Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Vince Gilligan on the Breaking Bad Season 3 Finale
Walt and Jesse meet with the creator of this groundbreaking series to discuss their immanent future
If you thought the last few episodes of Breaking Bad were shocking, you haven't seen anything yet. The powerful season three finale Episode 3.13: Full Measure promises to be a life-altering game changer for all involved. With Detective Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) finally out of the hospital, and Jesse (Aaron Paul) on the run after Walt (Bryan Cranston) brutally decimated two rival drug dealers with his car, Gus "The Chicken Man" Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) right-hand man Mike Jonathan Banks is in hot pursuit and looking to kill. It falls firmly on Walt's shoulders to negotiate a bargain with Gus, which finds him concocting a disturbing plan that will provide for both his and Jesse's safety. Which of course, means the return of Heisenberg!
We recently met up with series' stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, as well as series creator Vince Gilligan, to discuss the upcoming Season three finale (which airs this Sunday at 10/9 pm Central on AMC) as well as season four and the future of the characters. Here's what they had to say:
What percentage of the Breaking Bad budget goes to replacing the windshields in all of the vehicles?
Vince Gilligan: That is a good question. It has to be a huge percentage. That has turned into a running gag, hasn't it? We didn't intend for that to happen at the beginning. There was no long-term plan to keep breaking Walt's windshield. But it sure does happen a lot. We keep the tape on there to remind everybody.
Aaron Paul: You love the tape.
This has been a fantastic season, especially for Jesse. Aaron, you really soared with Jesse trying to go clean, going at it alone. Getting his new girlfriend's brother killed by one of his associates. Can you talk about adapting your performance to meet each of Jesse's challenges in life?Aaron Paul: I thought I had a grasp of who this kid was by the second season. I had an idea about where he was going before we started the third season. But as always is the case, we went in the complete opposite direction. It was a little tough. Now Jesse is convinced that he is officially the bad guy. He has all of this guilt on his shoulders. He is making a valiant effort to stay on a clean and sober path. It's like playing a different character within the character itself. Which presents a different challenge. But its so much fun to play.
Last season, you had the plane crash, and continuing into this season, the storylines seem to center around cars. Not just the violence, but also with Walt Jr. getting his driver's license. Is this a deliberate choice? Did it happen organically?
Vince Gilligan: I think its because cars are cheaper, and we blew our budget on last year's airplane. This is an interesting question. I hadn't thought about that myself. Perhaps there is a unifying theme with cars. I hate to say it wasn't intentional. As far as Walt Jr. goes, as with any young man or woman at that age, he would start getting a driver's license. I knew we needed to start dealing with that at a certain point. Do you guys have any thoughts on that?
Aaron Paul: I just hope that Jesse gets the Mach 1 Fastback next season.
Bryan Cranston: It does raise a question about exploring what Walt is going through in his changing attitude. And his ego getting involved in this. He is getting seduced by this criminal behavior. The fact that he has a pocket full of money means he might go out and splurge on some fancy little thing. Right, Vince?
Vince Gilligan: We might in season four, yeah. Walt is making fifteen million a year now.
Maybe the cars represent Walt being more in control of his life?
Bryan Cranston: Okay! Let's go with that.
Vince Gilligan: I like that. That is very insightful. I would be disingenuous if I said the running car theme was on purpose. But it's for the people who make shows to make them. And for the people that watch them to interpret them and tell the folks who made them what, indeed, they were talking about. I really believe that. There is so much that we do on the show, that is best interpreted by an audience. Perhaps not by us. I think this is a very interesting take on this subject matter.
Aaron, what do you think that says about your car?
Aaron Paul: I don't know.
Vince Gilligan: He had that cool, immature-ish, bouncing Monte Carlo in season one. And season two. Then you got a more grown-up, staid Toyota Hatchback. Perhaps that says something about growing up a little bit.
Aaron Paul: That is very, very true.
Bryan Cranston: Let's go with that!
This season finale has a very definitive cliffhanger. Do you know where you go from here?
