The actor relates being typecast as the “dark” nice guy, shares memories of his own birthday shenanigans and describes being chastised by Bryan Cranston as the “other man” in AMCtv.com’s exclusive interview.
Q: Were you a fan of Breaking Bad before you joined the cast?
A: I was. I really don’t watch much television, but I’d been watching Mad Men, and then I saw Breaking Bad and totally went nuts about it. And I don’t just say that because I’m on it. I probably shouldn’t say this, but most of the stuff I do I don’t even watch. I’m not that interested in it. But this has been the most interesting and challenging show I’ve been on in 15 years.
Q: You grew up in Oklahoma. Did Albuquerque remind you of home at all?
A: It reminds me very much of Oklahoma, actually. That landscape just lends itself to this feeling of alienation and isolation. I wanted to get out of Oklahoma as soon as I could. I left at 17 and basically have only been back twice. And that’s no reflection on Oklahoma, just me. But those strip malls and 7-Eleven stores in Albuquerque reminded me of when I was a kid loitering and doing drugs myself. It feels hopeless sometimes; it feels like there’s no place to go. But now of course I have this fantasy of living in the country in some smaller town. [Laughs]
Q: How much input did you get from Vince Gilligan about your character?
A: I didn’t meet Vince until the screening of the premiere in L.A. All I got was messages through people that were very complimentary. The writers were telling me hardly anything about Ted — I don’t think they were even clear how many episodes they wanted him on. They were trying to figure out how much they wanted to draw the relationship out — if it was too fiery in the beginning, it would burn out quickly. So I just made choices that made the stakes as high as possible. I felt Ted had deep feelings for Skyler, that something had happened and that there was a lot at stake for me to keep her near me.
Q: You played a con man in One Life to Live. Do you like playing characters that seem nice, but are hiding something?
A: If there’s a theme in my career, it is this guy that seems like an upstanding fellow, and then something happens to him or something is revealed about him where he goes dark. Even when I did The Grudge, Mr. Nice Guy Neighbor, the grudge hits him and he turns into a psycho [Laughs]. It’s so funny because people that know me always wonder why I play such dark characters. It’s certainly more interesting. A lot has happened to Ted — his wife is gone, he’s got kids, his way of life is falling apart. It’s all so pertinent to what I’m seeing people seeing and feeling in our lives today.
Q: Can you identify with Ted’s solution to that problem?
A: Oh completely. Oh yeah. If it was my kids, if they were in jeopardy, I could definitely see myself doing that. I don’t know if I could do what Walt’s doing, though [Laughs].
Q: In Episode 11, Skyler sings to Ted Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” Has anything like that ever happened to you?
A: I’m not at liberty to disclose. I’m married now! [Laughs] You know, when I turned 40 my wife had a surprise party for me at my home. It was a week after my birthday and people came in from out of town. I walked in and my hair blew back and I started crying and laughing. It was that kind of rush when you feel like you mean something to people. And I think that’s one of the things Ted needed so badly in that moment, to feel that he’s needed by those people, that he’s keeping them afloat. I think he’s very lonely and scared, and he doesn’t know what’s around the corner, and when he has those moments, they’re something he can hold on to. But it’s all so impossible — I mean, Skyler’s pregnant!
Q: Did Bryan Cranston ever give you any guff for playing the “other man” to his on-screen wife?
A: [Laughs] Bryan was totally busting my chops. One time I went in to get lunch, and back from behind me I heard this, “F—er.” [Laughs] And Bryan comes up to me and says, “Hey man, stay away from my wife.” Bryan was really funny and we gave each other s—, but it was one of those things where you felt at ease right away.