Breaking Bad Rountable Interview, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn
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When the Winter 2010 TCA Press Tour took place in January, the cast of “Breaking Bad” was in attendance to pre-pimp the new season of the series. Unfortunately, the gang was so swamped with post-panel interview requests that a bunch of the writers ended up having to do a roundtable-style Q&A with them…which was cool in and of itself, except for the fact that I ended up scoring a spot on the farthest reaches of the group, thereby making it rather difficult to comfortably jump into the proceedings without feeling like I was shouting. Still, I was there, my recorder was rolling, and as such, I can present to you the conversations that went on during the course of the few minutes that we had with Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and the late-arriving Bob Odenkirk. (Actually, Bob was a bonus: he wasn’t scheduled to participate, he just happened to be strolling by.)

Q: So how intense is it getting over there in Albuquerque right now?

Bryan Cranston: I mean, logistically, there is some intensity, because anytime you’re doing…

Bob Odenkirk: (Walks up into the roundtable) Hey, are you talking about “Breaking Bad”?

BC: No, “Mad Men.”

BO: Love it. (Sits down)

Bob Odenkirk: "People always tell me I’m funny on this show, and the character is funny. He gets to say a lot of ridiculous things. But, you know, he’s also a scream in comparison to all these guys and what they’re going through. I mean, he’s just an unbelievable clown, you know, the best ever when it’s compared to people with guns to their heads, you know? This horrible situation you are all in is a big joke to me. It’s a big laugh for Saul."

BC: Fantastic. (Laughs) But, you know, whenever there are stunts and things like that, that is logistically difficult to put together. We just had an all-nighter last Friday where our call was 4:00, and I wrapped at five-something. 5:00 in the morning on Saturday, you’re done. I mean, logistically, it’s intense, but it’s also emotional intensity. It can take its toll. I mean, I think that’s why all of us have our moments on the set where we want to create the levity. Otherwise, you’d be dragged down into this mire that is hard to work with.

Q: So that’s why Bob is on? (Laughs)

BO: (Laughs) Yeah. You know, look, people always tell me I’m funny on this show, and the character is funny. He gets to say a lot of ridiculous things. But, you know, he’s also a scream in comparison to all these guys and what they’re going through. I mean, he’s just an unbelievable clown, you know, the best ever when it’s compared to people with guns to their heads, you know? This horrible situation you are all in… (Laughs) …is a big joke to me. It’s a big laugh for Saul.

BC: I think the real reason Odenkirk is on the show is to just entertain us between scenes. I don’t think his character is very good, so that’s why I think it’s fun to have him play around.

BO: Well, you’re the silliest guy on earth.

Anna Gunn: That is true.

BO: He’s the funniest guy, you know?

BC: I don’t know about that.

BO: You are. You’re a very silly prankster. I would like that in print.

Q: Seeing as how affected your characters are coming out of last season, heading into this season, how soon before we see Walter and Jesse together, kind of settling back into their old roles? Or are your guys relationships changed forever? Is it not going to sort of return to the apprenticeship role?

Aaron Paul: No, it definitely does change.

Breaking BadBC: It does change. You know, the thing that Vince (Gilligan, series creator) really strives for is authenticity, so going through experiences like the mid-air collision, the death of his lady love, and his whole psychological change, it has to have an effect. So we couldn’t go back to the way it was. So in season three, there are new… (Hesitates) We form new alliances and new relationships. New understandings. Sometimes it’s agreed upon, sometimes it pulls apart. It’s like a muscle being built. We get together and it rips apart, and we get together again and we rip apart again. In fact, this whole season seems to be just that: together, apart, together, apart. It’s fruitful for the show, but it’s frustrating to experience.

AG: But so many of the obstacles that were preventing Jesse and Walt from being able to do what they do easily were…there was Jane and Skyler, and there aren’t really those same relationship obstacles standing in the way.

BC: Yeah, she is an impediment to me. The women on the show, we get rid of them one at a time.

AG: I like to say a stage coach from “Deadwood” is going to come and run me down. (Laughs) “Wow, what the hell? I didn’t see that coming.”

Q: Bob, your character Saul is so vital to this show. He’s a little Tony Robbins and a little Joel Osteen.

