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Bryan Cranston Talks New Season of Darker, More Intense 'Breaking Bad'

by Kim Potts, posted Jul 14th 2011 7:00PM
Bryan CranstonSeason 4 of 'Breaking Bad' premieres this weekend (Sun., July 17 at 10PM ET on AMC), and without spoiling a bit of jaw-dropping action in the season opener, we'll just tell you that the episode is called 'Box Cutter.' It picks up right where Season 3 left off and the jaw-dropping part isn't even the resolution of what happened when Jesse pulled that trigger ...

Yep, stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul -- and of course, series creator Vince Gilligan and the rest of the show's fantastic cast -- continue to turn out one of the best, most intense series on TV.

AOL TV talked to three-time Emmy winner Cranston about what lies ahead for meth-cookin' Walt, his partner Jesse, Walt's wife Skyler and Walt's new nemesis, Gus, as well as the 'Malcolm in the Middle' star's equally-thriving big-screen career.

Hey, Bryan. So, I've watched the first few episodes of the new season, and ...
Well, we certainly don't let anybody off the hook, do we?

No, not at all. So much so that 'Karma' could be the show's subtitle.
Yeah. I mean, truly, it is that. It's like we promised, from the very beginning, that this show is going ... you're going to see change. Just like in the pilot episode when Walt says, "What is chemistry? It's actually the study of matter. Change is what it truly is. It's the study of change." And what we're seeing is these characters change, the plot changes. It just goes through and it takes an audience to invest. You can't be a simple observer on our show. You really have to be invested. And I can only imagine that someone who has never seen the show, if they saw the first episode of our fourth season, they'd go, "What the hell? What? Oh my god, why? What's he doing, and why?"

Bryan Cranston Aaron PaulBut for those who were along for the ride from the very beginning, what we promised them is not that they're going to continue to like (Walter) or support me, but that I will be honest to them, with them. That this is what's happened to this man and these are the choices that he's made, because of these specific conditions in his life. We're going to investigate not only the physical danger, but emotional. He's been seduced. For the first time in his life, he feels greed and avarice and his ego is examined, and it's not very pretty.

At this point for Walter, is it more about greed for the money or just that he finally feels like he has control?
I think what's happened is that he doesn't know. I think he was seduced, and he didn't see it coming. I mean, this was a simple plan. He's a man who's middle‑aged, who is depressed because of missed opportunities in his life. He's got to have a couple jobs to take care of his family, because he has a special needs son. He finds out he's got terminal lung cancer, and he doesn't want to die this way. He doesn't want to leave illness as his legacy and have his wife empty his bedpan, and then he still leaves her penniless. So the simple plan is, in effect, for the first time in my life, I'm going to take a risk. I'm going to be selfish and make money by doing what I know. I know chemistry. So that, even, is circumstantial. I always say that if he was a mathematician, he would've probably figured out a system of counting cards. Which actually became part of the storyline, in a false way. And then this simple plan just explodes and is out of control. It's like a wildfire that started with this guy lighting matches and then of a sudden, he can't control it.

Do you think people still empathize with Walter at this point? It's getting harder, obviously, because of some of his choices. But the good guy is still in there, he still very much cares about his family.
It is getting harder. And I think that's the way I want to play it, and that's the way I've talked with Vince [Gilligan, 'Breaking Bad' creator] about playing that, is that I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I think that there was probably something in Adolf Hitler that he was sensitive about. I don't think ... I just don't believe that any human being is that one‑dimensional. "I hate, and I will kill, and therefore this is who I am." But, you know, maybe Adolf Hitler loved puppies. I have no idea.

But it seems to me that human nature would demand more dimension than that. And certainly in our story, I don't think it's mutually exclusive for [Walt] to be able to do this one thing and be able to then kill someone out of what he may feel is necessity, and then be gentle and tender with his daughter and feel true love.

