Keeping in this week’s spirit of all things “Breaking Bad,” here are some previously unpublished insights from Vince Gilligan. Last week the brains behind the show spoke to the Alibi from a production studio in Burbank:
On shooting in Albuquerque
I wasn’t aware of what a great place to shoot Albuquerque would turn out to be. And indeed it has become a central part of our show, and I can’t imagine the show taking place anywhere else now other than Albuquerque and its surroundings. It’s just so much more interesting visually than Southern California would be. And I say that because Southern California’s a great place to live and I enjoy being here, as is Albuquerque—actually I own a place now out in Albuquerque. And Southern California’s a fine place to shoot, but you can’t point a camera in any direction around here and photograph something that hasn’t been previously photographed at least 10 times, and not so in Albuquerque. In Albuquerque you set up a shot and shoot in a place that’s likely virgin territory that’s never been photographed before, or on a film. And at least—whether or not that’s true—it feels that way. It has that feeling that when we set up a shot somewhere on a side street or in some desert area or whatnot. And it really adds to our ability to make “Breaking Bad” a sort of postmodern Western, like a contemporary Western.
On naming the show
I’ve since learned that [laughs] that very few people have heard this phrase “breaking bad” before. I come from just outside of Richmond, Va., and back in the South, “to break bad” is an old expression that honestly I thought had a wider rooting within the country, but I guess I was wrong. But I mean back where I’m from, it’s another way of saying “to raise hell”—to break bad is to raise hell. And I just thought everyone knew that term and when I first put that title onto the … title page of the pilot script and turned it into Sony Television, they all looked at it and said, Well we’re enjoying the script but we don’t understand the title. What the hell does the title mean? And I said, Well, you know, that means to raise hell. And they said ... Why don’t you think of a new title? There’s probably a better title. But somehow I never got around to coming up with a better title, so it stuck. Maybe it’ll take root the way I always thought it already had. Maybe it’ll start to take root and more people will use it as an expression. Definitely it’s an old Southernism as far as I can tell and it’s something I grew up hearing all the time.
On relating to Walter White
I think most folks can relate to the idea of feeling sometimes like we haven’t made the most of our lives, we haven’t done all the things that we intended to do when we were younger, and I think Walt is very much in that boat [when] we first meet him. Having said that, as the series has progressed, Walt ... has been further and further defined and refined and honed until he is a person very dissimilar in some ways to most of us—the things that drive him. I think we can all relate to, but we don’t necessarily all see the end results that he comes to in ourselves, but we see some of the motivating factors. You know, the idea of pride, and Walter White is one of the most prideful characters out there [laughs]. So much of what drives him is pride and I think we can all relate to that. I guess I can myself to some extent. And Walter’s also a little bit deluded—he lies a lot, but he lies mostly to himself. Sometimes I think he even lies about the ultimate reasons why he does the things he does, and I think we’re all capable of self-delusion. So I guess those things I’ve seen within myself from time-to-time. And I guess any writer at some point or another uses his own life or her own life as sort of a motivation or a wellspring of ideas.
On Walt’s likeability and the end of the show being in sight
I don’t think the show would end because Walt becomes too unlikeable. I think he already is too unlikeable for some folks, and some folks have tuned out, but other folks have hopefully taken their place. The ratings … seem to bear that out. You know just as long as Walt remains interesting I think he can be unlikeable, but having said that, Yeah, I don’t see the show going on much longer than another season. I can ‘t really see past the idea of a Season 5. And that is because it’s not about Walt becoming too dark, but rather I think it’s about there’s only so dark [laughs]—there’s only so much more a human being can do.
This show to me always was a close-ended, sort of a finite tale, of a man who reinvents himself from a good guy into a bad guy, and it’s not that I think we’d lose too many viewers past a certain point because of Walt being bad. On the other hand it just seems to me there’s only so bad one human being can get. So at a certain point the story should reach a hopefully satisfying conclusion and not go ten years or or 15 years like most shows are designed to do, but rather embrace its purpose-built sort of finiteness, if that’s even a word, and before it wears out its welcome. That’s the way I see it and the way I think in a perfect world it should play out.
On the show continuing past Walt’s seemingly inevitable death
Well, never say never. That’s an interesting thought. Walt is our central character, there’s no question about that, but having said that he has surrounded himself with some other very interesting characters. We have just a wonderful ensemble in this show … His wife is interesting, his brother-in-law is interesting, and his sister-in-law and his son and some of the people he works with. And chief amongst all these characters is, I think, is Jesse Pinkman, his business partner, who has grown up as the show has progressed. The character has grown up and matured, and seen a lot of terrible things and is a darker and richer character because of it, and also an unhappier one at that. But I think Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, probably could probably carry his own show. I think he definitely could carry his own show. The actor could definitely carry a show, and I think the character perhaps could. I’m not saying we’re heading down that path. Now that we talk about it, it’s definitely a new thought to me, but an interesting one at that. You never know what the future will hold. I see “Breaking Bad” and the characters within it existing in sort of a finite space, not an infinite open-ended one, but having said that, part of me would love to see these characters live on in some form.
On the future of New Mexico’s film incentive
That’s a subject of much discussion, the idea of the incentive going away. And it would be unfortunate. It seems to me that it would make it hard for us to come back, to be honest. We are pretty close to the bone as it is, apparently as any TV show is. We take the money Sony Television and the AMC network give us to produce our show and we spend every last dollar of it—put every last dollar of it we presumably can on the screen and sometimes we run short and an incentive helps us to make the show and produce the show.
The incentive definitely drew us to New Mexico in the first place, and it keeps us there, and I’m no accountant, I’m no financial expert to say the least, but it seems to me that it’s good business, this incentive, and that it makes more money for the state—that it takes in more than it gives out, it seems ot me, in no other regard than the fact that it helps ensure that a lot of good, hardworking New Mexicans stay employed. Most of our crew are New Mexicans, live in Albuquerque, live in the surrounding areas. Some come down from places as far as Santa Fe and Abiquiú and places like that and up further north and we employ a lot of really good folks who might not have as many productions to work on if not for this incentive. I think it really has paid great dividends as far as I can tell. And unfortunately I know it’s a bit of a political hot potato right now and some folks say, Well we shouldn’t be putting this money out to support Hollywood, and the way I think of it is, It’s not supporting Hollywood—some Hollywood asshole like me is gonna go elsewhere at some other point, some other place with an incentive. What it’s really supporting is there’s always gonna be some state or some region of the country that rolls out the welcome mat. And Hollywood, quote-unquote, its production, we’re somewhat like gypsies. We travel from one to the other. We go where we’re welcome, but what New Mexico’s doing, which I think is a wonderful thing, is not supporting quote-unquote Hollywood—it’s supporting hardworking below-the-line folks who work in film and television production and live right there in Albuquerque and its surroundings. And that’s in my opinion what the incentive program is doing—it’s drawing business to the area and therefore employing New Mexicans. That’s what it does very well and you know there’s always talk of corporate welfare, but … some folks tend to draw the line and say corporate welfare, it’s bad if it goes to Hollywood, but it’s fine if it goes to the oil and the gas industries [laughs]. You know, where do you draw the line on this thing? All I know from my very limited perspective is that it got us to New Mexico in the first place for which I will be eternally grateful because it’s a wonderful place to shoot in, a wonderful place to own property, which I do now, and pay taxes in Albuquerque proper. There’s some wonderful people who live there and many, many friends I’ve made being there and it was this incentive that attracted us there in the first place, and keeps us there, and I hope that it continues because I see nothing but good about it. I don’t see any downside.