In less than two weeks, on July 15, we’ll be able to talk about the first episode of the final season of AMC’s Breaking Bad or as we like to call it, “the best damn show on television” where meth cooks Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) have no one to answer to. Meanwhile at home, Walter’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) now knows about her husband’s secret life and we can expect Walter’s brother-in-law, DEA Agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is going to feel like he’s never been closer to the biggest and baddest meth producers in the Southwest after the events of the Season 4 finale.
Observing all of the events that have transpired is Skyler’s sister, and Hank’s wife, Marie, played by Betsy Brandt who has a strong connection to two of the forces pulling at Walter’s life, Skyler and Hank. In this three-page interview, I talked with Betsy about the events that led up to this upcoming season, the success of the show, and what to expect in Season 5. A warning to those of you who have not seen Breaking Bad through Season 4, there are spoilers.
So tell me what’s it like seeing the season unfold before your eyes as opposed to the rest of us who have to wait.
Betsy Brandt: I cannot wait for everyone to see Season 5. We used to get outlines before the scripts came out so we knew what was going to happen. At first I wasn’t going to read them; if they need to tell me something, they’ll tell me. What was I going to do, have notes for the writers? Once I started reading them, I couldn’t stop. It’s like reading an amazing book and having to wait for the pages to come out. This season is so fantastic. I’m so glad that AMC did it the way they did it and gave Vince an ending, to write the story and material he wants to write, and make the show that he wants to make.
Did that decision change the atmosphere on the set, did it relax everyone or was there even that tension to begin with?
BB: It’s funny we did this panel the other night at the L.A. Film Festival and I said to (creator) Vince (Gilligan), I remember during season one or it may have been the pilot when Vince said that he saw Breaking Bad going three seasons, I said to him that I’m glad he didn’t. He always wanted it to be true and honest storytelling and that there would be no sudden miracle cure for Bryan’s character just so that we could have nine seasons or whatever. That would not be his style. So I’ve always felt that since season 3 we’ve been on bonus time. [Laughs] It was just never that kind of show that could never end. He’s in a dangerous line of work, if you will. Yes he’s in remission but he’s diagnosed, we all knew he was terminally ill. As Walt has said, that’s how he’s able to do the things that he does.
BB: I’m so excited to see what Comic-Con is all about. I have no idea what to expect, I just know it’s going to be a lot of whatever it is. It’s a very unique situation with the fans; this isn’t the kind of show that a big network gets behind and puts all this money into to make it work. We’re more like “the little show that could.” We were on a new network, we were AMC’s second show, but we had these great fans who enjoy smart television; they’re crazy about the show, character development, and all of the things that make Breaking Bad special, they appreciate. We’re not really large in numbers, but they’re really enthusiastic and love the show. If it weren’t for that I’d be looking for another job. No doubt, I’d be doing something else.
Tweeting is fun to hear what the fans have to say but it’s different when you’re in person. It’s always fun for me to meet our fans. I’m hoping to get at least one marriage proposal! I’m not available, I’m married and have two kids, but it’s always nice to be asked!
What about the good word of mouth spreading?
BB: It just makes me so happy and it says a lot about what the show that Breaking Bad is, and what it will be, even after it’s off the air, but I feel that I meet a lot of people now that are just starting to watch it because they heard so much about it and are either somewhere in the first season or in the middle of seasons 1-3. The fact that we get so much publicity by word of mouth is so flattering.
How gratifying is it to see it start out as a little show that you described to becoming the show every actor wants to be a part of?
Is your mother a fan of Walter?
BB: I just assume that nobody knows who I am and just a few people watch it because that just keeps my life in check, and to stay mentally healthy. [Laughs] It is so surprising to me when we’re lucky enough to go to things like the Emmys that when I see people who I’ve always looked up to and loved, I’m surprised to see how many of them watch the show.
