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The Emmy-winning star describes Walt's multiple-personality style, shares a tale of on-set rabble-rousing and denies any secret fondness for Funyuns in AMCtv.com's exclusive interview.
Q: You directed the first black and white teaser in Episode 1. Did you know then that it would result in a plane crash?
A: I didn't. And they were trying to keep it a secret. Had I just been an actor, I wouldn't even ask. But as a director I really felt I needed to know so I could shoot it correctly -- is it supposed to be eerie? Odd? Is it scary? And so as we progressed I had more and more questions and I realized I should know where this is going. And when I got the script and found out, I guess I'm very subjective and proprietary to the character, because even after I read it I went, "Well how am I responsible for that?"
Q: Before the big reveal, one of the leading theories was that the water heater Walt installed exploded.
A: They think that I'm that bad of a handyman? I'm pretty handy! I do a lot of things around the house, and I actually enjoy it. Walt is probably not as handy as I am -- but he's much smarter than I am. He looks at a task from a scientific point of view and says, "That makes sense because that connects to that." And he hasn't had that opportunity, so putting in a new water heater is like, "I'm doing something for my family, and it keeps my mind occupied."
Q: Did your knowledge of chemistry improve this season?
A: I learn all my chemistry from my teacher, Walter White. I was from the era where you memorized the periodic table like you're memorizing dates. "How is that important?" "Nevermind Cranston, just memorize it!" It's the lazy teacher's way out. I'm already pissed off that I have to memorize the elements, then I see that Iron is "Fe." Why is Iron "Fe?" Is that like some joke? I really rebelled against lazy teachers. So the scenes when Walt is teaching are important scenes to me. You get to see Walt in his element and actually enjoying life as a teacher -- dispelling myth and encouraging kids and getting them excited.
Q: Walt's wardrobe shifted to dark colors this season. Was that a welcome change for you?
A: It was something that Vince wanted to do, and I accepted it because I thought it should be a subliminal choice. Walt wouldn't say, "I'm going to start wearing black." It's something that he just starts to feel. He just feels this color is right. The other thing Walt's done, which I think is interesting, is that even though he's told his hair is going to start growing back, he shaves his head. I think it's a subliminal feeling from Walt, like "I don't recognize that guy in the mirror." He's dropped a considerable amount of weight; he's gotten a lot older in the past four or five months. And as long as he's looking in the mirror and seeing someone he doesn't recognize he can justify what he's doing: "That's not me; that's Heinsenberg."
Q: Do you plan to direct an episode next season?
A: I'm going to direct the first episode again. It's great to be able to think in terms of the bigger picture. As an actor you only think of me, and that's why actors are so self-centered. And sometimes that spills over into your real life and that's no good. So it's a good lesson in humility, because you realize how demanding actors can be.
Q: Who was the troublemaker on set this season?
A: We all have a lot of fun. You pull some practical jokes from time to time. For the episode where one of Jesse's guys gets ripped off, I go to his house and I pull out a gun and put it on the counter and say, "I want you to handle it." Well, props had a dildo, and I'm all serious and Aaron didn't know so I'm looking at him and I pull out the dildo and say, "I want you to handle it." He looks down and sees that and it's all over. [Laughs]
Q: Episode 9's director, Michelle MacLaren, told us you're quite the Funyun connoisseur.
A: I never even knew what they were. I'd never had one. And I was like my character: "Funyuns? This is what you get when I say get food? Are you an idiot?" We're out there and he's having a smoke and I'm eating Funyuns, just giving in. And it's like eating anything that's sugary sweet or salty good. I start eating them during the scene, and then she noticed we're in between takes and I was still eating them. She's like, "Oh you like those!" I'm like, "S---! She caught me." It was just one of those mindless things.
Q: You studied police science in college. What was the inspiration?
A: It was very manly. My brother had joined this police explorer group, and the first thing he did was go to Japan for three weeks. Then the following year he went to Hawaii, so I was like "Man, I gotta join this thing." So I went through the LAPD training program and I graduated first in my class of 111 recruits. So I thought, "Oh, I'm good at this. I guess I'll do it." Then I went to college to get a degree in it, and I was going to become a detective, put in 30 years and then retire. But then I took acting classes in junior college, and that was the end of that. So here I am on the other side of the law, where none of it comes into play because Walt wouldn't know a thing about it!
Check back Wednesday for an exclusive interview with Breaking Bad's special effects coordinator Dennis Petersen.