Press tour: ‘Breaking Bad’ panel live-blog

Senior Television Writer
07.26.13 21 Comments

It’s been five days since I live-blogged anything involving the gang from “Breaking Bad,” and my typing fingers are getting itchy. Fortunately, Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, Bob Odenkirk and RJ Mitte are all scheduled to be here at press tour. Since I covered all the details from the Comic-Con panel, might as well do the same with their stop here at TCA, where I imagine there will be some overlap in questions and answers, but not a lot. Check back frequently for updates over the next 30 minutes or so.

1:05 p.m.: We’re still a minute or so away from starting, but I can confirm that Brandt is here, after missing Comic-Con because she was in New York filming “The Michael J. Fox Show.” NBC’s TCA day is tomorrow, making her presence much easier. Also, I did a long interview with Cranston and Gilligan earlier today that I’ll be publishing much closer to the final premiere on August 11.

1:08 p.m.: While we wait for Cranston and the gang, AMC president Charlie Collier just announced that they’ve picked up two new scripted dramas to series: “Halt and Catch Fire,” about the ’80s PC boom, and “Truth,” a period drama about Washington spies.

1:09 p.m.: Time for them to reshow the “Breaking Bad” Greatest Hits clip reel from Comic-Con. Still gives me chills. Has any show in TV history been quite as well-suited to being cut into an exciting trailer as this one?

1:12 p.m.: The panel comes out. Gilligan is wearing a Pollos Hermanos t-shirt, Cranston does a bit of slapstick as he takes the stage, Gunn and Brandt are jogging in heels. Dean Norris is unfortunately not here.

1:17 p.m.: Was there a character who started out one way in Gilligan’s mind and turned out in a completely different direction, due to the actors who played them? He says that Norris is the first one who springs to mind, but praises all his actors for adding “onion-like layers of wonderfulness” through their performances. Hank served “kind of a limited function” in the pilot, representing everything Walt wasn’t. He admits he was “a bit of a mechanical construct” before he ever met Norris, and then got to know the man, “and he is a very complex and wonderful individual who is much more than a hale fellow well met… TV is this great, organic, living breathing thing. That’s what I love so much about it. If you roll with it, as a showrunner, if you let the folks in front of the camera and the folks behind the camera add all their personality and intellect and artistry to the show at hand, provided everyone’s pulling the rope in the same direction, wonderful things arise from that.”

1:19 p.m.: How did Gilligan originally envision Walt ending, as opposed to how the show really will end? “I can’t remember exactly what my original intention was,” he admits. “I couldn’t see that far ahead. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees for the longest time over these last six years.” He asks Cranston if he ever pitched him an ending; Cranston says it was just the notion of using a serialized TV show and changing a character that significantly. “I wanted this role really bad,” he says, but they never discussed where it was going to end up.

1:22 p.m.: A critic suggests that perhaps Gilligan hasn’t quite turned Mr. Chips into Scarface, because he had all these elements boiling under the surface all along. Gilligan acknowledges that it’s not that accurate a phrase on either end, because Mr. Chips was much more beloved by his students than Walt was, though he did that to make Walt more sympathetic in the pilot. The longer he did the show, the more he subscribed to the idea that circumstance didn’t so much change Walt as reveal who he really was.

1:24 p.m.: Cranston actually liked playing Walt as a teacher, because it was the only place outside “the muck and mire” of the criminal world where Walt had passion and excelled. Suggests Walt “could’ve been Mr. Chips 20 years ago, but now he’s not. His emotions were callused over by the depression. Receiving this news of his imminent demise allowed that volcano of emotions to erupt. When it did, he wasn’t accustomed to where to put his emotions, and it just spewed over everyone. And it got messy.”

1:25 p.m.: Stu Richardson (whom the cast calls “British Stu”) has filmed the Blu Ray bonus features for several seasons, and for the complete series box set, Gilligan says “He has really outdone himself and put together a two-hour documentary about the show.” He’s not entirely sure if it’ll just be on Blu Ray or on DVD, too.

1:29 p.m.: A critic asks about audience reaction to the complicity of Skyler versus Jesse, and how the audience is so sympathetic for him and not for her. Paul finds it odd: “Jesse is a drug dealer. He’s a murderer. But for some reason you really care for him and want to protect him. And with Skyler, when I watch it, I feel for her so much. She just obviously wants to protect her family. But I think the audience is really rooting for the bad guy, so Skyler inevitably ends up being the bad guy to the audience.” Gunn reiterates some of the points from Comic-Con, that people are so sympathetic to Walt at the start, and Skyler is the person who stands in the way of Walt the most consistently. Gus and other villains come in and out of things, “but she was the one who most consistently said, ‘You can’t just do these things and not have consequences.’ And therefore she became a villain to people who really identified with Walt and were rooting for him.”

