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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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Laura Fraser (‘Breaking Bad’)

As “Breaking Bad” began winding down toward its inevitable conclusion with its fifth and final season, the series introduced a new character who has gone on to make a surprising impact for someone who started off all but shivering in fear at the prospect of what the future might hold for her. Laura Fraser may not be a familiar face to those who prefer their TV to be wholly American, but she’s done quite a bit of small-screen work in the UK, and you may recognize her from some of her big-screen performances as well…like, say, playing against Heath Ledger in “A Knight’s Tale.” Bullz-Eye chatted with Fraser about her current gig as well as some of her earlier roles, including a gig she was hired for but was subsequently replaced…and if she hadn’t ended up on “Breaking Bad,” she’d probably still be miserable about it.

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BE: So how did you first find your way onto “Breaking Bad”?

LF: Just a regular audition. I got sent a scene that wasn’t from the show, but it was, like, similar to the scene in the diner with Mike in the episode “Magical.” I had to make a tape, which I did, and I sent it to the casting director, who sent it to Vince Gilligan, who said it was great. And then Vince gave us a note and a real scene from episode 2 of Season 5. So I did that, and I got it from that. And I never met anyone! It was all on tape. So it was as if by magic. [Laughs.]

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”)

You may or may not know this, but…Jonathan Banks is basically just as awesome as the character he plays on “Breaking Bad.” True story. I know this to be true because he proved it handily when he gave my daughter the chance to interview him in the midst of an interview he and I were doing for the Onion AV Club.

Funnily enough, though, while he and I clearly built a bit of a bond as a result of his conversation with myself and my daughter, we’d never actually met until earlier this month, when he attended the Television Critics Association Awards with some of his fellow “Breaking Bad” cast and crew members. I was giddy when I spotted him at the event, and I strolled over and said, “You and I have never met, but you’ve chatted with my daughter…”

His jaw dropped, and he said, “Son of a bitch.” Then a smile appeared on his face, he stuck out his hand, and he said, “How are you, brother? And how’s that little girl of yours doing? Oh, man, it is so good to finally meet you. Is your wife here? I need to say ‘hello’ to her, too!”

Yep. Jonathan Banks is awesome. Indeed, he’s so awesome that, although I couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t be up for doing a quick interview in the wake of Mike’s storyline coming to a conclusion on “Breaking Bad,” I still felt obliged to go through the proper channels to chat with him. As such, I sent a formal request to his manager, even as I admitted, “I realize there’s a pretty strong chance that he’s just going to say, ‘Well, if he knows how to get in touch with me, then tell him to get in touch with me, for chrissakes, but even so.”

Within 24 hours, I had a direct email from Mr. Banks, simply saying, “Call anytime.” And when I asked if he had a preferred time, explaining that I’d have an empty house from 8:30 AM EST onward because of my wife and daughter heading out to get their hair done, he said to call him at 8:30 AM EST…which was a little surprising, given that I knew he lived in California, but damned if he didn’t answer the phone right away.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Chatting with Natalie Zea about “Justified” (with a little bit of “Dirty Sexy” talk, too)

FX’s “Justified” continues to be one of the best series on television, with a lot of the credit for its success rightfully being attributed to Elmore Leonard’s original source material and the love and respect series creator Graham Yost and his writers have for Leonard’s work. Lest we forget just how important the cast is to the success of the series, however, I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with at least one of the actors from the ensemble after they wrapped the “Justified” panel at the January TCA tour. As there’s such a wealth of talent to choose from, I’m sure you’ll believe me if I assure you that it was complete coincidence that I just happened to end up talking to the most gorgeous one of the bunch.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t entirely coincidental. Look, I’ve been smitten with Natalie Zea since she first crossed my radar as part of the cast of ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money,” and I had the chance to talk to her in a perfectly legitimate capacity. So sue me.

Also, just so it’s out there, I should probably also mention that I sound like a complete doofus a couple of times, responding to her responses by simply saying, “Really?” I’m not usually like that, but, hey, this is what happens when you’re blindsided by a beautiful woman…

Bullz-Eye: So what was it like when the cast gathered back together for the first table read of Season Three?

Natalie Zea: We, uh, don’t do table reads. [Laughs.]

