Before They Were “Breaking Bad”

If you’ve followed my work on Bullz-Eye over the years, you know that I’ve talked to quite a few members of the “Breaking Bad” cast and crew, many of them more than once. With the fourth season of the series – which, by the way, is the best show on television, period – premiering on Jul. 17th, I thought I’d revisit a couple of those past interviews and give you a look into some of the things some of the cast members were doing before they got their current gig. Enjoy!

Bryan Cranston…on CHiPs:

“I remember…that I had this ridiculously bad Southern accent. (Affects overwrought accent) I was talkin’ like this, almost like Gomer Pyle! [Laughs.] And, y’know, they don’t really care. It’s not very discerning. It wasn’t a good show, like a lot of those shows back then weren’t good. Murder, She Wrote and things like that. I did ‘em all because you’re an actor and you need to pay your rent, and for your pictures and resumes and your acting classes and things like that. You work because you need to work, and I didn’t really have much judgment on it back then, because you get offered a job and you take it. But I worked with a Playboy Bunny on that. Her name was Kathy Shower. Pretty girl. She and Erik Estrada, they found each other very interesting. They were very fond of each other, shall we say. During, uh, lunch and stuff. [Laughs.] And I was, like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ You know, it was…the wild and wooly ‘80s. It was a wild time. It was that ‘me’ generation, and there was a lot of stuff going on that. I remember one time doing an audition, and the callback was on a Saturday, at a major studio. And I walked into there, and there were only, like, three guys, and we were spaced out like an hour and a half apart, so we never even saw the other two guys who were up for this role. And nobody else was there on this weekend, and I remember walking into this room, and there was cocaine lined up on the glass table. And the director’s, like, all hopped up, and goes… (Snorts) ‘Hey, man, oh, hey, glad to have you back. Hey, want a hit?’ And I go, ‘Uh, no, I’m okay, that’s all right.’ It was definitely crazy. Crazy times. And out of crazy times, some bad shows were created. [Laughs.] I don’t know, it was an interesting, odd experience when I look back on it. I don’t think I had much of a thought about it when I was doing it, but now I look back and I go, ‘Wow, weird stuff.’”

Aaron Paul…as a contestant on The Price is Right:

“There is a method behind that (show’s) madness. It’s not random. It’s really not. You all wait in line from, like, five or six in the morning. There’s 300 people that sit in the audience, and you never want to be in, like, the first 100 people, because they only pick nine people per show. So we found this out after trial and error: we realized they never pick people from the front rows, and if you’re the first one in, you’re going to be at the very front row, to the left. They just line you in. So if you ever watch the show, it’s always from the middle to the back, because they want the people jumping up and running down the aisle. They want that. It’s just good television. They want people that are energetic and excited to be there. So, honestly, once we realized that, every time we went, one person from our group would get picked. Incredible. Like, four or five of my friends have been up to Contestants’ Row. One of my friends, he won the Showcase Showdown. He won a trip to Fiji, London, and New Orleans. I made it to the Showcase Showdown. When I got on the stage, I won a desk. Then I had a chance to win a car, and I lost it. Then I went to the wheel and I spun a 60, then I spun a 35 and got 95. And then I made it to Showcase Showdown. I bid $132 over my showcase, and so I lost. I was actually depressed about that for…probably about four or five months.”

Anna Gunn…on Deadwood:

“Ian (McShane) and I worked together on a play about…at least five or six years, maybe more than that, before Deadwood, so it was very nice that I got to know him. We did a new play at a little theater in L.A., so I knew him pretty well. Just watching him work is really amazing, and watching him go from the role that we did in the play, which was a very different thing – it was a modern thing where I was a lawyer and he was a money man, and we had a May/December romance – and then to show up on the set of Deadwood and, since I came in during the second season, to find him fully engaged in that character was just really amazing. You know, he had those long, long, two or three page monologues so often, and one night he said to me, ‘You know what? If you get one ‘cocksucker’ in the wrong place, you’re really screwed. People sometimes think that it’s just a random thing with learning the ‘cocksuckers’ and all the rest of it, but it’s not. It’s very specific where each one goes.’ And I went, ‘Really? All right, then!’ So, y’know, he had a technical prowess with them. [Laughs.] But it was really true. You had to learn (David) Milch’s language very specifically, because it was written…I mean, it may sound over the top to say it, but we all felt that he was such a tremendous writer and his sense of language was so amazing that you wanted to say it word for word, because it was written so beautifully…even thought we were all saying ‘cocksucker.’ And I never got to say it! I was upset about that!”

Giancarlo Esposito…in Taps:

“(‘Taps’) was a great lesson for me. I’d come from the theater, it was my first movie working with a bunch of Hollywood actors who only learned one page at a time, and for me, it was hard to try to figure out a way to learn how to not only be there but to respect them on a deep level. I’d come from the theater, a different world, and these guys seemed to me…it was a different style of acting. If you didn’t know your lines, you didn’t know anything, and if you couldn’t get beyond not knowing your lines, then you couldn’t really start to work the character. You have to know… if you’re so far into your character, then you’re going to be the character. You don’t have to know what to say. I wanted to work with actors like that, so it was a great moment for me on that film to know that there were different styles of acting, but the one thing that tied everything together was passion.

“For me, George C. Scott displayed that passion and that depth. His speech to the cadets was something I’ll never forget. The guy never had a short side, he never had the sides in front of him or a script. He would play chess all day with the guy who set up the generators. He’d drift away and do what he wanted. (But then) George would just get up, go to the podium when they said, ‘We’re ready for you, sir,’ pick up that speech anywhere from the middle to the third part of it to the fourth page. He never looked to refer to where he was. He knew it. And every gesture would be the exact same as he had done before. He was a consummate professional and artist, really pretty amazing, so I’ll never forget that speech to the cadets in the quad, because he just showed such professionalism, that he could act beyond the words. To know his lines was the first step, and then to put all the other gestures into it and not have to think about it on the day, it created a sense that he could relax for a minute. You can’t even get to the real acting until you can relax, because you’re not worried about what you’re going to say, and then walking and chewing gum becomes easier. It’s building blocks. George taught me that and confirmed that my stage career served me in the right way, because I’m going to look at things on a deeper level and tend to lend more of myself to them because there’s more of myself present and available.

“You know, while we were shooting that film, Ronald Reagan got shot by Hinckley…and I was on a military academy with the students from that academy. Everything went nuts. I mean, everyone freaked out. There were arms there, too, so everyone had a little bit of a conniption, but they calmed down and everyone was fine. But that was a highlight…of sorts, certainly. And I remember Tim (Hutton) winning the Academy Award in the middle of shooting! [Laughs.] I remember him having to leave…and, then, that was the year that the Academy Awards were canceled, so he came back down and we shot, and then he left again when they rescheduled them. But I remember him bringing back the Academy Award, and that to me was a delicious moment. It was a triumph for him as an actor, and for Redford for making such a beautiful film, but also to all of the cats who were in “Taps” that he came back and shared it with. He could’ve left it in L.A., but he brought it back with him so that he could share that with all of the cats he was working with, letting us see and feel what that was like. That was a special moment.”

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