He also seems to still have some fatherly feelings towards Jesse, no?
He does, and I think it's despite his better judgment. I think it surprised him when he first felt that a couple seasons ago. [But] I think Walt feels the same way the audiences feel. You look at this kid, who, for all rights, you shouldn't feel that way about him. He's a high school dropout, a drug dealer, a drug abuser, a guy who's only looking for the shortcut. He's not very bright. And we're supposed to like this guy? And yet we do! And I think Walt feels the same way. He almost regretfully feels for him.

In the new season, Skyler is embracing the entire situation with Walt and how he's making money a lot more. Is that her getting a little taste of greed herself, or is she simply making the best of a bad situation?
I think it is. When she found out what I was doing, it was all lemons. She had a choice. Either turn me in ... and, you know, she's still a mom. What would this do to my son and daughter? We'd have to move. And she had to really think about it. And it is true, Walt's going to die in another year and we will need money. Maybe it's not so bad, you know? And it's like, "My son does need physical therapy, and I have been having a hard time getting back." She was a writer, you know, and did some work and that's difficult now, so, "Oh my god, what am I going to do?" What is usually left for parlor game conversation -- "What would you do for a million dollars?" -- and remains in the hypothetical is now very real to Skyler. It's right here. She's touching the money. And all she has to do is look the other way and just accept it, and she'll have money for her family for the rest of her life. And that temptation is there.

Skyler and Walt Breaking BadDoes that mean reconciliation for Walt and Skyler might be possible now?
I think Walt feels and hopes that there might be. Certainly it has more of a chance for that if she's on board with what I'm doing. And she seems to be coming on board with what I'm doing. So now I'm thinking, "Well ... I didn't expect this." But now she can't point the finger at me. For all of those months that I was secretive and lying and she was catching me and I wasn't telling her where I was and all these things, now she knows. And now that she knows and now that she's coming onboard ... if she's onboard ... it's like, once you're pregnant, you're pregnant. It's not, "I'm just a little bit pregnant." You're pregnant. In for a dollar, in for a dime. So, yes, it's a possibility. In fact, there is some dance that we start doing during this fourth season. We start trying to figure out, "Where are we going? Are we going to talk about this openly? What are we doing?" And she turns out to be a sage person to have this discussion with. Because she has more business acumen than Walt does.

How much higher are the stakes going to get for Walt and Jesse and Walt's family in season four?
How much can you stand?

Yes, that's the question ... [Laughs]
Well, I can tell you that it doesn't get easier. The components all come together. It's between Gus and Walt. It becomes this high‑level chess match. And Hank gets involved. Skyler gets involved and Jesse gets ... I mean, it's like everything twists tighter and tighter, and we cross more and more of those lines. That's the premise that we've set, if you think back and listen to what Vince Gilligan has said, about how we're going to change Walt from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That's the promise, and the other promise is that he has terminal cancer. So his clock is ticking. He's got to do this now. There is no time to wait. We're going to hold true to that premise and present the story. To me, it's not about continuing to try to get the audience to like him. No. That's gone. The only thing that we are focused on, and deeply invested in, is to tell this man's story honestly. That it feels real and plausible, as big as it gets, as incredibly complex as it gets.

Walt and Gus Breaking BadAnd if the audience says, "You know, this show is much more violent than it started out to be," well, that's because it's honestly, now, in the world of a more violent nature. Walt didn't see it coming, because he was ill‑prepared for this. He was a school teacher. There's not a lot of violence in that. But now he's stepping on toes with the cartel, with other drug dealers. That's a violent world. So the show had to grow and open up to that level. It had no choice. To continue the honesty, that's the goal.

I can honestly say, it doesn't get any better for Walt. It goes into different places. There are moments of rest. And then it just ... then it's like he's on the run again.

