Talking To Dean Norris About ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Under The Dome,’ And Reading On The Toilet

That laugh. Dean Norris could have revealed what happened in the final episode of Breaking Bad, but I wouldn’t have heard it; I was too busy trying to hear that explosive laugh of his. It fits the man, or at least the characters he plays on TV: big, boisterous, attention grabbing.

Norris has good reason to be so happy, too: this Sunday marks the return of Breaking Bad, Under the Dome continues to be an incredible hit for CBS, and he was in Terminator 2: Judgment Day AND Gremlins 2: The New Batch, so he wins. Yesterday, I spoke to Norris over the phone about Hank Schrader, Big Jim toilets, fantasy football teams, and tracking down Hank’s (Walter) White Whale. And yes, he laughed, and yes, it was great.

One of your first big scenes is when you take Walt on a ride-a-long? Did you go on any of those yourself, maybe even with Albuquerque officers?

You know, I didn’t. We had the full support of the DEA at the time, and we had some technical advisers who took us out shooting at a range and there are buildings and houses you kind of take over. But we never went on an official one, no — I’m not sure they’d even let me. I’m sure that’s some sort of liability issue. *laughs*

Earlier today on Twitter, I noticed someone asking that because you play a fake DEA agent, do you have any hook ups for a real DEA job? What’s the weirdest fan request or Hank artwork you’ve seen?

I get a lot of nice requests and I get a lot of strange requests on Twitter. But most of them are asking me to tell them to “f*ck off,” which is very strange, but funny. As for the artwork, I’ve seen some really good stuff. I’ve seen a lot of artwork of me sitting on the can, and Cheetos, and of course most of all, rocks vs. minerals.

What was your reaction when you first saw in the script “Danny Trejo turtle head”?

I love Danny Trejo, and I just thought that was such a Breaking Bad moment. He was such a big guy and it would have been fun to play with him for awhile, which it was, but I thought that in conjunction with what Breaking Bad does, it was such a startling thing to read. It was awesome. You think the head on the turtle is bad enough. Any other show would have stopped there. But Breaking Bad does the Spinal Tap thing and takes it to 11 and it blows up. That was just spectacular. That was one of my favorite scenes.

I like that: it being a Breaking Bad moment. Because it’s true — dramas will be compared to Breaking Bad once it’s gone; it’s become synonymous with a certain kind of surprise and greatness.

It’s true. I’ve always thought Breaking Bad does a bunch of things great, different kinds of styles. We do really intimate moments and they’re tender and they’re nice, and then we’ll do these crazy big, operatic moments, like blowing up the head on the turtle. It’s a cool show in that it’s able to do both. And funny moments, too.

Early on in the show’s run, I remember worrying that in the wrong hands, Hank could be your standard, stereotypical machismo character. But, obviously, between you and Vince, you guys made him tough, but brilliantly vulnerable. How conscious were you and the writing staff of this change?

I think that Vince has said publicly that that’s originally what he had Hank as. We spoke specifically about not making him stupid even though he can’t find Walter; he’s still good at his job. We never really spoke about any of his complexities. I tried to allow myself to bring that into it, so that he wouldn’t become that kind of a character. I think Vince saw that, and as much as TV is a collaborative art and writers see you and what you do, you kind of return the favor by offering a little more. I think that somehow that process worked out, and by the second or third season, we were dealing with a whole different character. Just revealing a whole different side of him, which you usually don’t get to do. Most TV shows, they don’t want to go into that; they want their cops to be tough guys and maybe once in awhile, they’ll break down, but then they’ll right back at it.

After some depression and vulnerability for the guy, they’ve been slowly building him back up over the first part of season five, so I don’t think he’s fully back from where he was — he’s a changed person, obviously having almost died, but the last eight are going to be fun because he’s back to doing what he loves to do: chase the White Whale. HEISENBERG. There’s a time cut at the end of the last episode [of the first half of season five], that scene’s a couple of months after Walter White’s gotten out of the business. Hank’s not really getting to do what he loves to do, but that moment, on the toilet, he’s frustrated and horrified, but we’ll see in this upcoming season, he’s also “oh my God, I’m back to work.” He’s back in the hunt, and that kind of informs the final eight.