Vince Gilligan: That is a very good question, and I am very nervous. It is a very definitive ending for a season. It is ending with a bang, both literally and figuratively. It is a very exciting, yet scary prospect for my writers and myself to proceed after that scene with Jesse. I would imagine that Jesse's life is going to change very drastically. For the most part, we try to write in a very improvisational jazz sort of a sense. We have a small idea about what it is that we want to do, but we stay very loose. We let the characters tell us what they want. What they desire. And what it is they fear. It stays open. The story is aquatic, and it proceeds from there. There will be no different type of scenario as we launch into season four. Winging it sounds a little loose and a little glib. But that's what we do week in and week out. The characters tell us were to go, and we will continue on that path.
Do you have a theme in mind for next season? Or not at all?
Vince Gilligan: The theme of a season is something my writers and I tend to nail down during the first three or four weeks in our writing room at the beginning of each season. No. At this point, we do not. If I were smart, I'd spend these next few weeks doing some advanced work on this story along the lines of finding a theme. I'm just kind of lazy. We'll get the writers in the room on a weekend, and we will go from there. I should say, this is such a collaborative effort. Starting in the writers' room, I have six really wonderful writers who are all indispensable to me. We do create these episodes as a group effort. Then we give it over to the best cast and crew in television. The cast really bring these characters to life. They bring shading and depth to these scripts that we writers never would have thought of. They really enrich and deepen the show. Then, on top of that, we have the best crew working in television capturing all of this and putting it on film. I am very blessed and lucky to have such a wonderful family.
Hank, to me, is the third leg along with Jesse and Walter. How far are you willing to take Hank in regards to his moral compass? Especially with the way Skyler has been lured into Walt's ego and hubris with regards to the money.Vince Gilligan: That is a very good question. And not to sound glib, I don't know myself. Going back to that previous answer, we really do the best that we can to be honest with ourselves. I am talking about the writers and myself. We want to be as open as we can. And let the characters dictate where they should be headed. In saying that, Hank is not the guy we first thought he would be when we watched the pilot. In that pilot episode, he is a frat boy. He is a bit of a blowhard. He has some racist tendencies. As the show has progressed, Dean Norris has informed the writing of the character. As do all of the actors. They really do inform. They don't sit there and say, "This is what you should be doing." They have these wonderful abilities, and they bring their individual personalities to it. And their depth as human beings. That does inadvertently, or purposely, dictate where we go with these characters. In answer to your question, there is so much more to Dean Norris than the frat boy racist character. Me being around him, and my writers being around him, has deepened our realization of who Hank could be as a character. That has happened with all of our actors. In some ways, Hank is a moral center. In the straight world, in the non-criminal world, he is very much our moral center.
Aaron Paul: As opposed to the gay world.
Vince Gilligan: In the non-criminal world. In the criminal world that Walt and Jesse live in, I think that Jesse is a moral center as well. At least he has been. Maybe this season ender will tip that on its head. This is to say, this particular interpretation of Hank is something I didn't see way back when we were writing the pilot. That is why it's best for me and my writers to remain open and flexible. We need to remain open to these different possibilities that these actors allow us. As for the future, it remains to be written. It remains to be figured out. I think Hank is fundamentally the character you've seen him to be. How he will deal with his injury and his infirmary is going to be a big challenge. I would imagine. That will be a big part of his life going forward. I don't think it's going to fundamentally change who he is as a person. But I think the answer lies in what has already come down the pike as far as his character is concerned.
You have a fantastic human buffer in Walter between Skyler and Saul. Because they despise each other right from the word go. And between Gus and Jesse. Can you talk about Walter's diplomacy in negotiating these characters that are in his life, as they are being brought together.
Bryan Cranston: I think he has a more pragmatic point of view than Jesse does. Jesse is an idiot. Jesse doesn't have the decorum to handle intricate conversation. (Laughs) Don't get me wrong. I am very supportive of Jesse. He gets himself in these predicaments. And Walt has to extricate him from those. He tries to use diplomacy to obtain that. He has struck a chord with the Gus character. I think they understand each other on a father level. They are closer to the same age than Jesse is to Walt. There is a certain man level. They have made some agreements on a bonding level. They can convey their thoughts conversely. With Saul Goodman, he is just an opportunist. You have to continuely tell him no. Because he will push for what is best for himself, as opposed to what is best for you. Even though he represents me. Walt finds himself surrounded by these types of characters. He is just trying to stay focused and make sense out of it. He is trying to keep some sanity, and a level of understanding.