1:31 p.m.: How much bad is left in Jesse and how much good is left in Walt at this point? Paul says with where the season ended last year, Jesse “is just emptied out. He wants out of the business, wants to stay as far away from Walt as possible. Walt’s true colors were definitely revealed to him towards the end of last season… He’s terrified of this man. He just wants nothing to do with him. He wants to try and stay out of the business if he can.” Cranston: “Walt has a large reservoir of good to be shared with everyone else, and he spreads his joy throughout the last eight episodes… I think everyone will be satisfied with the ending where we hug it out.” Brandt: “Don’t mention the musical numbers!”

1:32 p.m.: More seriously, Cranston really believes that everyone is capable of good or bad, “and depending on your influences and your DNA and your parenting and your education and your social environment, the best of you can come out and the worst of you can come out. Given the worst set of circumstances and dire situations, anyone can become dangerous.”

1:35 p.m.: Has the amount of recapping done about this show affected Gilligan’s creative process? Gilligan spends “a lot of time on the internet looking up useless crap,” but he doesn’t Google anything about the show, “out of a very neurotic sense of self-protection. I know that it would be a rabbit hole that I would disappear down.” He’s grateful for the support of the fans and the critics, “but I’ve found that our best way forward in crafting the show is to keep our writers room… like a sequestered jury room. There was seven of us sitting around telling stories to ourselves.” He would sometimes hear second-hand what was being said on the internet. He was really nervous coming up with the end of the series. “So with that in mind, how do you satisfy everybody? The more you listen to everyone, I find the more fractured your thinking becomes. Along the way, I felt the best way to come up with something that most people would like was to satisfy ourselves.”

He is very proud of the finale and can’t wait for people to see it. “I am very cautious in my estimation in general of how people will respond to things. I hope I am not wildly wrong in my estimate that most people are going to dig the ending.”

1:37 p.m.: What’s going on with the “Better Call Saul” spin-off? Gilligan holds up a magazine issue with Odenkirk on the cover as Saul. “It is my fervent wish that there be a Saul Goodman spin-off,” Gilligan says. He and Saul’s creator, Peter Gould, have been working on the idea. “It’s for powers bigger than me to figure out if it can come to fruition, but I would very much like it to be the case. We’re working toward that.” Odenkirk loves everything Gilligan just said. “I would love to do it, I’d do it in a second, because if Vince wrote it, it’s going to be awesome. Other than that, for me, the spinoff was just having been on the show. Everything good that’s already come for me being on this is all I’d never need to be happy.”

1:42 p.m.: Last question is about how Walt is the only character on the show where we know a lot about his backstory; have the other actors come up with ideas on their own about where their characters came from? Odenkirk likes the idea that Saul is from Chicago, in part because such a corrupt city would produce a man like that. Because Mitte also has cerebral palsy (albeit not as severe as Walter Jr’s), he drew on his own childhood experiences, and talks about the painful time he went through getting his legs bound and immobilized so he can walk as well as he does. Brandt thinks Hank and Marie wanted to have kids and couldn’t, and will think about that whenever she has a scene with the White children. And she and Gunn would frequently ask what the heck Skyler and Marie’s parents were like to turn them out like this. Gunn agrees that the sisters didn’t have a happy childhood and became “war buddies… I always felt that Skyler in some way had to be the mother figure, and so Skyler learned to take care of things and deal with problems and just put her head down and get through things at a very young age.” Paul says Jesse was revealed to him more and more as episodes went on. “Jesse was just on a constant search for some guidance in his life. Even though he maybe didn’t want to admit it, he was searching for a father figure in a way, and found one in Walt because his parents gave up on him years ago. And then that comes with him wanting to protect kids, in a way. There’s episodes where we all know that he has this fondness for children. He wants to protect those children, because he didn’t feel he had that protection from his parents.” Cranston jokes that the turning point for Walt was July 4, 1978, when he entered the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, consumed 38 hot dogs, and was considering going into the competitive eating profession. Gilligan: “Why did you have to ruin the ending?” Cranston: “I assumed they knew.”

And that’s all, folks. A much shorter panel than we might’ve liked, but AMC has to squeeze in additional panels for “Hell on Wheels” and “Low Winter Sun.”

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