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The Breaking Bad Interviews: Mark Margolis
Uncle Tio on bells and the fine art of drooling

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Warning: Contains spoilers for seasons 1 to 5A.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Mark Margolis

Did you keep the bell as a souvenir?
No, that was something that the props department had. But I do have a bell that a friend sent me, which is very similar. I have it here in my apartment. My wife was using it for a while to call me for service. Like a concierge bell. In the old days they had them at the desk.

I'm in my apartment in trendy Tribeca. I've been down here for 37 years, from before it was a fashionable neighbourhood. It's a wonderful place, it looks over the Hudson River. I can see 30 miles into New Jersey. My landlord would like me to die because the rent is very low. I'm trying to outlive him. He can get a lot more if I disappear.

How do you rank your death scene in Breaking Bad among all the ones you've done?
I seem to get killed in everything. That was a more interesting one than just being shot by somebody. Scarface was good. I still get stopped 20 times a day by people on the street because of Scarface. They recognise me and say, 'You haven't changed.' And I say, 'Well, I must have been old back then as well.' It's literally 30 years ago. The film was made in '83. In Scarface I got a slight injury from him shooting me in the head, because they had an explosive charge under a prosthetic on my forehead. I ended up with a slight burn that went away in about a week. In Breaking Bad I didn't get injured, so I don't know how to rank it. Scarface is one of the most popular things on Earth. Breaking Bad's now become very popular. I don't know if it'll hold up 30 years from now, the way Scarface does.

Are you still watching the show now you've left?
I seem to get killed in everything. That was a more interesting one than just being shot by somebody
Yes and I want to see what happens this summer. Vince talked about bringing me back in a flashback, but it never happened. I wanted to be brought back, mainly because I love going to New Mexico. It's a wonderful place to be. A lot of the show was done in the great outdoors. A flashback scene we did where I'm peeing in a swimming pool, we're up on the top of this hill in this gorgeous place with an incredible view. The whole state is very beautiful, outside of Albuquerque. I used to stay an extra two or three weeks every time I worked there, I loved it so much.

Did you do much socialising with the rest of the cast?
Not really. In the early episodes, when I came on the show in the second season... I think I went to dinner with Raymond Cruz, the guy who played my nephew, one night. But no, the only socialising I've done was last year when I was nominated for an Emmy for that last episode.

I ran into Aaron at the BAFTA party - your people - they had a big rooftop party and I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with Aaron. We took some pictures that appeared on the internet. I've run into several other cast members at several other parties that AMC ran during Emmy season. And I was a presenter at the Emmys for hair and make-up with Vince Gilligan. He wrote an insane skit for the two of us that I almost didn't want to do because it was so off-the-wall.

It was a whole skit about human foreskins being used in high-end skin creams. He had me come out with him and talk about myself being an actor and how much the hair and make-up people are good for me. I said, 'Well, the hair people don't do much for me, but make-up are okay. Except for the part about the foreskins.' He said, 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'Little baby foreskins, they're used in certain high-end cosmetics.' And it goes on and on and on.

Have you seen the photo of Bryan and Aaron, where Bryan is wearing a Tio outfit?
Yeah, that was a wrap party. I've never been to the wrap parties at the end of each season, because I wasn't in the last episodes so I wasn't there. But yeah, they sent that to me maybe two years ago. I was very flattered that he did that. I think Aaron is dressed as a chicken and Brian had little puffs of cotton on the side of his head.

The funny thing is, Bryan is a very smart, lovely guy. He even did something that actors never do: he gave me a piece of direction the first day we worked together, which I thought was quite brilliant. When I was out in the shed, catatonic with him in the desert, and they were trying to poison Tuco's burrito, I started dinging the bell SOS to Tuco to tell him that I observed that they were screwing with him. I was dinging away very quickly and Brian said, 'Do it slower. It'll be much more dramatic.' Because his character would pick up on what I was doing if I did it slower. I thought that was really smart.

