Last week, the Museum of the Moving Image unveiled a new exhibit entitled “From Mr. Chips to Scarface: Walter White’s Transformation in ‘Breaking Bad’,” featuring props and costumes from the award-winning, hit show. To celebrate the opening, the museum hosted a talk last night with show creator Vince Gilligan, moderated by PBS host Charlie Rose. Throughout the night, Gilligan discussed his inspirations, appreciation for the massive collaborations throughout the years, and winding the series down to its approaching end.
Regarding the final eight episodes, scheduled to begin August 11th, Gilligan said that they’ve ended things in a way that pleased everyone in the writer’s room. Over the years, he added, he had become concerned about the show passing its prime. “I did not want it to be that show where people say, ‘Aw, that used to be great, is that still on?'” Gilligan revealed that the finale of the series is neither happy nor sad, and that it ends “properly”
Here are 10 more highlights from “Making ‘Bad’: An Evening with Vince Gilligan.”
Where the idea for the show came from. Gilligan was thinking of what to do next as his gig on “The X-Files” was wrapping up. He had read a number of articles on incompetent parents whose meth labs had lead to the deaths of children either through exposure to harmful fumes or explosions. Gilligan described himself as a boring, law-abiding citizen but that, “It’s fun to write about things you wouldn’t otherwise do.” And audiences, he said, “love to watch fictional characters we’d run from in real life.”
Gilligan had Bryan Cranston in mind for Walt from the beginning. When Bryan Cranston read the script for “Breaking Bad,” he reportedly insisted that his agent get him on the show. Little did he know that Gilligan had been thinking of him even before he wrote the pilot. “It was a mutual love fest,” Gilligan said. Cranston had acted in an episode of “The X-Files” as a particularly creepy criminal. When Gilligan saw Cranston on “Malcolm in the Middle,” he was surprised at his range. “I didn’t know he could be funny!” Gilligan said. Cranston perfectly embodied the “Mr. Chips to Scarface” idea that Gilligan was shooting for.
Aaron Paul’s on set surprise. Originally, Aaron Paul’s character Jesse was going to be killed off by the end of the first season, but Gilligan loved Paul’s performance so much that he decided to keep the character around. He thought, “This kid is fantastic — I’m not getting rid of him,” Gilligan said during the panel. Gilligan then relayed the story about how he thought it would be a good idea to tell the original plan to Paul while on set shooting. “I was telling him what I thought was a flattering story,” but Paul’s face dropped, Gilligan said. “He got very nervous.” Luckily, Gilligan got around to telling Paul that his job was safe.
The network on which “Breaking Bad” almost ended up. “Breaking Bad” was initially bought and developed for the FX network. At some point during the process however, things changed. FX only had room for one new pilot that season, and since they were attempting to make the network more female friendly, the spot was going to “Dirt,” the Courtney Cox tabloid drama. But Gilligan admitted that he would have made the same decision if he were in their shoes. “No one has a crystal ball,” Gilligan said. “Dirt” was ultimately cancelled, and “Breaking Bad” found it’s way to AMC.
Setting the series in Albuquerque. Gilligan originally set the show in southern California, admitting that he wanted to be able to drive back to his own house every night. But the studio came along and proposed Albuquerque, New Mexico because of the tax rebate incentives.
Now, Gilligan says, “Albuquerque is as important a character as any,” citing what he called astounding clouds and the refreshing scene. “You can’t put a camera anywhere in California and see something new,” Gilligan said. He called Albuquerque the “missing element” that inspired a post-modern western feel that mimicked John Ford or Sergio Leone films.
When Walt official broke bad. Fans of the show debate back and forth over when Walter White officially went bad. In Gilligan’s opinion, it’s season one, episode four, when he turns down the offer of financial help from wealthy friends. “When he says ‘thank you, no,’ is when he got interesting,” Gilligan said.
How much of Gilligan is in Walt. When moderator Charlie Rose asked how much of Gilligan’s personality was put into Walter White, Gilligan confessed that it was more than he’d like to admit. Though Gilligan was quick to clarify that he’d never used meth. “I took too many Sudafed one time,” he joked to a laughing crowd, “and I did not like the feeling.”
Super Walt. If Walter White were a superhero, Gilligan said, his superpower would be his lies. Gilligan noted that White’s ability to lie and have anyone believe him was his greatest power and what got him out of most of his scrapes. Though, Gilligan added, Walt’s most gullible victim is himself.
A few regrets. While Gilligan said he had absolutely zero creative regrets regarding the show, one thing he does regret is not directing more episodes and being on set more. He especially enjoyed directing episodes that were visually heavy and lacking in dialogue; those that were more cinematic in their wordless communication. “I was overjoyed when I could cut a line of dialogue,” Gilligan said.
Charlie Rose will guest star. Towards the end of the night, Rose inadvertantly announced that he would be acting in the penultimate episode of the show when he asked Gilligan who came up with the idea to include him. A surprised Gilligan then shouted “Spoiler alert!” Sounds like Rose wasn’t supposed to let that one slip. “The checks still in the mail, right?” Rose asked.