We recently spoke with RJ Mitte, who plays Walt Jr. on the show, and he was quite adamant about the fact that all of the major players are just inches from death's door. And that it doesn't matter how many awards Bryan Cranston has won, his number could be up at any minute, and the show will still continue on. As actors, what does it mean to be on a show where you might not be around the next week?
Bryan Cranston: That rings very true for Aaron Paul. (Laughs) He lives on the edge. This has been a running gag with us from the very beginning. Aaron's character wasn't supposed to last anywhere near this long. Isn't that true?
Vince Gilligan: That is exactly true.
We see a painting of a stairway to heaven in Jesse's hospital room. Is this a clue as to what might happen with this character?
Aaron Paul: Let's not talk about it.
Vince Gilligan: Are you talking about the pain chart in his room?
No. After Jesse has been beaten up, we see a painting on the wall in his hotel room that depicts a stairway leading to heaven. When me and my girlfriend saw that, we both thought, "No, Jesse is not going to make it through the rest of this season!"
Bryan Cranston: Yes! Let's go with that.
Vince Gilligan: That's like the Sgt. Pepper cover. Wow! That is awesome. I love that.
Bryan Cranston: Paul is dead! Paul is dead! Paul is Dead!
Vince Gilligan: I love this. I love that you are watching the show that closely.
Bryan Cranston: This is a very flattering commentary, because it shows our audience is really invested in the plot and the characters. They are trying to glean information out of these things. We sometimes refer to these as happy accidents. Sometimes they're not really accidents at all. We have a brilliant art department. They go out there and dictate it in a way that is thinking about the characters. And thinking about the story. It's not an arbitrary way of decorating the story. Perhaps there was something subliminal behind the placement of that painting.
Vince Gilligan: There might have been. That is a very good point you make there. The art department does read the scripts very closely. They have very interesting ideas. They do come up with a lot of ideas. And there are a lot of visual jokes. Maybe I shouldn't say jokes. There are clues and ques. I have to confess, I wasn't aware of the painting myself. That's the thing about this show. There are things I am not aware of. There could be something else that is as seemingly, visually, minor. And it does indeed add up to something. Or will add up to something later. I love your attention to detail. I love that question. I don't know if the balance of that necessarily speaks to anything that is going on. But there are similar visual moments that do. Please continue to look out for that. (A busy signal takes over the line) Jesus, can everybody hear that? Or is it just me?
Bryan Cranston: I can hear it. I fear we are now alone.
Aaron dropped off the call. But they said he is coming back.Bryan Cranston: And it will all end just like this. Aaron Paul is killed off the show. (Laughs) This gives you a very good indication of the way things are going to go for him.
You were talking about happy accidents. One of the scenes I had to keep rewinding because I couldn't believe what I was seeing was the pizza that Walt throws up on the roof. Was that an accident? Or was that supposed to happen? And how hard was that to choreograph?
Bryan Cranston: Would you believe it was one take? That's all it took for me to throw that pizza up on the roof.
I do believe that, because you gave this split second look as though you were totally amazed it landed on the roof.
Bryan Cranston: It was the kind of thing where I felt the heft of the pizza. It was a real pizza. It was huge and it weighed a lot. I just guessed how far I would have to be away from that to heave it up there. And I wanted it to still be out of his frustration and anger that it lands up there. Not that he is trying to throw the pizza up there. Walter didn't intend to throw the pizza up on the roof. He just wanted to throw it out of frustration. In a fit. And that's how it happened. It landed on the roof. I thought that was a funnier way to do it. We just guessed. And it landed.
Can you tell me about the color scheme for the show, and what each different color means in terms of what is going on in a particular scene, and how the colors pertain to each individual character. What is the purpose and the meaning behind it?
