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The Breaking Bad Interviews: Dean Norris
Hank Schrader on collecting minerals, toilet etiquette and wanting to quit

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Warning: Contains spoilers for seasons 1 to 5A.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Dean Norris

How are you feeling about it all ending?
Good riddance. Nah, I'm just kidding. Yeah, it's going to be tough. It's bittersweet in that it's good to be moving on, that's going to be fun, but it's been spending time with some great people, and it's great work to do. It's turned into quite a special show.

How has it set itself apart from other shows in your mind?
I'm kind of biased, but I think it's the best TV show that's ever been made. I sound like Family Guy now [LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIom3LSbB0I], quoting Breaking Bad and The Wire, but I think it's true: those two shows separate themselves in a way that other haven't. What Breaking Bad does is that it's not just the small. First of all, it does comedy and drama. Together. It also does the small, intimate scenes brilliantly, but we also have these operatic scenes that no other show - including The Wire - does. We don't limit ourselves to naturalism and realism, sometimes we're surreal.

We do things that aren't necessarily what you'd call "true to life", but they're big. Operatic is the best word I can use for it. I think that we've able to combine all those elements, humour, drama, big moments, small moments, makes it a special show. You can't really compare it to any other show.

Is there a good ending for Hank?
Um... (laughs) Nice try! Hank's in a tough situation. The only good ending for Hank would be that somehow he maintains his dignity and his moral core, which I think he has, for better or for worse, sometimes to his detriment. If he can somehow end the game with his inner morality intact, that's the best he can hope for.

Is it a morality tale, do you think?
I think it's a grand morality tale. When you look back at it, that's what it's all about. Other that also the relationships between fathers and sons, be it Walt's real son or Jesse, his surrogate son. Uncles and brothers and brothers-in-law and fatherhood and masculinity. The challenge is saying, "Can you still like the main character, despite all the bad things he's done?" It's a morality tale for the audience. It's hard to like Walt at this point, but some people still do and I understand why. He's still such a compelling character, but you say, 'Wow, okay, can I cheer for somebody who's done all this evil?'

For you, what has been the most satisfying part of Hank's arc?
This season is clearly my favourite, my best, and by far the most Hank-centric season.
In Season 3, he went from being just a blow-hard guy to having some serious mental problems, and having to deal with that, then he had to vamp for a while because he couldn't get too close to the scene or the show would be over. This season is clearly my favourite, my best, and by far the most Hank-centric season.

Can you talk us through how you felt sitting on that toilet?
Like the diarrhoea would never stop (laughs). You know, it's a very odd business, when you talk to a director about how you would take a shit. 'He needs to relax first... that's why he's reading.' 'Okay, right, I mean, I'd have just taken the shit by now, but okay.' It's very odd.

What direction did Vince give you about treading the line between being a great cop and a terrible cop?
He never told me. It's like Edgar Allan Poe's Purloined Letter, sitting right in front of you. It's set up earlier in the show that he'd already classified Walt as a geek, a harmless nerd, and I think we're all blind to our own generalisations about somebody. Also, he's a smart guy and he hid it well. He did put it together with Gus Fring, for instance, and Jesse Pinkman, he knew he was on it, he was close, but nobody ever believed him.

He's always right and people continue to not fucking believe him! But connecting it to Walt was just... that's why I like the ending to the last season so much, not that he somehow put the pieces together, just that randomness of it. No-one would have thought he'd be in the bathroom and read it and work it out.

Will you be keeping any of Hank's mineral collection as a memento?
Um... no. (laughs)

Have you talked to locals about how they feel about the show?
When the show first started, I think there was some concern. But I think since then people love the show so much that they don't care. They have tours. When I talk to people they love the fact that we're here and they love the fact that we've put Albuquerque on the map. And meth is a countrywide problem, probably a worldwide problem, and we don't say that Albuquerque is a particular hotbed of meth. I'm sure Vince has said this before, but it was originally set in Riverside County, California, so I don't feel any hostility from the locals.

