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by Alison Willmore
August 8, 2012 2:31 PM
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Rian Johnson on 'Breaking Bad': 'Directing Walter White is Surreal on a Level That Directing a Movie Will Never Be'

Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn in 'Breaking Bad' Ursula Coyote/AMC
Rian Johnson, the filmmaker behind "Brick," "The Brothers Bloom" and the upcoming "Looper," is also the director of this past Sunday's terrific episode of "Breaking Bad," in which Walter White (Bryan Cranston) celebrated his 51st birthday with a brutal fight with his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) about the future of his family and his newly refreshed career as a drug manufacturer and dealer.

Indiewire's Jay Fernandez got some details about Johnson's involvement with the AMC series while talking with him about "Looper," which will open this year's Toronto International Film Festival, for an interview that will be published later this month. Johnson, who directed season three's bottle episode "Fly," explained that the "Breaking Bad" folks "were kind enough to let me back."

How did you get involved with that?

Years ago, when they were still in season two, Vince Gilligan had seen “Brick,” and he just got in touch. I was off making “Bloom,” so I couldn’t do it. But we stayed in touch, and when season three rolled around, it was still before the show had really taken off into the stratosphere popularity-wise, it was still kind of a curiosity. So I was luckily able to slip in there and do one.

READ MORE: The 10 Greatest 'Breaking Bad' Opening Sequences

"You’re stepping into a world that you know and that you’re a fan of and you’re deciding where to place the camera."
Aw man, it’s so good. It’s cool just showing up on the set to shoot a show that you’re a huge fan of. There’s nothing cooler than that. Actually, directing Walter White is surreal on a level that directing a movie will never be surreal, because you’re creating all that stuff while you’re directing the movie. With this, you’re stepping into a world that you know and that you’re a fan of and you’re deciding where to place the camera. It’s pretty unbelievable.

The show has developed such a specific aesthetic. What’s your approach when you’re stepping into that, when you’re setting up scenes and structure for something that’s so intensely loved? It seems like there’d be some pressure too, especially now as opposed to season three.

Somewhat, yeah. But at the same time, you’re just trying to tell the story visually the way you know how, and luckily, the visual style I tend to lean back on fits pretty well with what Vince and Michael Slovis, the DP on the show, and the other directors have fallen into.

Visually, what they’ve been doing is not that far afield from my visual style. But you also do cater it to what the show needs and what the show is, because you’re there to serve the show. You just have a great piece of writing and a style you’re a fan of, and you just try to serve that the best you can. That’s something that’s actually really fun for me.

Where does the show rank in your mind in terms of how you think of TV?

Oh, it’s at the top. I’m biased because I know those guys, but I think it’s the top of the heap right now. And there’s so much good TV going on right now. I loved this last season of “Mad Men,” I thought it was fantastic. “Game of Thrones” is just incredible, what they pull off every week. There’s so much good stuff out there. And I heard “Homeland” is really good.

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