Vince Gilligan: There is definitely thought behind it. I love that question. Ever since our pilot, we've done this. I don't know entirely what it means. But I do like all of our characters having a somewhat different color palate. Going back to the pilot, I have had wonderful help from our production designers. They have a lot to say about the colors of our show. And our wonderful costume designer. She also has quite a bit of input into these various color choices. Dating back to the pilot, Walt starts off in monochromatic beiges. And straw colors. He then goes a little green in his color palate towards the end of the pilot. We do that throughout. We have a meeting every season with the costume designer and the production designers. We talk colors. What colors are we going to move the characters into? The colors change and move with the characters and their moods. Except for Marie. She has a fetish for the color purple. That hasn't changed. She is the most constant character color wise.
Bryan Cranston: That also happens to be her favorite novel.
Vince Gilligan: Yes. The Color Purple. Bah-Dum-Dum! You know, the characters constantly change. Like I said, Walt has gone from beige to green, to black tones now. Jesse has gone from yellows and reds into a darker palate. It gets a little complicated. We had Walt go into some blue colors this season. Which was previously Skyler's color. We have Skyler going from blues into greens. The idea behind it is how they are moving apart. Rather than moving together. He is chasing her, thus he is moving into her blue color palate. She is going into something new. It all sounds like artsy-fartsy talk on my part. Hopefully not. We do put a lot of thought into it. It's not in your face. As a viewer, hopefully, it's subtle. It may be something you pick up on or not. Your appreciation of the show doesn't in any way rely on noticing these things. But they are there to be noticed, none-the-less, which is up to the viewer to pick up on it or not. We do spend time thinking about this stuff. We do spend a lot of time thinking about the color palate of each character and what it means.
Aaron, you mentioned that Jesse thinks he is a bad guy. But that's not really true. He becomes morally indignant when he sees a kid get killed. Do you think he's really a bad guy? Or do you think that he just doesn't understand himself?
Aaron Paul: I think he is still very much lost. He is trying to figure out who he is. After coming out of rehab, and learning about self-acceptance. He had just come out of going through the most intense thing he will ever go through. In his entire life. He is battling through these issues. He is trying to convince himself through self-acceptance that he is the bad guy. And that he should be dealing with his own inner demons. As the season goes on, his heart starts to come through. I personally don't think he is a bad guy. But he has made some bad, horrible decisions in his life. He needs to deal with this and move on. We'll see. That could all change by the end of this season. I don't know.
Going back to the car theme this season, the car wash is another element. Is that symbolizing the act of washing your life clean in the future?
Bryan Cranston: All right! Let's go with that.
Vince Gilligan: That is an interesting concept. I love it. This is for consumers of a story to interpret. Speaking for the writers and myself, we can't see the forest for the trees sometimes. We are so deep in the middle of a season, we have ideas about things, but we are cutting through the trees, figuratively speaking, with a machete. You don't know where you are going to wind up. It is for the viewer to see the show in a more complete light than we conceived. I will tell you this. The car wash, on a basic level, represents going backwards in time. It represents going back to a previous life where Walt no longer lives. We are going back to the pilot, where Walt works at this car wash. He was not the current Walter White we see now. He was not a criminal. He was not a drug kingpin. It is a flight towards innocence. It is also interesting, because a car wash gets a car clean. It washes away the crud. Symbolically, it could mean those things about the soul.
How would you characterize the finale? And how it will affect all of the characters?Bryan Cranston: Summarizing what happens in this last episode? If you look back on the seasons, the first season was about a decision made in haste. The second season looks at those ramifications. What these guys had to pay on a human level. The theme for season three has been Jesse accepting who he is as a criminal. Season three was about looking in the mirror. It was about really accepting who you are. From my end of it, Walt is capable of doing this. He is able to see himself as a bad guy. Ultimately, near the end. He is capable of doing things he never thought he could do before. There are very pragmatic reasons why he has done some of these things. To survive in the criminal world, you must think like a criminal. You will not survive otherwise. You have to know how to be guarded. You have to be cautious and protect yourself. He is not from that world. But he is learning quickly. By the end of this season, all innocence is lost in regards to Jesse and Walt. We are growing and changing. Where we'll he go? We don't know. It is the most unusual experience that I've had. Because these characters are transforming before our eyes. I was going to say from season to season, but sometimes within the season they are changing. It's fascinating for us to buckle up and hold on.
