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The actor describes his proudest moment in Breaking Bad, trading book smarts for street smarts and the dangers of catering for a skinny character.
Q: How did the opportunity to play Skinny Pete come about for you?
A: I auditioned for a day player role in Dallas. Originally there were three roles: A skinny stoner, a tattooed stoner and a chubby stoner. At first I just did the one scene in Jesse's house where he had the hole in the ceiling, and that was supposed to be the end of it. Of course I always hoped they would go, "Wow, that guy was great! Let's bring him back!" Luckily they decided to do that and give me a name. My proudest moment was when I got to walk up to the bodyguard at Tuco's place and go, "Yo, I'm Skinny Pete!"
Q: Did you have to lose any extra weight for the role?
A: Not at the time. I was in a car accident about a year before, and I didn't have any insurance so I went into one of those walk-in clinics and got put on a physical therapy program. And it didn't do anything -- for about six months I was in horrible pain and I stopped working out. I've always been pretty skinny, but I usually kept in pretty good shape. Because of this accident I kind of let it all go, so by the time the audition came up I was already skinny. For Season 2 I just kind of let it stay that way. I started working out a little bit more -- especially after my last episode in Season 2 when I was wearing that really tight shirt and it showed the wide shot of me. I went, "Wow. I really am that skinny." [Laughs] Actually the catering on set is so good I started gaining weight -- I just ate so much. Aaron Paul asked me at one point, "Are you gaining weight?" "Well, yeah. You guys keep feeding me so well!"
Q: You were educated in London and Austin. What's it like to play someone who doesn't know how to spell "street"?
A: I'm always getting these thuggish type characters, and I have a lot of fun with it. I used to know a lot about that kind of culture when I was younger. But the culture has changed a lot since I was involved in it. The lingo, the dynamics, the attitudes have changed. Even the physicality -- how they move, the clothing style, all of that is a lot different than what it was when I was younger pretending to be one of those kind of thugs. So it was a learning experience for me. I had to start reimmersing myself into that kind of culture.
Q: How did you do that?
A: Part of it was I got to know Rodney Rush, who plays Combo, pretty well. He's a rap artist in Albuquerque. He's not in the drug side of the culture, but he has that kind of hip hop flare. And a lot of the other extras they have on the set, I would hang out with them. I used to live in Albuquerque when I was 10, 11 years old. But I hadn't been there since, and it's grown immensely. Their lingo is just totally different than that kind of culture's lingo here in Texas. And I just hung out with them and experienced the colloquialisms and the different expressions that they have -- just figuring out what makes them tick.
Q: You used to be a recreational therapist. How would you advise Skinny Pete?
A: Ooh [Laughs]. I would probably tell Skinny Pete to get into a program... really quick. Actually I have two brothers who work in a drug rehab program in Galveston, and one of them runs a halfway house. And those guys are huge fans of the show now -- they always make fun of the fact that the guy who runs the halfway house is the brother of the guy who plays the skinny meth-head. They think it's kind of ironic.
Q: Do you have a nickname like Skinny Pete?
A: Not any more. For a little while people used to call me Bones, partly because of my tattoos and partly because I'm so skinny. I have a tattoo on my chest that's a spiderweb with a skull right in the middle of it, and then the grim reaper on my left shoulder -- from a younger and dumber time.