That was actually the only piece of direction Brian De Palma gave me. Maybe I do things too fast! In Scarface there's a scene where we're in Bolivia and I get a phone call telling me that F. Murray Abraham's character is an informant for the police. And I lift up the phone at the window to tell Paul Shenar to come get the phone. I lifted it up in a normal movement and Brian De Palma had me slow it way down so it would be more ominous.

When I saw the movie Argo, I was looking at the movie for a half hour, wondering, 'Who is this guy who looks like a slightly better version of Chris Cooper?' Then I realised it was Cranston. Even though I may have known beforehand that Cranston was in the movie, I forgot about it.

Was the bell a big thing on set? Did everyone want to have a go on it?
No, but I used to bitch about it a lot. Because it would often get jammed up - the way it was set on the arm of the wheelchair, often when I hit the little ball on the top, it would not ring. They'd say, 'We can put that in in post-production.' And I'd say, 'No, I need you to fix it because I need to hear it now. Otherwise it's a dull thud, it doesn't work for me.' I didn't like this dull thud with no ring.

The Breaking Bad Interviews: Mark Margolis

Was Tio a real challenge to play?
It was and it wasn't. How do I explain it? We talk because we need to accomplish something or get something that we need. If I come to your cabin in the woods and I know where the firewood is, I get it to heat the cabin. If I don't know where it is, I have to say, 'Hey, where's the firewood?' So there are a lot of things we do without words.

There's a certain thing that happens in the States - when someone says something stupid and you put your hands on your hips and give them a look like, 'Are you that dumb?' but you don't say it. It's no different from communicating without words. I didn't find it that big a challenge, to work without words. Because they say acting is not about words - a lot of times you just see it in somebody's eyes. It wasn't that big a deal for me, although everyone thinks it's some kind of a major thing that you would have to really labour at.

There are moments where you look so frustrated and angry...
Yesterday I was stopped five times to take pictures. I always say, 'Would you like me to drool for you?'
I enjoyed doing that. I didn't work at making it happen in my eyes. If you get it strong enough inside, it will come out. And there was that weird tic I did with the left side of my mouth - my lips kind of bulge out at times, almost like someone chewing tobacco. That I stole from my mother-in-law, who was in a nursing home. Tragically she'd had a terrible stroke - couldn't talk, couldn't walk. When we used to come visit her, she'd get excited and the side of her mouth would move like that. So I stole that from her. I owe it to Shirley.

I only did about eight episodes. It would have been better for my bank account if I had done more. But I enjoyed doing that show more than anything I've done on television. Vince is a wonderful person to work with.

To show you how brilliant he is, in that last episode where Walt hides in the bathroom when one of Giancarlo's henchmen comes in to check the room I'm in. When Walt was going to set up the bomb in my wheelchair. At one point, before the guy comes in, Walt sneaks out the back window. And as they were setting up the camera, Vince Gilligan came into the room and spent a good 20 minutes adjusting the curtain at the window, part in and part out of the room. He went on and on and on adjusting it. I said, 'Vince, if this show is dependent on how that curtain hangs, we're going to be deep shit.' He said, 'No, Mark, it's all in the details.' And I shut my mouth. That's why the show is so good.

Vince is the most un-Hollywood-like person in the world. He's like the pleasant manager of a hardware store. 'Hi, how you doin'? Good to see you! What can I help you with?' But he's got a brilliant mind.

Did you get a gift when you left?
I got nothing. They sent me a couple of T-shirts and a couple of sweatshirts, most of which I gave away. I get a lot of that stuff. I have a Scarface jacket that we got when we did the movie. I have a feeling I could probably sell it to a hip-hop rapper for $10,000. This jacket is satin and a beautiful shape, with my name on the front. I still have the original script from Scarface. And I have paraphernalia from Breaking Bad, interesting little objects.

A friend bought a T-shirt with my face on it that someone's selling. There was a big art show in LA where 20 artists did things on Breaking Bad. One of them did a beautiful silk screen of the bell that I ring, with decoration around it. The producers of Breaking Bad sent me one of the pieces in a cylinder. There was a pair of sneakers with my face on it! It's a big deal really. Yesterday I was stopped five times to take pictures. I always say, 'Would you like me to drool for you?'


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 Nick de Semlyen

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