Vince Gilligan: That was very well put. I love the way he worded it. Perhaps the last episode of this season is truly about the loss of that last sense of innocence. Particularly, perhaps, on the part of Jesse.
Bryan Cranston: Yup. Mmm-hmm. It will be another "wow" moment for you.
Vince Gilligan: I think that's safe to say.
Skyler went through a major transformation throughout the season. Was that development planned in advance? Or did that come out of the freeform writing as well?
Vince Gilligan: Good question. It slides to what I was saying earlier. We try to keep our storytelling organic. Having said that, Anna Gunn is such an intricate part of our show. And Skyler is such an integral part of our show. This is a character that I would hate to lose for our series. She had to find out about her husband's illicit activities. We couldn't keep that line going much longer. She is a smart character. And she knows her husband is up to something. She was at a crossroads. At a moment like that, my writers and I are at a crossroads story wise. There were many different forks in the road she could have taken. She could have called the police. That would be very believable. That is an option when you find out that your significant other is dealing large quantities of meth. And putting your whole family at risk. Or she could divorce him. Or she could take the kids and flee. Get the hell out of dodge. But we wanted to keep her around. In a moment of wanting the character to tell us where she wanted to go, but also steer her a little bit into sticking around and not leaving the show entirely, we decided at that point that we wanted her to go through a process this season. If she doesn't come to have sympathy for Walt throughout the course of the season, at least she has an understanding of him. She doesn't side with Walt. She doesn't think he did the right thing. But she is at a pragmatic place. There is this money. They will need it for Hank's recovery, now that he has been shot four times. Lets be pragmatic about this. Lets make the best of a very bad situation. That is what we were working towards with Skyler all season. We wanted to move her as organically as possible, and as naturally as possible, towards her getting her head around this very big concept. That her husband is a criminal. It took thirteen solid episodes to get there. It will perhaps continue through season four. Because she is a wonderful character. At a very merciful area, I want to keep her around. Because she is a great actress. A great person. And a great character.
Walt is no longer Mr. Chips, though he is not Scarface yet either. Where are we on the sliding scale? And will the final Scarface transition happen in season four?
Bryan Cranston: Here you are dishing off, and I am going to turn it right back to you. I am just along for the ride. Just like Walt is. Walt has no idea that this transition is happening to him. He is just experiencing it as it goes. That is what is so much fun for me as an actor to play this. It is so immediate. It is so in the now. There is very little thought on the future. Because he doesn't have a future. The past completely destroyed him. All he has is the now. He is living in the right here and now. As an actor approaching that, I like to do the same thing. I knew the larger picture, just as all of you did. From Vince's very colorful way of explaining what it is he wanted to do. Four years ago, when we first started talking about, and taking this journey. That fascinated me, because I knew it had never been done in the history of television. That being said, as an actor, I don't want to know. I don't want to know what is in the back of Vince's brain. It is dark and ugly. (Laughs) I would rather have him delight me with his story as we go along. In this case, it wouldn't help me. For me, it's like someone telling you the end of a movie. Then they say, "Let's go see the movie." Its kind of blown for me now. In that sense, I like not knowing where that line is. We don't know. I think its safe to say this is not a series that was constructed to last like Gunsmoke. It's not going to be, "Wow! You are in remission!" "Yeah! It's been twenty years now." (Laughs) Nor do we want it to be that. We are all very proud of this show, and the collective work that goes into it from all fields. Like the athletes we see, I think all of us connected with it would like to have an amalgam of years that make sense. And end it at the right time. As opposed to going on and extending our welcome. We don't want people wondering when we are going to die already. We would like to wrap it up. It's hard to say, because it's a moving target. We want the right amount of episodes to tell the story and do it justice. Then we will go home.
