One of the most important components of Breaking Bad is the White family. They give Walter the motivation, or rather the justification for his actions as a crystal meth cook. As Walter builds his own empire in Season 5, he comes home to a wife who knows what he is doing, an infant daughter and teenage son who is still in the dark about his father’s secret life. We caught up with R.J. Mitte who plays Water Jr., Anna Gunn who plays Skyler White, and of course, Bryan Cranston who plays our protagonist, Walter White. on Breaking Bad at Comic-Con on the eve of the Season 5 premiere.
To me, the most compelling story in the White home this season is if Walter Jr. finds out because now Skyler is head deep into this knowledge of this criminal life. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Walt Jr. is entrenched too, so I asked R.J. if this is the big moment within the White household this season.
Mitte: It’s only a matter of time when you live in a house of wolves.
Cranston: WOW! [Mouthing to Gunn silently: “house of wolves”]
Mitte: It’s exciting, I keep referencing Pablo Escobar, but speaking as Walt Jr., when me and my dad are hugging on the show it’s like hugging Pablo.
Cranston: I think you’re right; it’s inevitable. The reason you ask that is because, ‘Ooh, my god, what will happen when he finds out or if he finds out?’ He has to. I’m not going to tell you when and that’s… nnnnnn…[trails off in laughter]
Mitte: C’mon, who doesn’t love their father, who doesn’t love their mother? How far would you go to please your father, to love and be there with your father… at work?
Gunn: Yeah, take your son to work day.
But Hank (Dean Norris) appeared as a hero to Walt Jr. because he’s in a dangerous line of work while his dad was a schlub and but I think it’s interesting to know what Walt Jr.’s opinion would be if he found out what his father was actually doing? Would he think it’s cool?
Mitte: I say it’s up in the air because, yes, this is dangerous and amazing. My dad’s this bad ass! But he is a meth chef. [Gunn mouthed silently to Cranston her approval of the word choice of chef, to which Cranston felt revered] This isn’t a happy drug, this is something that will take people’s lives, and does everyday in this world. Meth isn’t something that people leave on the kitchen counter; this isn’t playing around. I have complete faith in Vince that he’ll bring that to the table.
And as far as Skyler goes, we saw her reluctantly become involved, to trying to reign in Walter’s actions, only witness the horrific transformation of her husband in the crawlspace of her house. I asked Anna if she thought that Skyler is the most psychologically damaged character?
Gunn: I don’t know if at the very end of it if that will be true, but certainly right now, yeah. The turmoil and devastation she feels right now is certainly greater than anybody else at this present time. Jesse has his fair share but it’s on a very different side of things. One of the worst things is that she says to Walt at one point is that you look like the good guy and I look like the bitch mom kicking the poor, dying guy out of the house. She accepts that because she would do anything for her son and daughter but it’s killing her inside and she’s trapped in it at the same time.
Other questions asked by the table: As sloppy as Walt can be as a criminal, is Skyler jealous of what she perceives to be this crime lord side of Walt?
Gunn: I think a lot of what happened through last season was this sense of who was going to take control of this situation. For Skyler, she was saying, ‘this was the way we were going to launder money, we’re going to do it this way,’ and even her decision to do what she did when she finds out about Ted’s situation. I think she sees the metamorphosis and transformation happening in Walt, and as much as she is angry and upset and in disbelief in the myriad of emotions she’s feeling, he is alive in a way that he wasn’t before.
It starts to almost infect her with this same kind of thing. As he started out as this pale milk toasty kind of guy, with a lot of dreams deferred. I think it was the same thing with Skyler, so when she steps up to get involved, that same Heisenberg thing that’s activated in him is now activated in her. But I think it’s more like being infected, because it’s in the household, it’s in the marriage now, and it’s right next to her and starts to unconsciously–for her– awaken the same thing. As bad as it is, she starts to likes some of it. She was just, existing before, paying the bills, and being at home.
Cranston: Anybody who is not living in that hypothetical, which we aren’t as the characters, all of a sudden this money comes in and even if it’s for good reasons, it does pass through your head, ‘College is done. Oh my god, we don’t have to worry about being foreclosed on–
Gunn: I don’t have to make those calls to those credit card companies.
Cranston: Even pragmatic dreams, but dreams still, could be reality if you just turn your cheek? And just accept it and deal with it? I agree, it’s a fun thing to introduce to her character and gives you such color to be able to go, ‘Oh, she’s not so perfect either and is anyone really that pure?’
