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Interview

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Anna Gunn
Skyler White on walking underwater, sexism and her favourite moments

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Warning: Contains spoilers for seasons 1 to 5A.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Anna Gunn

What have been your favourite moments so far?
Gosh, there have been a lot. Walking into the pool. That pool scene was probably one of my favourites, and really the whole thing with Skyler being so backed into the corner to begin with, and so depressed at the beginning of that season, and the beginning of that episode she felt like a hostage and a prisoner in her own home. 'How do I get the kids out of here, how do I get the kids in a safe place? Could we send the kids to boarding school?' She's really scared of him at that point.

I had to be trained to breathe with a regulator under water so we could do the stunt because it required me being taken to the deep end and I had to be dragged underwater by two guys, two divers, and put into a special wire cage with that blue skirt I was wearing so that it bubbled around me with that flower effect/design around my head, and then with the regulator in my mouth I had to, at the last minute, toss it off and open my eyes and float there.

I am not a big water person and I definitely didn't think I could breathe with a regulator, so to be able to do that was a big deal and I was proud of that and it was a beautiful shot, so beautifully directed by Rian Johnson, who I adore, and our amazing special effects and stunt people.

I also loved, on the comedic side, the scene where I went in and acted like a ditsy blonde to the tax man. That was a lot of fun. I really also loved the scene with Walt after the pool, that really long scene in the bedroom where he pursues me around the room and I basically have gotten the kids out of the house. That scene was so long and intense, and the arc of it was so good, written by Sam Caitlin - I adore that scene. Bryan and I have had a lot of those scenes to play, but that one in particular was really rich and juicy.

Did you feel that 'I am the one who knocks!', was going to be a special line at the time?
Absolutely, that was the one. That was a huge one.

Did you have any idea how this show was going to go?
When we read it, we knew it was one of the best pilots we'd ever read, bar none - television or film.
We knew it was one of the best pilots we'd ever read, bar none - television or film. But you read a script about a chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth and you think that many nobody's going to pick it up or watch it. And then it grew into the hit that it's been and it surprised all of us, and now it's grown into what it has become now.

It's astonishing for all of us. For me, I can't believe that the writers make it better and better, and more and more intense every season. It just becomes darker, and the twists and turns become more surprising and astonishing. What happens to every single one of the characters becomes more intriguing and I think that the show contains something for everybody which is why it's so interesting, that the fanbase is so broad.

Some people really like it for the action stuff, some people like it because the domestic drama, some people like it because it really delves into the psychology of what makes people do the things they do. The writing it so smart and the standard's never ever dropped. It's never had a false moment. I think that's what has made it such a phenomenon.

It started out with a lot of dark humour and as Walt's actions have impacted everybody, and as the story has started to roll downhill, as it were, faster and faster. The comedy naturally drops out a bit. Everybody has become more compromised. Jesse's has had to face his own demons, Skyler has lost her moral compass and has made decisions she never would ever have guessed she'd have to face, she's had to come into contact with parts of her personality that I don't even think she knew were there.

Will you find it hard to say goodbye to Skyler?
Yeah, I think so. You come to know these characters so well after playing them for five years, and you come to care about them, and you come to be an advocate for them, so I think I will miss her, but at the same time the story has been such a painful one. These people are not happy people. Every scene in this last season, it's gut-wrenching. Very little gives you a breather.

So the other day, we did something and I said afterwards, 'I just want to play somebody happy!' At the same time, the writing is just so good that for all of us, we feel it'll be hard to find something this good.

Do you know how it ends?
We don't. We know a little bit about the next couple of episodes.

How can you stand that tension?
It's actually good. It's good not to know how the whole thing is going to be wrapped up. It also means I'm not going to slip up and say anything to anybody. We've all discovered that it's good to not know what's coming around the corner. Therefore what we're playing right now remains very true and real, because these characters don't know what's coming around the corner.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Anna Gunn

Skyler has been viewed as a roadblock for Walt's 'fun' by some fans. What's your take on that?
I know there are blogs where people express their frustration about Skyler stopping Walt. When fans come up to me, they express how much they like the show. Certainly, I've been made aware that Skyler is a really polarising character, and it's been interesting because I think about a year ago, or more, some journalists started writing some really interesting pieces about why there was a backlash against Skyler.

Why this vitriolic outpouring against Skyler? And what does that mean? And what does that say about how we treat women? How we see wives? The same thing happened to Edie Falco in playing the Carmela Soprano role - you've got this really bad guy, and she was no lilywhite, but there was the same vitriol. The word "bitch" was used a lot.

And Skyler, she's just saying you can't cook crystal meth. It's not okay, you're putting our family in danger. But I realised that the writers did a really smart thing. He's the bad guy, but he's the protagonist. So you have to have the antagonist, and she's the antagonist. So they flipped it. So at the beginning, he's doing bad things, and essentially he's the bad guy, he's the one we're rooting for, you know the reasons why he's doing it.

And then he gets this power and he starts to enjoy himself. He starts to stand up to the people in his life, and I stand in his way, and I think it was a lot of men, a lot of younger men, saying, 'That bitch, she's standing in his way! Why is she nagging him? Why doesn't she shut up and do his thing?' It's very interesting because I think it had a lot to do with gender and gender roles. Dare I say, a little bit of sexism in there. It was interesting when people started the dialogue, I thought. I was not particularly happy to be on that end of it, but I was happy when the dialogue started, and I was happy when it made people start thinking about it and start talking about it.

Vince and I have talked a lot about not making Skyler a victim over the years. In the beginning he was very clear with me that he did not want her to be a victim. And he did not want her to be overly emotional. I am, as a person, quite emotional. I am quite quick to tears. So Vince actually had to ask me to pull that back because he did not want Skyler to be victimy and he wanted her, emotionally, to be quite opaque and more held in. The reason for that was because if you felt too much for her, you'd lose the sympathy for Walt, and if you thought he was a monster, the show wouldn't have worked because the show would have flipped too soon. I didn't realise that early on, but she needed a backbone of steel so she can become Mrs. Heisenberg. Again, I thought that was a smart shot.


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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