I’m pretty shameless about people who I want to meet. If there’s an opportunity to meet you, I’m going to meet you. I was just beside myself to meet Glenn Close one time and introduced myself to her, “Hi Ms. Close, I’m Betsy Brandt and I’m on Breaking Bad…” and she was so receptive to me. “But you are you,” I’d say, and she’d reply, “We’re crazy about Breaking Bad, and I love your work on the show.” It blows me away every time that happens.
It’s fantastic to be a part of a show where the industry feels that way about it. People you would never guess are fans of the show. My mom was telling me that her friend from church is so excited for July 15th. It’s crazy, we definitely have a certain demographic you would expect us to have, but because the show is what it is, all sorts of people love it.
BB: I don’t know at this point if she is a fan of Walter, you’d have to ask her, but she is a fan of the show. I do think I can speak for her when I say the violence and the drugs are not my mother’s thing, she really does enjoy the writing and character development.
What about you personally, what have you come to like or dislike about Walter.
BB: I feel like even through season four I was okay but in season five, I’m beginning to think, “Yeah, I don’t know if I can root for him like I used to.” As a viewer, Bryan’s amazing, but if I pull myself out of it as much as I can, I still thought that despite all of these horrible things Walt did, he’s still our hero. The end of Season Four (with Brock), and once we get into season five… it’s waning. It’s harder to cheer on Walt.
It is hard. I found myself against Walt so much that I was rooting for Gus for much of Season 4–
I did, because Gus was protecting everyone, he had everyone’s best interest in mind going after the cartel.
BB: Now think about what you just said.
Isn’t that crazy? Walter was so full of himself and selfish, I really did think Gus was the hero and that’s a testament to Giancarlo though.
BB: But that’s what happens. I was on Team Walt so as a viewer I couldn’t get behind Gus in that way. Please don’t misunderstand me, I was totally crazy about that character, but I didn’t want him to win. I figured in season four that they could not continue to co-exist, and I figured one of them had to go. I thought it would be Gus, but I have to tell you that Giancarlo was so good, I really couldn’t see Gus go down.
It was such a great battle between them, but because of that struggle we saw less of Marie’s story with Hank’s recuperation that we got to see so much of in the first half of Season 4.
BB: I loved it and loved working with Dean. I know Marie can be a real pain in the ass, but when the show’s over, it’s going to be really hard for me to say goodbye to her. I love the person we’re getting to see more of. Everything we see now, we saw a little bit of in Season 1 even though it was so short. The intervention scene in the episode, “Gray Matter” was huge for my character because that’s where Marie said, “If Walt doesn’t want to get chemotherapy, don’t pressure him to get chemo. It’s his life, it’s his choice and whatever he chooses, we should support him.” I loved Marie for that.
I threw that baby shower for Skyler at the end of that season, which is a really nice thing to do, but then in typical Marie fashion, I overdress for it, make it about me and serve martinis and then give her a stolen gift, which Skyler almost gets arrested for because she tries to return it. I look back at that and all of them and I feel like we’re just seeing more of them. The seed for who Walt is now was planted in Season 1, we just didn’t know what it was growing into. It’s not as if they’ve become different characters, we just get to see more of them.
Working with Dean looks like it would be a great time.
BB: I so love the relationship between Hank and Marie right from the pilot. I told Dean, that I’m so glad that I’m in this couple, because I see trouble for them. [Laughs] I see struggles and conflict. Right away, I felt Dean and I have great chemistry. I think he’s such a fantastic actor I just love working with him. He’s such a good friend.
Even though you said that the seeds were there from the beginning, I want to consider the theme of transformation, and while it’s mainly about Walt and Jesse’s, all of the characters undergo such growth from what we’re introduced to. What are we ultimately going to see change in Marie?
BB: She’s the type of family member who the harder things get, the better she becomes. I think she’d do anything for her family and to take care of her family and the people she loves. As things grow and progress and become worse for the lack of a better term. I think we’re going to see better things out of her. That’s a guess though. I say that and I really don’t know what’s going to happen at the end. Anything could happen to Marie…