That brings up something that I've always wanted to ask you. The tension is so great in the storylines, and for viewers, it's so nice to have those occasional bits of dark humor. Are those good for you, too, and the other cast members? Are they a welcome relief to you when they pop up in the scripts?
It is. I think in all good writing, no matter what medium you're in -- in newspaper, in any kind of journalism, any kind of artistic writing and theater, whatever -- all good drama has a dose of levity. A good dose of levity. And all good comedies have a dose of sincerity and drama to them. Because those are the moments that cause you to invest in those characters. You keep asking and offering the audience a chance to invest in the characters, and the experience will be richer by it. Your ride will be more important to you.

Bryan Cranston EmmysWith three Emmys for 'Breaking Bad,' and all the success you had before that with 'Malcolm in the Middle,' your TV career is obviously thriving, and your upcoming movie line-up is packed, too. Is it true that you're filming both 'Rock of Ages' and the 'Total Recall' remake right now, at the same time?

Is it nice to be able to change it up a bit, particularly since you're playing this incredibly intense character on TV?
For me, it's everything. That's everything. I mean, when I did seven years of 'Malcolm in the Middle,' I did a play right after and had a year when I was directing some and kind of looking around for things, and then 'Breaking Bad' started. To have that kind of 180‑degree difference in the style and the tone and the character was just a godsend. Because how many opportunities does an actor have? If you are successful and get one show? Oh my god, you've hit the lottery. To have two is ridiculous. And then to be able to then branch out and do other characters on films and hopefully stage at some point soon? I don't know. I don't know why this is happening to me. All I can say is, if you believe in past lives, that I must've been abused in a past life. [Laughs] For someone to say, "You know what? Bryan, this life, he's got to have something good happen for him." So I don't know why, but I am very grateful.

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Aliceann Marquiess

Best show EVER.

July 16 2011 at 3:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What a horrible waste of a comedic genius. Doing a show just to win awards. Bryan Cranston should get back to making people laugh. It's a gift, and he's wasting it on this trash.

July 15 2011 at 9:34 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to devinmcmusters's comment

"Trash" that has won multiple Emmys, was voted the #1 show on TV by many prominent TV critics across the country, and is already considered by many to be if not the greatest drama in TV history, then at least at its Mount Rushmore. It's also show that has supremely good acting, very well written and delves into some great themes lot karma and moral consciousness in a very respectable way. I'm sorry, but "trash" is not how you would describe Breaking Bad.

July 15 2011 at 3:47 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to marjaremek's comment

Trash for people who love the drug culture. I bet you light one up every time you watch it.... Maybe we can get you on Intervention.

July 15 2011 at 4:19 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down

If some of you haters would actually watch the show, instead of hearing its about a meth cooker and be like "OMG, that's so baaad", you would see that it doesn't glorify drugs in any way. It in fact does the opposite, and shows how terrible a toll they can take on a life, no matter what angle they have with drugs (cooker, dealer, abuser, even DEA agents). That's actually what I feel the show is all about, the huge negative impact drugs have. So STFU, Cranston is playing the role of his lifetime, and go watch Disney or something...

July 17 2011 at 10:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

it may be about drugs and violence but it's interesting to me. I like the show and I hope they'll have a few more seasons before they decide to pull it off the air

July 15 2011 at 2:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Shows like this are disgusting.You make a low life scum ******* drug dealer into some kind of cult hero. The misery and pure hell the families go threw not just the user from low life dirt like this show portrays is beyond filth.Lower than whale crap.

July 14 2011 at 11:16 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to frogmn171's comment
sal the fish

Great show, Can`t wait for the new ones.

July 14 2011 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There is no better series on T.V. I cannot wait to see new episodes of Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston has come a long way from Malcolm in the Middle.

July 14 2011 at 8:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Why is the closed captioning discriminatory against the deaf? Several words are deleted from the captioning! Some words deleted: Balls, Fiddlesticks, Crap, God, Hell,****, Jesus, Butt to name a few. THIS IS A VIOLATION OF FCC RULES NOT TO CAPTION EVERYTHING THAT IS SPOKEN! ! ! ! ! !

July 14 2011 at 7:00 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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