come to that natural end and let go, let it go, than to hang on. Or to have Walt’s French cousin come over who looks just like him. [Affects a French accent.] “Walter, ‘ow are you, my friend? You are in the drug selling business, no?”
Bullz-Eye: Oh, but you’re cool with Jesse’s cousin coming in, right?
BC: Well, sure, that’s different.
Aaron Paul: (Throws up his hands in defeat) Oh, sure, ‘cause that’s Justin Timberlake!

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First set visit recap – February 3, 2010

“We’re (at the Church Street Cafe in Old Town Albuquerque), surrounded by all the Mexican food we can stand and all the margaritas we can drink. Bryan has been playing up the margaritas all day long, telling us how wonderful they are and how they have no bite because they’re made with agave wine instead of tequila. He is, of course, completely right: they’re delicious, and they go down way too smoothly. He’s also making sure that everyone’s glass is full at all times…particularly Aaron’s, which he consistently fills to well beyond capacity, sending ice all over the table and into his lap. The second time he did it, I don’t think Aaron thought it was nearly as funny as we did, but Bryan shrugged apologetically and said, ‘Hey, it’s a bit now!’”

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Dean Norris – April 19 and 29, 2010

“People love Hank as a common guy…and I love playing Hank as a common guy, too! Hank was so much more fun in Season 1 as a bit of comic relief to the dark stuff that was going on. Now he’s become part of the dark stuff that’s going on. While I kind of miss some of the lightness of Hank early on, as an actor, of course, it’s really fun to be able to play someone who is, in essence, a completely different guy now than he was when he first started.”

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Anna Gunn – June 4, 2010

“The affair with Ted…was sort of a reaction of anger toward Walt, and it was really out of both rage and desperation. She just needed somebody to hang onto at that particular time. And then I think she realized, ‘Oh, that’s not what I wanted to do. That’s not going to help anything,’ and then she has to go through this painful thing of saying, ‘I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have gone there.’”

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Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Vince Gilligan conference call – June 10, 2010

“It’s better to leave the party early than late. You’d rather leave people wanting more from you than saying, “Jesus, is that show still on the air?” So it’s a tricky equation and one I hope we will get right, as far as, ‘When’s the time to take the final bow with a show like this?’”Vince Gilligan

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Giancarlo Esposito – June 25, 2010

“I never wanted to just come out and ask Vince what he had in store (for Gus), because I knew what he’d say. He’s this kind of creator, where he’d say, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ I think he’s the only person who can answer the question about how big he might’ve thought the part was going to be. I think it’s still growing.”

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Bryan Cranston – January 10, 2011

“Walt is on this journey, and I like the fact that he doesn’t know where he’s going. And, so, why should Bryan know where it’s going? Do you know what I mean? It doesn’t help me…and, in fact, if it’s any kind of subliminal preparation, then it could hurt the character. So I kind of want to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible, so that I can feel that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other tension that Walt has.”

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Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and Betsy Brandt – March 31, 2011

“It’s crazy how, you know, after Walt kind of came into (Jesse’s) life, his life has just truly flipped upside down. He was very happy just kind of doing his day to day thing, selling his little day to day dime bags. But Walt and his greediness…greedy, really, because he has to be…kind of destroyed a lot of things for Jesse.”Aaron Paul

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Second set visit recap – April 17, 2011

“I found myself sitting at the head of the table, with Bryan Cranston on my left and Giancarlo Esposito on my right. Okay, so no surprise here: dinner was awesome. Cranston’s a man who loves to hold court wherever he goes, so he was telling us tales all night long, including one about working on ‘Seinfeld’ that gave him a chance to break out his very credible Larry David impression. Meanwhile, Esposito isn’t quite as consistently gregarious as Cranston, but he still proved to be an entertaining dining companion, particularly when he was telling us how he’d worked with Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones when he was 8 years old. There were plenty of things discussed that were underlined as being off the record, too, which is a journalistic code that I do not break…but, y’know, it’s actually kind of cool, because it means you end up privy to some pretty awesome stuff!”

