'Breaking Bad's' Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston Pen Mutual Fan Letters
For The Hollywood Reporter's Rule Breakers 2013 issue, the pair, photographed together, trade notes on what drove the AMC hit to record ratings.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Bryan Cranston on Vince Gilligan: Vince started this journey on a whim -- a fantasy, really: What if someone lost everything, bought an RV, went to the desert, started cooking meth and became a drug dealer? He then took this crazy, ridiculous germ of an idea, expanded upon it and let it grow in a petri dish and it became this [metaphorically] cancerous thing. Suddenly, he had something wonderful and dangerous.
I watched Vince as he tried to wrap his arms around this beast of a story; you didn't know where it was going. It could kill him at any moment. But he dove in, head-first. If you analyzed it now, it would seem pretty foolish. Friends should have told him, "Don't do it! Don't do it! No one is going to buy this." On top of it all, Vince is a man with no firsthand experience with drugs or killing people. When I tell fans, "No, no, Vince is straightlaced," they can't believe it. Deep down, there has to be a crazy alien monster. There's gotta be something!
But he truly lives vicariously through the characters in his head. It was the experience of working with Vince that allowed me to embrace Walter White as he was breaking the rules. It allowed me to say, "You know what, why not? Vince is doing it." Walt is the authentic manifestation of Vince's demented mind. And that, to me, breaks all the rules.
Vince Gilligan on Bryan Cranston: It's funny, the only time I worked on Breaking Bad by myself was when I wrote the pilot. Sure, I had ideas for where the story might go, but honestly I've forgotten them all by now. It wasn't until I had a relationship with Bryan and really got to know him that I could see all the possibilities.
Bryan didn't give just a "performance" in the show -- he was the embodiment of Walter White. Even as a nonactor, I can say it's tough to not want to be liked onscreen and not want to be likable. It's a basic human desire. But Bryan never tried to soften the character, not even one time. There was no "What if Walt were just a little nicer to Jesse in this scene?" or "What if he didn't drive such a hard bargain with these drug dealers?" He always had courage. That's what we all expect and hope to get from actors, but many fear that people will dislike them for the character they're playing. This never bothered Bryan for a minute.
I'm pretty boring -- I never intentionally break rules. I think that's what most interested me about Walter White. So, as an experiment, I wanted to start the series with this nice, likable guy, and then, bit by bit, make him less so. Ironically, that's the opposite of what happened. Walt remained likable throughout. People would tell me, "He's doing terrible things, but I can't stay mad at Walt!" This is due to Bryan: He never vacillated, he never got scared. He just went for it, 150 percent.
Photographed by Austin Hargrave