'Breaking Bad's' Dean Norris on Nailing His Shocking Scene in One Take and His Plea to the Writers (Video)
The actor reveals the very different way his character's death was initially going to happen and why he requested a final phone call with his onscreen wife: "I don't [want to] cause her any more suffering and pain that I have to."
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sunday's episode of Breaking Bad, "Ozymandias."]
Breaking Bad fans said goodbye to Hank (Dean Norris) Sunday in the most eventful episode of the series to date.
For "Ozymandias," which saw Hank killed in cold blood by the Aryan gang, Norris drew from the emotions of saying goodbye to the show and co-star Bryan Cranston.
"It all actually fed back into the loop of the scene because Hank was also saying goodbye to Walt," Norris tells The Hollywood Reporter.
He also knocked out his close-up shots -- in which he talks to Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and Walt -- in just one take.
"I talked to [director] Rian Johnson and I said, 'There's one kind of face he will put up with Walt and another for bad guys, but either way, he knows he's going to die. So let's have three cameras?' " says Norris. "We did some other takes for larger shots, but for close-ups we did it in one take. Rian said, 'OK, that's the way you die on TV. Let's move on!' I got done in half a day."
Norris says Hank's death was initially going to play out over an entire episode, back when it was being worked out by the writers.
"Tom Schnauz, one of our great writers, said 'We're looking to do it so Hank knows he's going to die for the entire episode.' And I asked, 'If that's the case, can we fit in a phone call to my wife [Betsy Brandt]? I can't let her know I'm going to die, but I get one final goodbye to her, then I don't cause her any more suffering and pain that I have to?' " Norris says. "We were all really down for that doing that, but it didn't happen. Though I did get to say goodbye to her in the previous episode."
Find THR's full conversation with Norris below.
I think it's safe to say we're all still recovering from Sunday's night episode of Breaking Bad, "Ozymandias," in which your character, Hank Schrader, is killed. Where and how did you first watch the episode?
I watched it for the first time on Sunday night just prior to doing [AMC's Breaking Bad aftershow] Talking Bad. I watched it in the green room on a computer screen. Then I saw it again Monday night again at a screening party with some Hollywood types and it was a lot more satisfying because I got see and hear peoples' reactions. It was pretty intense!
What was the overall mood?
There was an audible (makes a gasping sound).
And Hank's death happened fairly early into the episode.
Right. And it's interesting, a good year and a half ago, I was talking to Vince [Gilligan] about this whole thing, and he was telling me how it was going to end in that fashion. Tom Schnauz, one of our great writers, said "We're looking to do it so Hank knows he's going to die for the entire episode." And I asked, "If that's the case, can we fit in a phone call to my wife [Betsy Brandt]? I can't let her know I'm going to die, but I get one final goodbye to her, then I don't cause her any more suffering and pain that I have to?" We were all really down for that doing that, but it didn't happen. Though I did get to say goodbye to her in the previous episode.
It was probably shocking enough that it happened the way it did. What was going through your mind filming those final scenes in the desert last winter?
That I was ending the show, that I was saying goodbye to Bryan [Cranston]. It all actually fed back into the loop of the scene because Hank was also saying goodbye to Walt. Also, I did the close-ups for that scene in one take, which is very unheard of. Usually you'd do a couple more. But I talked to [director] Rian Johnson and I said, "There's one kind of face he will put up with Walt and another for bad guys, but either way, he knows he's going to die. So let's have three cameras?" We did some other takes for larger shots, but for close-ups we did it in one take. Rian said, "OK, that's the way you die on TV. Let's move on!" I got done in half a day.
A lot of people may not know you're a Harvard grad and married father of five kids. How has the show changed your life?
It's definitely given me more opportunities! Breaking Bad has always been really big in Hollywood among execs, producers, directors and writers. We started to get the benefit of that. And now, studio execs …
Especially those who wished they'd picked up the show.
Exactly! It's a great Hollywood story: Turned down by everybody, no one wanted to make it. And AMC did it and good for them.
What was your main criterion for choosing your next role?
It was very specific: It couldn't be a cop. (Laughs.) I wanted it to be very different in scope, maybe a comedy? And then Under the Dome ended up fitting the bill -- it was kind of sci-fi, large, intense …
And it had Stephen King.
Yes, and Steven Spielberg, and CBS. I met with all the networks after New Year's. I met with Nina Tassler at CBS at 10 a.m. and by 1 p.m. they'd offered me the role. I read it and said, "Let's go."
What's been the biggest adjustment to acting in a network series?
Actually, part of what they wanted to do is bring the cable experience to network. But there are definitely more cooks! One thing about AMC is that they let Vince basically run the show without any notes. And there are a few more people with a few things to say on this one. But it's crazy -- 20 to 30 million people are watching Under the Dome worldwide, and we are happy when 6 million people are watching Breaking Bad.
What's your relationship like with your fans?
Breaking Bad fans have always been amazingly passionate, and I'm always appreciative. They never just say, "Hey, I like your show." It's like, "This show changed my life." It's great to see that reaction, that you could be on a show that causes that. It's funny, after I (whispering) "died" on the show, I waited a little amount of time before I tweeted some jokey things.
You have a fun Twitter feed.
Yeah, and I tweeted some jokey things and literally everyone was like, "Too soon! Don't joke about it!" Whoa, OK. Sorry! People were very passionate.
If Breaking Bad wins best drama series this Sunday at the Emmys, and you get a chance at the microphone, what would you like to say?
The word "genius" is overused in this business, and it's unfortunate because they should have reserved it for Vince Gilligan. On top of being truly a genius, he's created the greatest show ever made on television. He's also such a good-hearted man -- not saying he doesn't have edge -- but he's a classy gentleman. It's been a delight and honor to have worked with a man like him.