BE: [Surprised.] Really?

NZ: Regretfully. I think they’re very handy. I think it’s that Graham (Yost) is not a fan of table reads. I’m not sure why. So, yeah, you kind of get thrown back into it on the first day. My first scene of Season Three was a love scene. And it’s, like, “Oh, hello, haven’t seen you in six months! How are you doing? Great! Let’s get into bed!” [Laughs.] And then, y’know, after the first 15 minutes, it’s like I never left.

BE: There’s at least a slightly different dynamic with your character this season, owing to her pregnancy, but you indicated during the panel that you’re not planning to play her a whole lot differently.

NZ: No, I’m not. Also, in regards to the pregnancy, what I realized but didn’t say is… We’re not really talking about the pregnancy as much as we are the baby. So I think probably Winona’s pregnancy is going quite well. [Laughs.] She’s having a really easy time of it. Which I like. I think…y’know, if there are concerns with viewers – and I think there would be, given the nature of this show – that it’s going to turn into this, like, “Baby? Pregnancy? I want ice cream and pickles! My feet hurt!” [Laughs.] It’s not happening. The pregnancy almost never gets addressed. But the issues…the outcome and the issues regarding the outcome, those are discussed. Because it’s life. And you have to discuss it.

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Bullz-Eye meets Bryan Cranston on the “Breaking Bad” set

When you’re an easily-amused TV critic, every day is filled with wonderful surprises which range from the arrival of an advance screener of an episode of one of your favorite shows to the opportunity to interview one of your favorite actors. Once in awhile, though, something arrives via E-mail which blows your mind completely…and, in this case, it was a personal letter from Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that personal a letter. It was sent to everyone in the Television Critics Association, so it kicked off with “Dear TCA Member” rather than a cheerily specific “Hi, Will!”  Still, it’s not that big an organization (there are only a few hundred folks within its ranks), so it’s not like this was the TV critic equivalent of getting a piece of mail addressed to Current Occupant. Besides, once I read the letter, any issues that I may have had with the lack of personalization had evaporated like excess meth.

It went a little something like this…

Dear TCA Member:

First of all, this letter is long overdue.  I’ve wanted to thank you for honoring me with the greatly coveted award of best actor in a drama series back when it was still fresh.  My apologies.  I was deeply appreciative.  Someday I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I once beat out the fabulous Glenn Close. They’ll look at me with wonder in their eyes and ask, “Who’s he?”

I thought of how regretful it was that I was unable to thank you all personally…and then it hit me: why can’t I?

I would like to personally invite you to visit the “Breaking Bad” set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the next few weeks we will be shooting the finale of what promises to be a powerful new season. Vince Gilligan himself will be directing.  We would love the opportunity to welcome you to the world of “Breaking Bad,” meet and hang out with the cast and our amazing crew, take pictures on our sets, receive some sweet swag, and enjoy the outstanding Tex-Mex cuisine New Mexico has to offer.

I really hope you take us up on this – but if you can’t break away for a visit, I hope this letter will at least convey the depth of my gratitude.

Maybe someday you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that you once visited Bryan Cranston in New Mexico.  Your grandchildren would look to you with wonder in their eyes and ask:  “Who the hell is Byron Crabstone?”

Hope to see you in the ‘Land of Enchantment.’

Thank you, and may your 2010 be a prosperous and healthy one.

Bryan Cranston

Needless to say, it was an offer that I could not refuse. Nor, for that matter, could Bullz-Eye’s illustrious editor-in-chief, Jamey Codding, who…well, he has used the phrase “tagged along” when referring to his attendance on the trip, but as the single biggest “Breaking Bad” fan amongst the Bullz-Eye staff, it’s fair to say that he more than held his own during the course of the trip when it came to quizzing the cast and crew about the intricacies of the show. We’ll be offering you a lengthier look into our little adventure as we inch ever closer to the premiere of the series’ third season, which kicks off on March 21st, but there are some thing things that, by law, we can’t discuss until the season finale. No, seriously, we signed some papers. It’s all very official. I mean, you wouldn’t want us to end up behind bars, would you?

We didn’t think so.

In the meantime, though, we thought we’d at least offer up a brief glimpse into what we experienced during our short but über-sweet trip.

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