BO: Oh, yeah, that’s great. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Holy cow, he’s amazing. I thought about Joel Osteen. Oh, my God.

Q: Just as an actor, who have you pulled from the ether and kind of crammed in your acting skills?

BO: When I first heard about it and first read it, I thought about Stevie Grant, the character I played on “Larry Sanders.” I mean, there’s a similarity to how those two guys are playing with other people’s lives. I mean, this is more desperate, but it’s kind of the same thing, where the stakes are not at my doorstep and I’m just enjoying trying to manipulate them and get something for myself out of it. But I’ll tell you someone else: Robert Evans. I’ll tell you why. Because…I’ve never had a part with this many lines that someone else wrote, or even for myself, even that I wrote. Anything that I’ve ever written for myself, I’ve never had these monologues; so that was intimidating. But also, I mean, right away, I read these things and I thought, “Everyone is just going to turn off if your cadence doesn’t change, if you don’t have an interesting delivery to this.” You’re never going to be able to listen to this three pages of dialogue from this one guy. And somehow, Robert Evans…“The Kid Stays in the Picture” is just one of the best books on tape ever. Have you ever heard it? It’s an amazing book. I’ve probably read it four times as a book, and I’ve listened to it twice; the whole thing. It’s so great.

BC: He does the narration himself.

BO: I’ve watched the movie two or three times. Because you can just listen to that guy tell a story over and over. He has this great up and down rhythm and he brings you to the brink and turns it.

AG: You did that with Aaron’s parents in one scene. You led them right into the lion’s mouth.

Bryan Cranston: "In Season 3, we form new alliances and new relationships. New understandings. It's like a muscle being built: we get together and it rips apart, and we get together again and we rip apart again. This whole season seems to be just that: together, apart, together, apart. It's fruitful for the show, but it's frustrating to experience."

BO: Yeah, and I played Robert Evans in “Mr. Show,” and I did it on “Politically Incorrect.” No, wait, what’s Bill Maher’s new show? I mean, it’s only been ten years. (Laughs) “Real Time.” I did it on “Real Time” as well. But I did Bob Evans there too. So what I do, is I do all my lines as Robert Evans when I rehearse, alone. I do. I don’t consciously go to the set and try to bring any of that, I don’t think about doing an impersonation or anything. But I do it one or two times just while I’m running it as him. And there are these ups and downs and turns and cliffhangers. Will I do it? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Should I have done it? Hell, no.

Q: You mentioned during the panel that you don’t know what’s going to go on until you read it in the script. When you guys read the final scene of the next to last episode, where Walt lets Jane choke to death, what was your reaction? Did you say, like, “Holy crap,”like we did when we saw it?

BC: Well, yeah. And that was a different version. The original version was far more egregious of an act than what we did. And I suggested a third version as well. And we ended up doing the one middle version. My suggestion was that he sees her and he tries to wake up Jesse. She flops back on her back through the vibration of the bed and in disgust, he walks out. And he’s walking down the hallway and he’s so filled with anxiety of this boy killing himself slowly, that he can hear her choking but it doesn’t really register until he gets to the front door. And then… (choking sound) …he realizes what’s happening and he runs back to the room and she’s dead. That was the soft version. I said, “That’s a way to go.” And then there was the way we shot it, where he goes through his actions, she flops over, and then he makes that decision. The original way was that he’s filled with disgust, he looks over at Jesse and he’s laying strung out, about the wasted life. And he looks to the girl and almost in a paternal way, looks to her like this is someone’s child and then pushes her on her back. Pushes her back and she flops back. Boom! And starts coughing and choking. And that was the way he originally wrote it.

AG: Wow! I had forgotten about that.

Breaking Bad

BC: He originally wrote it that she dies and he walks out. And that’s the first one I read and that blew the top of my head off. And quite frankly, AMC and Sony had something to say about that. And brought Vince in and said, “Can we talk about this?” And it’s all about measures and how things will progress in a pattern and in a natural way that it doesn’t feel like it’s a leap to something. That if everything seems like it’s progressing, that he is metamorphosing into this other person, that’s fine, that’s one thing. But if he takes a leap to that, it’s jarring. So you want it to be somewhat surprising but not necessarily jarring and have the person push back from it. And he listened and, to his credit, he agreed that it may have been an overstep and said, “Let’s pull it back a little bit.” And he came up with this other method, the shaking. And I think we talked about how that would work, and that’s what we did.


