A ‘Breaking Bad’ Q&A: In the bedroom with Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn
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“Breaking Bad” seems to be working on a different level than in the show’s first season, and one of the key reasons has been the relationship between Walter and Skyler White emerging into one of the more compelling marriages on television. While the pregnant Skyler mostly played dumb to Walt’s odd behavior in Season 1 and always proved sympathetic above anything else, this season she just isn’t taking it anymore.
In the Season 2 premiere, for instance, she berated him for getting too physical with her in the kitchen. He’d just returned home from seeing a man beaten to death, and was so emotionally charged from the event that he found himself wanting to hold her … and then suddenly much more. Like a dog in heat, he pressed her up against the refrigerator and, when things grew more violent, she was forced to push him away. “You cannot take it out on me,” she later yelled.
The third episode ended with the click of a lamp. Skyler had just asked her husband if he had a second cellphone, a concept he denied, and when Walt went in for the goodnight kiss, she simply turned away from him and clicked off the lamp on her side of the bed. She knew he was lying, and now he knew she knew it as well.
No sympathy for the dying.
During a visit to the “Breaking Bad” set last summer, Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn joined me for a chat in that very bedroom. They were between scenes, and as the crew set up for a shot in the kitchen, Cranston and Gunn sat beside each other on their TV bed, traded some sarcastic jabs and spoke about playing house.
The following is an edited version of the chat:
Gunn: I think it’s pretty clear at the end of the first season that Skyler, she’s been wondering what’s going on. She knows about the cancer and attributes much of Walter’s behavior to that. But stuff keeps happening that’s odd and she’s got more questions. A lot more questions.
Are you glad to see her grow stronger in Season 2?
Gunn: Yeah! And sometimes it was frustrating and I wanted to jump up and go, “My God! Ask a question, Skyler!” But I’m happy about it because I think she’s really a keen, smart person and people who are married for a while get to kind of know things about each other – unspoken things. And, you know, illness, if that’s presented, you can say “OK, you know what? That’s got to be huge.” So the strange behavior, OK, but then after awhile, if it continues . . .
Are you guys feeling more comfortable with each other as an on-screen couple?
Gunn: Yeah, I’ve never really liked Bryan. [turns to him] Oh hi!
Cranston: True story: I auditioned all the Skylers, and while I didn’t remember her name, when I talked to Vince [Gilligan] after . . .
Gunn: Yes you did. Come on, you Googled . . .
Cranston: . . . Vince said, [busts into his Gilligan impersonation, a higher pitch with a twang] “Well, what do you think?” I said, “I don’t remember her name, but the blond I liked.”
Lot of brunettes, I take it?
Cranston: There were a couple of redheads, I believe a brunette, and like a dishwater blond I think . . .
Gunn: So he said, “That, you know, remarkably blond blond.”
Cranston: But it worked. She just dove right in and it’s always a little odd because it’s a facsimile of a relationship at that point. You don’t know each other, you just met. But if you’ve been doing it awhile and you’re able to just jump in, that’s what we wanted. And what was the first thing I said to you? “I hope you’re sane,” something like that?
Gunn: Yeah, you said, “I hope you’re normal.” I said, “I hope you’re normal.”
[Cranston gets summoned away by the crew]
Anna, where would you like to see this season go?
Gunn: I’d love to see more of who Skyler is in her private moments, in her personal moments that are not necessarily related to the illness of her husband. Because so much of her stuff last year was about concern over Walt. And, you know, I’d really like to see the things that she might be keeping to herself. I’d like to dig deeper into who she is and I’d love to see some different colors in terms of her emotions. I mean, she had the patience of almost a saint last year, she really did. And I think this year we’re going to see her not going down that road.
Did you have discussions with Vince in the off-season?
Cranston [returning]: More like demands. ...
Gunn: Not a lot. To me, I trust the direction he goes in. I think he knows when things need to unravel. But I did have a few thoughts on things and I did express them. He’s really open to them . . . and then he discards them [smiles].
Cranston: In fact, one of his catch phrases when he hears something that he doesn’t like is, “Oh, that’s real interesting!” And that’s when I go, “Oh, he hates it.”
What does he say when he actually likes an idea?
Cranston: He goes, “I like that!” [in Cranston’s impersonation, this sounds like “Eye LIIKE that!”]
Can you point to a note he liked enough to put in?
Gunn: We talked about Skyler having a talent, and I felt strongly that she should sort of have to work at something, or have a passion. And he said, “What would she do?” I just saw her as a writer, the way she expressed herself, the fact that she’s at home – I thought, that would make sense to me. And what was set up in the pilot was the fact that Walt’s working very hard as a teacher and he also has to have a second job at the car wash, so my thing was, in this day and age, if her older son is at school – and yeah, she’s pregnant, but pregnant people work and do stuff all the time – I thought, you know, I want to make sure that it doesn’t seem like Skyler’s at home eating bonbons and doing her nails. So at least it’s in there that she’s trying to do something, even if her line of work isn’t something you can’t always count on. You have to get published as a writer. [note: Skyler ultimately got a job this season, returning to work as an accountant.]
What kind of stuff does Skyler write?
Gunn: Short stories. And I myself am a short story lover so that’s something I want at some point to show up on the bedside table [points to it]. You know, I’ve only got pregnancy books here. So at any rate, I think that’s what she works on. And maybe she has an idea for a novel.
Any ideas on if Skyler were to “break bad,” what she might do?
Gunn: [smiles] Yeah, I really do.
Anything you can share?
Gunn: Nooo [laughs]. Yeah, I do have a lot and I’ve mentioned a few of them to Vince and he said, “Oh, that’s real interesting!” [they laugh]
How much do your characters stay with you? When you leave the set, are you constantly thinking about them?
Cranston: There is a natural digression of character that happens when I take my makeup off, take off these clothes. It seems to shed it, and then I go home and I pick up my personal life. But when you’re alone and you’re reading through a new script – and I like to read a script at night, in quiet – I dream about it, and I welcome the dream, because things do come to me and they seep into me, whether it’s a different way of saying something or whatever. The thing is, playing this out is like reading a good novel. And every week we get to read the next few chapters. You know the feeling when you’re reading a good book and you can’t wait to get home? It’s like a little secret you have with just yourself, and at that moment in time, it’s just you and that novel. We’re playing this out. I too don’t really need or want to know too far into the future, because it could only negatively inform what you’re doing now. You know what I mean? Same thing with researching cancer. You know, that question’s been asked, and I just, I don’t really want to. I want to let my character discover it.
Gunn: And that’s true about reading it. When you first read it it’s so important because it’s where your intuition goes, because right when you’re reading a book, you start creating a vision of a character, and when you’re reading this script, your first instinct, that’s usually the best. Sometimes not, but usually. And then, yeah, things start to crystallize at night when you’re going to bed.
Cranston: For an actor, the better something is written, the less work we have to do because it just naturally comes to you. You don’t have to think, “Well, how am I going to make this real?” You don’t have to worry about that because they’ve done the work, the guide posts are all there, and you just have to go from one thing to the next. It just kind of seeps into you, you know?
Gunn: My daughter was here yesterday, and I think it was the first time that she sort of got it that mom plays this person that’s different. And she says, “Mommy, how do you talk? How do you know what to do?” And I thought about what to say and I said, “You know, I have a story to tell, and I’m just trying to tell the story.”
Cranston: For me, the truth is that [Anna] makes me so unhappy, that this role just comes naturally to me.
-- Josh Gajewski