Turns out, playing the one who knocks is a great way to notch up some Emmy votes.
“Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston made Emmy history when he became the first actor from a cable series to receive three consecutive lead actor in a drama trophies for his work playing Walter White on the AMC series.
He’d eventually clock in at four total wins in that category, plus two more for best drama series due to his producer credit. The iconic character has also twice made guest appearances in the “Bad” universe — 2019’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” and now, alongside Aaron Paul, appearing in the final season of “Better Call Saul,” as that was when the Bob Odenkirk-led prequel finally caught up to the events in “Bad.” Adding to and re-creating moments from “Bad,” these now-guest parts filled in details of this notoriously scrupulous world.
Here, Cranston reflects on revisiting the world of Walter White.
How hard was it for you to get back into that mindset?
There were two scenes that we shot. The first one was in the RV with [Odenkirk], so we had to research the “Breaking Bad” episode that that would have taken place in and what were the circumstances leading up to that. But as far as the characters? Once Aaron and I put on those clothes, we looked at each other and smiled, and we went, “We’re back.”
You sometimes shaved your head to play the part in the first show. How was this process of physically becoming Walter again?
They sent us pictures and they said, “How close can you be?” I said, “I can get pretty close, except the hair.” I had to use a bald cap.
The show was also so cloaked in secrecy that you and Aaron weren’t allowed to leave the Airbnb you were sharing unless it was for filming. What information were you given about what was happening to the main “Saul” characters to better inform your roles?
We didn’t get the scripts; we only got the scenes. I read Aaron’s scene with Rhea Seehorn because I was curious. We were trying to guess because it was the penultimate episode. [We knew] something big happened. We couldn’t quite piece it together.
Is it frustrating for you, as an actor, to not have the full picture?
The purpose of a guest star is to facilitate the storylines of the starring characters. It’s not to come in and take complete focus away from that. It’s to enhance the series regulars’ characters and their plight.
[We redid] a scene that we did back at the end of “Breaking Bad” [between Walt and Saul]. The staff wrote my scene to remind the audience of the irritant that Walter White was at that moment and how desperate he was at that moment. But it also was to illuminate the Saul Goodman character and to differentiate how Walter White saw him.
As Walter White says, “Oh, so you’re always this way?” If you asked Walter, in his heart of hearts, “Were you always the way you were?”
No. And I believe that to be true. Had he not been given the cancer diagnosis, he wouldn’t have gone into this illegal business. Whereas Saul Goodman was kind of born this way. I think it highlighted, for fans, the difference between the two main characters of their independent shows.
This franchise has a rabid fan base that dissects every morsel of information about these characters. Does that put any extra pressure on you?
The fans will intuit as they will. But our focus, as the actors, is just to be true to the character.
Are you OK knowing that this role defines your career?
I feel nothing but pride and great good fortune that “Breaking Bad” meant so much to so many people, not the least of which me. I’m very fatalistic in that sense. My eventual line in the obituary — “best known for ‘Breaking Bad’” — I’m proud of that.