Vince Gilligan: That was a great answer. And to add to that, I am not being coy here, but it is a moving target. I don't quite know where we are amongst the spectrum of Mr. Chips and Scarface myself. Again, I am not being coy. I don't know how much farther we can take it. In some sense, we have already taken it further than I would have thought possible way back when I was writing the pilot. It's a credit to our actors that we are still going along. Bryan is able to let audiences sympathize with his character despite his character's terrible behavior. You still sense the underlining humanity. You know he is not a monster, even though he does monstrous, cold, evil things. He behaves that way. Though he is not that person. He hasn't completely lost his moral compass yet. Walt continues to remain interesting, and relatable up to a point. So much of that credit goes to Bryan. And it is very much a moving target. If you held my feet to the fire, I couldn't see beyond one or two more seasons. But having said that, there was a time way back when, when I thought three would be the total amount we could do. We can easily do another season now, if not more. But as he said, it's better to leave the party early than late. You want people wanting more from you. You don't want them saying, "Jesus? Is that show still on the air?" It's a tricky equation. One I hope we get right as far as when it comes time to take your final bow with a show like this.
Aaron, how do you think Jesse's relationship with Walt is going to change heading into a forth season, after what we saw Walt do at the end of last week's episode?Aaron Paul: Ah, man. I have no idea. Honestly. I think Jesse is very shocked by this. Jesse's feelings towards Walt go up and down as the episodes go on. It's a love hate thing. A constant battle that they have with each other. After that incident, I think Jesse is very thankful. I don't know where Jesse saw this shootout going. It might have been almost like walking into a death battle. He wanted to go out there and do this for his friend. If he lives, fine. If he doesn't, he went out guns blazing. I don't know. I think there is a huge respect that he sees in Walt. It also might be a little questionable. Mr. White is definitely a changed man. But who knows. I have no idea.
There have been two really huge crescendos this season so far. And then a couple of lulls. How do you orchestrate those bigger moments, and figure out which episodes to put them in throughout the season?
Vince Gilligan: That's a good question. It is very tricky. We are not rocket scientists in the writers' room. Having said that, there is a tricky geometry to it that we try to obtain. You want those ups and down. It's like the way you design a roller coaster. You have that first big hill, then you are down hill for a while. You are careening around a turn. You have to have the ups and the downs. You have to have the twists and the turns. Then you have to have the recovery spots. Those moments where you are just rolling around, and the next hill is in sight. Yet you are at a more leisurely pace. That might be a weird analogy, but appropriate. We can't have every episode of our series be like last Sunday's episode. That, by the way, was one of my most favorite episodes that I have ever done. Having said that, if we had every show go out that big, and if they were that fraught, and we always had these high stakes action beats, we would exhaust the audience. It would be too much. I love hot fudge sundaes. But I don't want that for every meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That would become less than palatable. Having said that, we tried to have bold strokes early on in the season. We want an understanding of where the season is going. We also want to keep things loose. We want it to have an improvisational jazz sense. We want to have a vague, placeholder moment that we write to. Those big crescendo moments that we write to. And parcel them throughout the season. We want to keep things interesting, as with anything else. It's a situation where the moments of quite enhance the moments of high stakes tension. If you didn't have the one, you truly couldn't have the other. We try to mix it up in the best proportions that we are able to calculate. If that makes any sense.
Bryan, I want to know what it feels like for you to put on Heisenberg's hat?
Bryan Cranston: It changes things for me. We hadn't had an opportunity to wear it all throughout the third season. When I read this episode that aired last Sunday, I thought, "Here is a moment where he needs all the power he can get going into this negotiation with Gus. To convince him not to kill me." I pitched it to the writers. It was one of those things were it fit, it was a good place to have it. That's where it comes back in. It's much like how a man wears a tuxedo. You sit differently. You act differently. You present yourself differently. Because of how it makes you feel. The same thing comes with the Heisenberg hat and glasses. It has that same kind of affect.
Vince Gilligan: This really was Bryan's idea to reintroduce the hat. I say that wishing I'd thought of it myself. That hat was such a perfect touch. It was such a perfectly timed reintroduction of that imagery. That symbolism. Hats off to Bryan for coming up with that one.