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Bryan Cranston – July 13, 2011

“What’s great about well-written material is, if you can shock with justifiable actions, that’s the best. You can shock anybody at any time on television, but if it’s out of left field, if you’ve got a situation where it’s, like, ‘Oh, well, you know, he’s a crazy man, so he just goes and kills people,’ that’s weak writing to me. As I was reading the season première, it was certainly shocking, and I was going, ‘Oh my God, oh my God. But, wait, why would…?’ But then I realized, ‘No, that’s justifiable,’ and after that, I just went, ‘Wow, what a way to put paddles on the heart of the audience and jump-start their season!’”

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Vince Gilligan – July 17, 2011

“The first episode of Season Four is definitely not the episode to allow your kids to watch. It’s definitely not a show for children, but this episode is possibly chief amongst the reasons why that is. It’s not intended for the faint of heart. It has a very shocking moment in it that I don’t want to spoil for folks, but it’s the beginning of a season that my writers and my cast and crew are very, very proud of. It’s going to be very dramatic, very dark and full of twists and turns, and we’re very much looking forward to folks watching it.”

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Steven Bauer – August 30, 2011

“Listen, I missed “The Sopranos” completely. I never got on “Miami Vice”! My career’s been kind of, y’know, it’s a little iffy. And all I can say is bless Vince Gilligan’s heart. He cast me in ‘Breaking Bad,’ and I’m in two episodes. And the second episode? Fuggedaboudit. Fuggedaboudit. The second one, I watched it in New York – ‘cause I did the ADR work on it in New York City – and I was on the phone with one of the producers in L.A., and she kept saying, ‘Steven, just be prepared. Be prepared. You won’t believe how this scene plays out.’ And just the way it’s cut… the way it’s acted and the way it’s cut… man, I’m so excited. I’m so thrilled and so fortunate to be in that.”

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Jonathan Banks – October 5, 2011

“They introduced me in the last show of the second season, and I go in and I do it, and once I actually saw it, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really something. There’s really good stuff going on here.’ And that was my impression. I was really knocked out by it. But before that, even, I came home and said to my wife, ‘I just worked with this kid, and I think he’s really, really good.’ And, of course, that was Aaron. And as it turns out, I was really, really, really right. But he’s just a pleasure to work with. I’m very close with him. We give each other endless shit.”

Plus bonus content! In an Excised from the AV Club piece, Mr. Banks is interviewed by my daughter, Allyson. My promise to you: it will be the sweetest thing you read – and hear, since there’s an MP3 – all day.

“(Ally), do you like to pretend? Well, when I was little, I used to love to pretend. I just thought it was so wonderful, the flight of being anybody that you wanted to be. And you know what? That, quite honestly, is my first feeling about why I wanted to be an actor.”

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Lavell Crawford – May 12, 2012

“When I walked in and saw Bill Burr (who plays Kuby), I thought it was hilarious. We’ve worked together as comedians, so he laughed, and I laughed, too. It was so funny that we were playing these guys that were going to scare the hell out of Ted.”

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Bryan Cranston – July 11, 2012

“What happens in season five is that Walter White, instead of going, ‘Whew, that was a close call! Goodbye, everybody!’ he feels like a peacock preening. He just defeated the mastermind. He outwitted the smartest guy in the room. And that was the adrenaline kick that motivates him to go further. Not to be a shrinking violet, but to say, ‘I’m going for it. Let’s go. Let’s do it.’”

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Betsy Brandt – August 30, 2012

“I remember when we were shooting that scene (with Marie and Hank in the elevator)… you get so close, you’re in that moment, and then you have to start over again, and you get back in the moment. And we thought we had it. We felt like we had the one we were gonna use. And I think I asked Frieda, the woman who was doing my makeup at the time, ‘Did we get it? Did we get it?’ And she said, “We got it, we’re moving on.” And I just started sobbing, crying my eyes out. I just think, ‘My God, Marie lives like this every day, all day long.’ She’s wound up, it’s right there at the surface, but she just doesn’t let it out.”

