When Breaking Bad debuted on AMC back in 2008, creator Vince Gilligan wondered whether viewers would have too hard of a time liking main character Walter White, who descends from mild mannered high school chemistry teacher to murderous meth dealing drug kingpin. That turned out to not be a problem.
Instead, fans of the show turned on Walt’s wife Skyler, played by Anna Gunn. Skyler may have been the voice of reason, but for many Walter is the hero of the show. And in what was then a fairly new trend, Gunn got a ton of real life hate for her on screen performance. Gunn said fans of the show often took their frustrations about Skyler out on her in real life, and it was difficult for her to deal with.
“It shook me,” Anna admitted in a feature from Entertainment Weekly. “As an actor, my job is not to always play characters who make everybody happy. That’s not interesting. In fact, characters that are more difficult in a way are more interesting. But when you are on a show that has become that big and people are identifying you so much with somebody that they dislike, you can’t help but feel like you get folded into it.”
One of the things that stood out for Gunn was the casual vitriol from even the show’s biggest fans, as exhibited during the many convention Q&As the cast used to take part in over the years.
“It was fairly early on that a guy stood up and said, ‘Why is your character such a bitch?'” she recalled. “He was so clearly firmly with Walt, and thought Skyler was just this awful, nagging person. That was one of the first moments where it came right to me and it was shocking. I think we were all kind of shocked.”
Bryan Cranston, who played Walter in the show, said it “affected her deeply” and that Gunn was able to bring that emotion “into her work.” Gunn also pointed out that the reaction to Skyler was a mixture of factors, including sexism. But it also spoke to the strength of the show’s writing.
“It was very bizarre and confusing to us all,” she says. “It was a combination of sexism, ideas about gender roles, and then honestly, it was the brilliance of the construct of the show. People did find a hero in Walt, but they wanted so much to connect with him so viscerally that to see the person who often was his antagonist — therefore the show’s antagonist in a way — they felt like she was in the way of him doing whatever he wanted to do, and that he should be allowed to do what he wanted to do.”
The last couple of years away from the character have given Gunn perspective on the role, and noted the way people reacted to Skyler no longer bothers her as much.
“I was really glad that I went through it and that I learned what I learned,” she said. “Ultimately I realized this is not about me. This is not about me, Anna Gunn, and it’s really not about Skyler. It’s about the way people are connecting to [Walt]. It’s also about the way that people still hold on to, perhaps, older ideas of what a woman or a wife should be or how she should act or how she should behave. In the end, change isn’t always comfortable and isn’t always pleasant, but it’s good that it was brought to people’s attention and consciousness.”
Gunn notes that people picking up the series now tend to see Skyler through a much more sympathetic lens, which one hopes could be attributed to a growing acceptance of women’s roles outside of the old stereotypes. Now if only fans could evolve to the point where they’re not so quick to heap hate on actors, regardless of what their characters are doing on screen.
(via Entertainment Weekly)