Cranston on the lessons Walt’s learned from Gus in becoming a drug kingpin:
“There was a lot of mutual respect between Walt and Gus over the last few months. He was already very thorough, but he learned to really think things through and desensitize himself. Walt was sensitive to this whole new world, and was affected by it, emotionally. I think he looked at Gus and saw how he was able to have that veneer, that cover of protection, that didn’t allow him to make those mistakes.”
“The irony is that’s how Walt finally got to Gus. As difficult as it was, he found the Achilles’ heel of Gus and that was his emotions. The reasons he held it so tight, is because he didn’t want anyone to see it. It wasn’t until Saul said (to Walt) that Tio Salamanca and Gus were not friends, that was the trigger. To think, ‘Ah, I thought they were in league with each other, but they’re not, they didn’t like each other.’ That’s what got Walt to thinking, ‘this is the one wedge, the one thing he had on Gus’ and it ultimately brought him to an end.”
Cranston on Walt’s emotions and how because of his diagnosis, Walt lives life without fear?
“I think it’s the opposite of that actually. He was without emotions before; when he was in depression, there was nothing there. He was putting one foot in front of the other and everything was covered over. So his emotions were callused because he wasn’t using them. He loved and knew responsibility, but he can’t help but feel for what he missed with opportunities. Depression is actually a very common thing. A lot of audiences would be able to relate to that. Now all of a sudden, he’s going through it. He has a year to live, but he’s living it. He’s going through every emotion, he’s using every intellectual particle that he has, his physical body is completely involved, and emotions are going. He’s feeling fear, power, greed and avarice and hubris. He’s like a glutton and is going [mimicking shoving food into his mouth] rarr-rarr-rarr. He’s eating it all. He’s expanding. So what you’ll see in this fifth season is him expanding, the breath of his enterprise.”
So what is it that Cranston believes to be what Walter fears the most if anything?
“Something happening to the family dynamic. It’s not uncommon for most men to tell you that they’d rather something happen to them than anybody in their family because that’s what scares men the most and they’re out of control.
How does Walter reconcile with these terrible things do happen to his family?
‘What terrible things,” Craston replied. “They’re making money. [Laughs] For a bright man, he’s not always pragmatic or street smart. And we know people like that, really smart people who may not be able to carry a conversation in social situations. He’s had his dilemmas. The simple plan of cooking crystal meth for the year that I’m probably healthy and give my family the money and die, just spun out of control.
He’s holding a tiger by the tail, and that’s what this whole series has been about and quickly [snapping fingers] get in, get out, stay alive and move. Now that he’s so deep, there’s no thought of turning it around. The twist, this opportunity of Gus dying could have been his out–and he didn’t take it. That to me was indicative of him saying, okay, now I’m the king.
Cranston on who’s a bigger sociopath, Walter White or Tim Whatley (in Seinfeld) but more importantly as an actor, not judging one’s character:
“Wow, they’re all pretty crazy. I play a lot of crazy. Whatley’s got better teeth. It’s funny when I hear that but it’s only when I push back and try to look at it from a whole that you start to look at things from that objective viewpoint. When you’re playing a character, you’re not judging your character. You can’t be in judgment, because if you are, the very act of doing that, you’re outside of it. You’re reflecting in and thinking what you shouldn’t be doing. Walt doesn’t have the luxury of reflection. He’s got to go keep moving forward. At any given time something else is going to happen that he’s got to deal with and react to.”
Cranston on internalization and making sense of what Walt is doing upon seeing the scripts:
“Sometimes an action or reaction is more difficult than others, and especially on this kind of journey, so you have to process it, talk it through, and perhaps sit with it for a while. If that doesn’t work you’re bringing it up to a fellow actor or director or Vince. Unfortunately he and the writers are in Burbank, CA and we’re in Albuquerque, NM– fortunately issues don’t come up that often, but even if it’s for clarification, it was alright. You work those things out and then you have to process those things out and make it right for you. I don’t think an actor can really continue with something until it finds a place. Then you go, ‘Ah I got it! I got it!’ Then you can play that. But if it’s not finding a place, if it’s still outside of you, you are going to act, and you’re going to get caught acting because it’s not inside.”
• Cranston will direct the first episode of the second set of eight episodes beginning in November. This will be the third episode he’s directed (he also helmed 201: Seven Thiry-Seven and 301: No Mas) and can only do it heading into production with a week to prepare and not in the middle of the season. “The most important week for that director is that prep week, if you do a lot of work then it makes your shoot week much easier.”
• Will Walt ever be satisfied, Cranston replied, “It’s an elusive plateau.”