How has your attitude towards meth changed over the course of shooting the show?
Well, I prefer the blue stuff now.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Dean Norris

Has everything been leading up to you and this final season?
Yes. There's no doubt. It's been so short, these seasons, eight episodes a piece. When they originally picked it up it was 16 episodes for the final season, and I thought that was great because I can do a pilot and then do the 16, and then be free to do a show. And then at some point they decided to split it into two eights, so it cut me out of doing a pilot, and I had a pilot I wanted to do. So I called Vince and I said, 'Maybe Hank should die in the first eight...' Wouldn't that be a great ending? And he said no, in his nice southern way, and said, 'I need ya!' I asked very seriously for him to think about killing me early on so that I could do another pilot.

I've got five kids, man. I could sit around for eight more episodes, or I could do 22 episodes of another show and make a lot of money.

Is Hank capable of killing Walt?
I think he's capable, yeah. I don't know if that's going to happen, but he's certainly capable. I don't think he wants to. He's known him for 20 years, he's family, I don't think it's an easy thing to do.

Are you missing comedy?
I think doing a comedy now is a smart thing to do. I've got an offer on the table and we're negotiating right now, for another show after this, and my only thing was to not do anything that could be compared to breaking bad. No cop shows... not even an intense drama. People might say, 'He was good, but it wasn't quite Breaking Bad.' Different genre, or you're setting yourself up for failure.

Has working with Vince been different from working on other productions and if so can you give us an example of how it is?
The genius of Vince Gilligan is that he hires the right people and lets them do their job. It's an amazingly un-noted show. You don't get a bunch of notes from a bunch of different people.
You know, he's usually not here, he's writing stuff, so working with him is really working with his scripts. He directs here and there but he's really a collaborative guy. The genius of Vince Gilligan is that he hires the right people and lets them do their job. It's an amazingly un-noted show. You don't get a bunch of notes from a bunch of different people. Everybody, from the music to the editing to even the sound department, is all top-notch. We're all inspired by the words. There's not a bad department.

How much have you been in touch with the DEA in Albuquerque?
We were in touch a lot early on. The first season, we had guys on the set almost every time I was on the set. At first it started with the local DEA, then second season they jacked it up to the regional guy out of Dallas, and then after that not as much.

You have a Harvard degree. What did you major in? Does it inform your job at all?
I'm going to be really annoying and tell you that it's called a 'concentration' at Harvard, not a major. It was social studies, which is basically a great books study: philosophy, economics, history. It was a great education and unlike many things in America now, it wasn't to serve a purpose of getting into a particular job. Just to learn. If I wasn't doing this, maybe I'd be a professor of something.

Do you think that the show has captured America as it has now?
I think it has its own way. I don't think it set out to specifically, but I think that it has. Certainly Walt's initial dilemma of trying to make money and not being able to afford medical care, and the desperation, we see it all over. So I think to that extent I think it has.

More, I think it's a tale of men. I know there are some women in the show, but when you think about it, it's about what a man needs to do. What is being a man? How much money do you have to make? How much do you have to take care of your family? Is taking care of your family a good enough excuse to kill someone? Then there's revenge, that's a male thing. Insecure men.

Everybody initially sympathises with Walt. And at some point different people in different levels stop sympathising with him.

Do you get stopped on the street?
After Season 3, yeah. That's when it started to really become something. It had permeated the culture in a more serious way that it had. And it continues to because people pick it up on Netflix and iTunes. We came with that, we started as that was happening. We started 2008, when we were on the air. A big part of iTunes and Netflix, we're a big part of that now.

I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say they'd watched the entire season in one week or one day. 'I watched season 2 last night', you know? With a little meth, maybe. So college kids, ten years from now, will be telling each other to check out Breaking Bad.

When you look back in ten years time how will you describe the show?
People feel oppressed that they're not in control and they want to be the guy who has want it takes, and if it takes being a bad guy, then so be it.


Empire Breaking Back Interviews THE BREAKING BAD INTERVIEWS
Head back to the interview hub for more exclusive interviews with the cast and makers of Breaking Bad

Interview by Ali Plumb

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