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According to three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, it was the summer of 1978 on Coney Island when his alter-ego Walter White had his biggest turning point — to eat or teach?
“He ate 38 and a half hot dogs and thought about entering the professional eating circuit,” joked Cranston, who appeared with Breaking Bad castmates Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt and Bob Odenkirk at Friday’s Television Critics Association press tour panel. (Dean Norris, who’s appearing in CBS’ Under the Dome, was unable to attend.)
“Hey, don’t ruin the ending!” quipped series creator Vince Gilligan.
Of his Saul Goodman, Odenkirk said, “He’s from Chicago and thinks anyone west of there is easy to manipulate.” Gilligan also addressed the rumored prequel-spinoff featuring Goodman: “It’s my fervent wish for it to happen, and I’ve been working with [Breaking Bad writer] Peter Gould to try and figure out what a Saul series would entail. I really hope it happens. It’s for powers bigger than me to figure out.”
Mitte, who plays Cranston’s teenage son, Walter Jr., said he channeled his own history with cerebral palsy to bring the condition of his character to life. “People don’t realize you have disease that affects your muscles,” he said, “and I really tried to use this.”
Brandt, who will next appear as Michael J,. Fox’s wife in the star’s new NBC comedy, addressed the lingering mystery surrounding her and Gunn’s characters’ personal histories. “What happened with our parents?” she asked, laughing.
“I always felt that these two didn’t have a happy childhood, so they had to stick together,” agreed Gunn.
As for the private back story Paul created for his “bitch”-spouting Jesse Pinkman, Paul said he suspected Jesse was always “looking for father figure, and found that in Walt.”
“He also always wanted to protect kids because he felt he never had that,” he added.
The groundbreaking AMC series’ final TCA panel also gave Gilligan and company an opportunity to reflect on the crucial push critics gave the risky series early in its six-year run. They also discussed some of the unexpected trajectories experienced by a few characters early on in the writers’ room.
“All these actors added immensely onion-like layers of wonderfulness, but I do think Dean Norris’ character in particular served a limited function at the beginning,” said Gilligan of Norris’ cop character Hank Schrader. “He was kind of a frat boy, a mechanical construct. But Dean elevated him…. If you let folks in front and behind the camera add their personality and intellect, wonderful things derive from that.”
As for Walt’s notorious journey from “Mr. Chips to Scarface,” Gilligan admitted that descriptor may ultimately not be accurate when the finale is fully realized. “I would say now that Walt’s road to hell was paved by good intentions,” he said. “It’s a little like fame for some people: Does it turn people into creeps or ultimately reveal who they really are?”
Gunn addressed the frequent feedback from fans that her character Skyler — Walt’s beleaguered wife-turned-partner-in-crime — was ultimately the villain. “People seem to put their dreams-deferred into Walter White and identified with him,” she said. “I think you had to know less about her to see who he really was.”
Of the intense online fan chatter surrounding Breaking Bad in its final weeks — the first of the final eight episodes airs Aug. 11 — Gilligan came clean with his coping mechanism.
“The series would never exist without critics or fans, and I feel guilty when I say this, but I don’t spend any time looking up Breaking Bad or myself online,” he said. “I’ve never Googled it!”
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