With its go-for-broke storytelling and gut-wrenching twists, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” can be a mighty hard habit to kick. That’s why hundreds of die-hard fans (us included) packed into a movie house last night at the LA Film Festival, eager to hear from the show’s creator Vince Gilligan and the cast, including Emmy winners Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul — and maybe even pick up a few details about the hotly-anticipated fifth (and final) season, set to begin airing next month.
But no spoilers here, we’re afraid: Gilligan and the tight-lipped cast didn’t even let a hint of a Season 5 plotline slip out. (Well, except for co-star Bob Odenkirk, aka slimy lawyer Saul Goodman, who joked that after transforming into a full-fledged villain over the past four years, Cranston’s Walter White quietly goes back to teaching high-school chemistry this season: “You know, the current state of education in America is such a rich area. And it’s wonderful; you get to learn about chemistry…”)
But even if we didn’t get any Season 5 scoop, we did hear plenty of great stories about the process of making one of TV’s best dramas. Here are some of the tidbits we picked up:
- It’s hard to fathom now, three Emmy wins for Best Actor later, but Sony and AMC initially weren’t too keen on Cranston playing the role of mild-mannered cancer patient-turned-formidable drug lord Walter White. As Cranston remembers it, they asked Gilligan incredulously, “You want the silly dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ to play Walter White? You’ve gotta be kidding.” (Lucky for us, he wasn’t.) Cranston also tossed off one of the best descriptions of “Breaking Bad” we’ve heard yet, likening it to “a rollercoaster in the dark, where you don’t really know when the twists and turns will come.” (That’s why we love it!)
- Were you shocked by the final shot of Season 4, which revealed that Walter was behind the near-fatal poisoning of a young boy? You’re in good company; so was Cranston. While discussing how informed the actors are about the fates of their characters, Cranston described reading the script for the Season 4 finale, turning to the last page with that final zoom-in on the lily of the valley plant, and crying out: “Ahhhh! Oh my God! I did do it!” Yes, you did, Bryan — and we can’t wait to see what you do next.
- Gilligan and Cranston’s working relationship actually began a decade before “Breaking Bad,” when Cranston guest starred on a 1998 episode of “The X-Files” written by Gilligan. Cranston played a bigoted redneck whose head would explode if Mulder didn’t drive him westward at 80 miles per hour — and Mulder wasn’t sure he was worth saving. Cranston was impressed by the ethical dilemma that Gilligan’s script presented: “I thought it was brilliant.” So ten years later, when the pilot script for “Breaking Bad” crossed his desk, he recognized Gilligan’s name and dove right in: “I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting… and that says a lot.”
- Cranston’s partner in crime, Aaron Paul, revealed his toughest moment playing foul-mouthed meth cook Jesse Pinkman: waking up to discover his love, Jane, lying dead beside him in Season 2. “That was one of the hardest scenes I’ve ever had to endure,” Paul says, adding that he “went to some pretty dark, depressing places.” But Paul conceded that Jane “turned into the worst influence possible” for Jesse — to which, in a perfectly “Breaking Bad”-esque moment of dark humor, Cranston added, “See, that’s what I thought!”
- Odenkirk talked about his shift from doing comedy on “The Ben Stiller Show” and “Mr. Show” to landing a supporting role (albeit a funny one) on a TV drama. “There’s a lot of flexibility in a comedy script… usually, things get shortened,” he said. “So when I first got these scripts, I kept thinking, ‘These monologues are just gonna end up being two lines, so I won’t memorize them.’” He also sees Saul as the most self-serving character on the show: “My character, more than anybody, doesn’t give a s— what other people want. Every relationship [to him] is, ‘How do I get money out of this moment?’”
- Gus Fring may be gone, but the man who played him – Giancarlo Esposito – is definitely not forgotten. The rest of the cast raved about Esposito’s chilling performance as the cold-blooded drug kingpin (which, if there’s any justice in this world, will earn him an Emmy this fall). Paul remembers the sweet-natured Esposito would “sit around and do yoga and meditate on set. He’s the kindest guy; he just talks about peace and love and energy. And then he turns into Gus Fring, and it’s terrifying.”
- Fans of Gus’s laconic henchman Mike (Jonathan Banks) can breathe easy: He’s definitely back for Season 5. Banks couldn’t attend last night’s panel, but Cranston confirmed he was shooting scenes earlier this week. Gilligan raved about Banks’ performance on the ‘80s crime drama “Wiseguy,” and said he was thrilled when Banks joined the “BB” cast. And Odenkirk added that Banks “scares the hell out of me,” joking about the actor’s “dead mackerel eyes.” Yeah, say that to his face, Bob.
Season 5 of “Breaking Bad” premieres Sunday, 7/15 at 10 PM on AMC.