Q: What was your reaction to actually seeing it, though? Your shooting it and then seeing it?

BC: Seeing it on film? It’s very emotional for me. And, actually, I had a moment when I imagined my own daughter dead in the bed. I saw her face, and it scared me. So you know, you want to be able to go to those places, but that…I didn’t want to go to that place. And it was weird and interesting. That was the day we took the pictures. Remember that?

AG: I know, and I remember watching it.

BC: It was, like, we had just finished that scene, and they’re, like…

AP: “Okay, cast and crew photo!” It was intense.

Q: Bryan, could you maybe get into a little bit some of the creative decisions you’ve helped influence in the third season? I know you directed the first episode, and you directed an episode last season. It seems like you have more input than most actors do.

BC: I don’t know about that. I mean, the whole thing for all of us, for any actor, is to own your character. And when you first start something, a rehearsal process or something, you’re kind of borrowing it and seeing how it fits; you try on its clothes. And eventually what you want to do is to ingest and let it live in you. And so, to all of us, I don’t think anybody knows our character…I don’t think Vince knows the character better than I do. And so if I read something or if anyone of us reads something that strikes us oddly, we’ll make a note of it. And there was a thing the other day that I brought up, and I can’t tell you actually what it is, because it will reveal a big thing. And sometimes it’s an oversight. Sometimes it’s an overstep, and you have to kind of pull it back. Sometimes we’ll shoot two versions in case one is, like, “Oh, you’re right; let’s not use that version, let’s use this one.” But I don’t know, I think it’s proprietary. I think an actor wants to be in control because you have to defend your character. You have to work and fight for your character. And sometimes that will butt heads with someone else’s thought process, at times.

BO: And that’s where you talk to Vince and you try to figure out who’s doing what and why. And it hasn’t changed things too much. I mean, you talked about that death scene; that changed that scene.

Aaron Paul: "Where this season starts out, you don't really know exactly where Jesse stands. I mean, obviously, he has a lot of guilt on his shoulders. He's taking complete blame for the death of Jane. So it's a lot to chew on. So he doesn't really know...or the audience doesn't really know...where he's at emotionally, but he has accepted who he feels he truly is and he's just going to try and take that on and try to just keep his head above water."

BC: Yeah, that was…momentous moments like that, I mean, that’s a game changer. And there were a couple this year that we were shooting that we had to have a discussion on. You know, you had to get a clarification on the way it was. But a good show runner and writer will always have his characters’ best interests at heart and will not send them down a road that is not thoroughly examined and say, “That’s where I want this character to go.” We may have a discussion about where that’s going or where the turn is, and you don’t know how it’s going to get there, but hopefully it will.

Q: Watching the first episode that you directed, I was wondering who you selected as a DP and if you hashed out a game plan, because it was very distinctively different. Lots of bright light, lots of unusual angles. I didn’t know how much input you had in the shot setups and what you relayed to your DP, how you wanted scenes to look. It was like the anti-Gordon Willis: everything was brightly lit, white, white, white, white, bright light.

BC: You know, it depends on the mood. I mean, first of all, we have a DP, Michael Slovis, who is with us every episode. So it wasn’t a selection process on my part.

Q: Do you communicate well with him?

BC: Oh, God, yeah. He’s your right arm. When you’re working as a director, you depend a tremendous amount on them. And, quite frankly, if I know specifically how I want to shoot something, I’ll suggest it. If I don’t, I’ll convey a feeling, a mood that I want to do and have him… (Shrugs) It’s his world. I wouldn’t say, “Let’s see, on this scene, I want to put a ten K out here and have it shine through the lens. And let’s put a diffuser over here.” That’s his world. I don’t want him to say, “When you come into this scene, I want you to think for a moment, turn, cock your head about like that, and then wink.” I don’t want people to do that to me, so you allow them to do their job, and that’s both respectful and empowering.