Plus bonus content! In an Excised from the AV Club piece, Ms. Brandt proves that she is the real danger of “Breaking Bad” by hunting down and killing a wasp in mid-interview.

I am the danger, wasp! You put that stinger away! I am the danger! Oh, my God. Here I am, going, ‘Oh, yes, please, write me an action scene!’ And I just killed this wasp, and, oh, God, my heart is racing… But, okay, I think we can carry on now. [To the wasp.] I’m sorry. It had to be you or me, okay? I’m sorry!”

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Krysten Ritter – April 11, 2012

“I didn’t really feel affected by (Jane’s impending death) throughout most of the time we were shooting that sequence and all that stuff was going down. It wasn’t until I was getting my death makeup. At first, I was like, ‘Oh, this is so cool! I look like a Tim Burton character! I look dead! Yeah!’ I thought it was rad! And it wasn’t until the final scene, where I’m dead and he’s trying to give me CPR… We had to stop. Everyone else had been, like, ‘This is going to be so sad,’ but I thought nothing of it until that moment. And when it hit, it was really crazy and weird to see how people would react to your death.”

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Jonathan Banks – August 30, 2012

“Well, you know, there’s no other way to say it: Mike broke a lot – a lot – of his own rules in the end, so you knew damned well it was not going to come to a good end. I guess the biggest reaction I had was, ‘What a great role this has been. What a wonderful gift that Vince Gilligan gave to me.’ And that’s truly how I looked at it. Now, as time got closer, it was hard! It was hard going through the season and knowing that…I have a good time when I go to work, so I’m going to work, having a good time, having a good time…and all of a sudden, that day is there. And it was an emotional day out there, my friend.”

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Tess Harper – December 12, 2012

“Like every other middle-class family with a kid who goes off the rails, everybody sits down and tries to do a post-mortem on it, but who knows (where the Pinkmans went wrong with Jesse)? Maybe they didn’t. Maybe he just chose poorly. You know, a parent’s job is to say, ‘This is a road you can go down,’ and if the kid says, ‘I don’t like that road,’ then what can you do about it? At some point, it’s about preserving the rest of the family.”

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Giancarlo Esposito – March 25, 2013

“It was at the beginning of the fourth season when I found out (Gus was going to die). I got called into Vince’s office. They said, ‘He wants to see you,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, that can’t be good.’  That’s never good, you know? Anyway, I spent the first 10 minutes talking with the door open, but then he got up to close the door to the office. And I went into my Gus Fring mode… and he, uh, got a little nervous. I said, ‘Sit down. Don’t close the door.‘ We chatted a little further, I came out of Gus mode and went back into being Giancarlo, but then he stood up again and said, ‘Look, I really just want to close the door…’ And I snapped back into Gus mode and said, ‘Sit. Down.’ And then he got really nervous, and he kind of stood there, awkwardly. And that’s when I busted out laughing. I said, ‘Go ahead and close the door. I know what you’re gonna say.’”

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Laura Fraser – September 13, 2013

“When I went there, to Albuquerque, I had my first scenes with Jonathan Banks, who played Mike, and I was asking him all the questions about the characters and the histories and the relationships and Gus Fring and whatnot. And finally he said, ‘Have you not seen the show?’ And I said, ‘No, I haven’t.’ And he went, ‘Oh, for God’s sake…Go and watch it and come back to me, and then we can have a conversation!’ He was getting impatient with me. He was, like, ‘Go and watch it! You’ll like it! It’s good!’ So I went and watched it with my husband, and we watched the whole thing in, like, four days. We were, like, meth-head binge watchers.”

  

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