It almost seemed like fate that “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan and star Bryan Cranston teamed up to create one of the greatest dramas in television history.
Long before he starred as Walter White (a.k.a. Heisenberg) on “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston was already making a name for himself as one of the finest actors working in television.
Meanwhile, during the 1990s, Vince Gilligan was an up-and-coming writer working on “The X-Files.”
During an interview on WTF with Marc Maron, Gilligan discussed how the two first met thanks to Fox’s extremely popular sci-fi drama.
Gilligan wrote the sixth season episode “Drive,” in which Bryan Cranston starred as a man on the run from the law.
“I had this part written where Agent Mulder had to be stuck in this car with this crazy guy who’s threatening to kill him. And the part was tricky because he needed to be this real scary, badass guy but at the end of the hour, you had to feel sorry for him when he died,” Gilligan told Maron. “And we had all these scary actors come in who could pull off the scary but they couldn’t pull off the human part where you felt bad for him until … and we were scared we were nervous because it was only a few days before it was gonna start shooting … and this guy Bryan Cranston walks in and there was this weight lifted off of him as soon as he read because he was so good. This was like ’99. And as soon as he walked out the door I said ‘Off to wardrobe.'”
Gilligan’s experience with Cranston was clearly special and unique. While it didn’t directly inspire the idea for “Breaking Bad,” that scene did keep Cranston on Gilligan’s mind.
“I never forgot him,” Gilligan continued. “He was wonderful in this role. And I said even as the shoot was progressing for that episode … and you’ve gotta understand we worked with a lot of great actors on ‘X-Files,’ but I never had that eureka experience of saying, ‘I wanna work with this guy again in the future.'”
A while later, Gilligan re-discovered Cranston thanks to ads for a new show.
“And a year and a half later, after this episode airs, I’m seeing commercials on Fox for this new show called ‘Malcolm in the Middle.’ And I see this clean-shaven guy I didn’t recognise and I’m like, ‘That guy looks familiar.’ And then I realised, oh my God! That’s the guy from my ‘Drive’ episode of ‘X-Files.’ And I watched it and I swear my first reaction was ‘I didn’t know he could be funny!’ Because all I knew him as was this dramatic guy … this really intense dramatic guy.” Gilligan said.
Given that “Breaking Bad,” especially in the early episodes, contained a unique balance of humour and drama, this could be a reason Gilligan thought he would be a good fit for his show. With the success of “Malcolm in the Middle,” as well as his memorable stint as Dr. Tim Whatley on “Seinfeld,” he became a comedy actor. Once Gilligan put him in “Breaking Bad,” he went back to being known for dramas.
It turns out, when Gilligan first pitched “Breaking Bad” to AMC with Cranston as the star, the executives were surprised by this choice.
“There was only one actor, as far as I was concerned,” recalled Gilligan. “The folks from AMC … all they knew him from was ‘Malcolm in the Middle.’ And they said, ‘Seriously?’ And to their credit, once I showed them this ‘X-Files’ episode they had the opposite take on him than I had. They said, ‘Wait … this guy can be serious? He can be dramatic? I thought he could be funny.'”
Cranston has proven over and over how versatile of an actor he can be.
“He’s the whole package. He could do it all.” Gilligan said.
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