Breaking Bad is a rare drama that rather than adding a slew of new characters, like most shows do the longer they’re on, it’s instead narrowed the focus on its main guys. Like promoting from within. That must be nice for you all as actors, being able to delve deep into these identities.

Yeah. It’s true. In Hank’s case, obviously they had to keep him away from the main story, or finding out about Walter White, for the story to continue. I think this is the right time to examine it, and sure enough, Vince has offered up some really nice stuff for the Hank character in the final eight. Now that he’s discovered the W.W., it’s allowed him to open some doors.

To paraphrase you, “I can’t f*cking wait.” I’ve always wondered: do you, as a viewer and not as Hank, ever find yourself secretly rooting for Walt, even if you hate yourself for admitting it?

As a viewer, he’s such a great character that I have no problem watching that character and watching him develop. I don’t particularly root for him, but I love watching him. I think people confuse their enjoyment of watching this great character versus whether you really do want the guy to get away with murdering children. I think that was the plan to begin with: with the justification of needing the money for his family, it’s like, “OK, we’ll let him go.” But then it became clear that power, that’s what ultimately brings him down a couple of times. He can’t allow anyone to take credit for this beautiful blue masterpiece. In the long run, you realize he’s not about his family; he’s about the juice and the thrill he gets from being powerful.

In “Gliding Over All,” you give your infamous “chasing monsters” speech. Is this the bonding moment with Walter White that you think Hank will regret in hindsight the most?

I think that it might be. All through it, interestingly, there’s no kids and no mention of Hank’s parents, so all Hank has ever had is his wife and his brother-in-law. I think that was intentional. So even though he’s his brother-in-law, they’ve known each other for 15 years, 20 years, however long, and for all intents and purposes, he’s his blood brother. He gives him some sh*t sometimes, but that’s what brothers do. He’s able to lay open his vulnerable moments, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next eight, even in the first episode.

Are you stoked for the premiere to finally be here so you can stop hearing toilet jokes?

*laughs* I love the toilet jokes. The thing about the show is, people keep discovering it through Netflix and iTunes, so over the years, I’m assuming the toilet jokes will keep coming.

To switch over to Under the Dome: I’m curious whether you’ve read the book or not.

I did not read the book. I originally bought it to read it, but it became clear talking to the producers and Stephen King that they were not going to follow the book, so I figured why confuse myself.

I actually like the changes made to Big Jim. He’s a guy who’s doing good things in bad ways.

We talked a lot about that element of it. I told them, whatever we do, I don’t want to consider him the bad guy. He may be considered the bad guy to people watching him, but I don’t want to think of him as a bad guy. I don’t think bad guys in general think that they’re bad; I think they’re doing it because they think they know what’s best. And the scariest part is sometimes they do it because they think they’ve been ordained to do it by whomever, that some force has told them they are the ones to do what they need to do. Those guys are the scariest.

You have one of TV’s best scowls. How many hours have you spent practicing it, or is it natural?

*laughs* I don’t really practice the scowl; it just comes at the moment. I dunno, I think the natural set of my face is a little bit scowly. I’ve often had people ask, “What’s wrong?” “There’s nothing wrong!”

We know that Hank’s in a fantasy football league. What do you think the team’s name is?

The Hanksters. Hank likes his name.

One last question: so many Breaking Bad‘s greatest scenes involve alcohol, like Walter’s drunken birthday bash. What are you guys actually drinking on set?

I’ll tell you what, for most of the scene, it’s not scotch. But I have a good relationship with the props department, so if it’s at the end of the day, I’m not saying it happens, but there might be a little mistake made.

(via Getty Image)