Q: As a director…like, Saul’s character, when he’s shot, the camera angles are very distinctly different. They are much more kind of fluid and around his energy, whereas it seemed like whenever your scenes were shot, it was almost from a distance and very fixed, as opposed to when Bob is in the frame.

Breaking BadBC: It’s different. Well, because a lot of it is…in many of those shots in the first episode, I liked big, long, wide stuff because I think it’s cool. I think there is something about it that tells a story. But if I’m shooting Bob, I want to see his face, I want to hear what he is saying. If I’m too far back, I lose a lot. I lose little inflections or something; pretty faces, I want to see the pretty faces, you know? But I think to me, the story dictates where that camera goes. And the question I ask myself as a new director, really, and if I can answer this question, then I know I’m right. “Where do I want to witness this scene from? Where do I want to see it played out?” And that tells me where to place the camera.

Q: For Bryan and Aaron, because the season has played out for you guys more than it has for us, are Jesse and Walt kind of passing each other on the moral sliding scale, where Jesse is becoming more moral and Walter is becoming less?

BC: Is anybody surprised by what Vince said about the moral center?

(Writer’s note: During the TCA panel for the show, Vince Gilligan suggested that the show’s moral center was Jesse.)

BO: Yeah.

AG: Yes.

AP: I wasn’t surprised at all.

Q: (Laughs) I think the only bad that his character would perpetrate comes from an innocence, though.

BC: Is it innocence or is it ignorance? I mean, there’s a lot of ignorance to what this guy does too, right?

AP: Yeah, but he’s just such a loveable guy.  (Laughs) But, no, it is absolutely ignorance, absolutely it is.

BO: But wait a second you guys, there’s one big thing that happens this season that comes very purely from his…

AP: Wait, Season Three?

BO: Yeah, you know, his kind of sweetness. Right?

AP: Yeah, he’s a sweet guy.

Q: Now, Walt has an underground persona through Heisenberg, and the pictures that are circulating. Is Jesse ever going to have a sort of persona like that, or a presence that’s known?

Anna Gunn: "(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 ot figure out which path to go down."

AP: Um…I don’t know. Where this season starts out, you don’t really know exactly where Jesse stands. I mean, obviously he has a lot of guilt on his shoulders. He’s taking complete blame for the death of Jane. So it’s a lot to chew on. So he doesn’t really know…or the audience doesn’t really know…where he’s at emotionally, but he has accepted who he truly feels he is and he’s just going to try and take that on and try and to just keep his head above water.

BC: I think, my point of view, and I don’t mind contradicting our leader, is I don’t know if I would say that Jesse is the moral center of this. I think there’s moral ambiguity to him. I think it constantly changes with the seduction of power and money and all that stuff.

Q: So it’s Saul, then?

AP: Let’s be honest, Saul is the moral center. (Laughs)

BO: I’m the guy who has no center at all, and you guys gravitate around your centers.

BC: In a way, that’s true. If anything, he’s true to who he is.

Reporter: Are we going to see something like…well, I don’t want to compare it to movies, but “Traffic” comes to mind, as far as a wife discovering about her husband’s drug life: objecting at first, horrified, but then, of course, by the end, falling sort of in line. We’ve seen already Skyler turning the other way at work when she’s presented with phony books and so on. Are we going to see more of her turning the other cheek?

AG: I think you see her actually active, in the middle of the storm of indecision. She 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 she’s…it’s a real state of chaos for her, I think, trying to figure out which path to go down.

Reporter: Vince mentioned that “Lost” having an end point was a good thing, and in an ideal world they would want to have that. Would you want to have that? Would you guys want to have that for the story?

BC: I would.

AP: I would like to know, I guess.

BC: It could only help the storytelling process, because if they know that they have 20 more episodes before it’s over, or 30 more episodes, they can construct that to make it the most impactful. What we have at the end of each season is unknowingness. We don’t know if we’re coming back for season four. We really don’t. And so, if we don’t, then it’s going to end with this last episode. And the only thing I would want is to be able to tell this story in its completion. If that’s four years, fine. If that’s five years, fine. Whatever it is, I would love to have it come to its natural completion, so that all of us can look back and go, “That was great, look at that package, I’m very proud of what we’ve done here, and now it’s time for all of us to scatter like roaches and find the next job.”

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