Michael Slovis is a New Yorker by birth but, for the last few years at least, he's been New Mexican by adoption. Albuquerque was home-from-home for him from the day he joined Breaking Bad's creative team as cinematographer in early 2009 to the moment he finished up on the show this March and bid adios to Negra Arroyo Lane, Los Pollos Hermanos and the show's other key locations for the last time. As Breaking Bad's DP since the first episode of season two and director of four episodes, including the dynamite Kafkaesque, he's done more than anyone to give the show its cinematic feel. As he tells Empire, showrunner Vince Gilligan gave him the freedom to "make the look of the show a character". That brief, it's safe to say, was more than fulfilled over four seasons of taut character beats, handheld mayhem, gleaming meth labs and glorious desert vistas. "I've never felt that way about a show before," Slovis enthused of his emotional and unique year.
Did you have one of those, 'Oh God, it's all over!' moments?
You know what? I was one of the lucky ones. By the time they set our schedules, I already had another job, and I wasn't even there for the last four days of shooting, so I had something else to focus on. The Sunday prior to my last day, the show's creative team hosted an intimate dinner for me. For all those core people, that dinner was it, the door starting to close. It was small, it was heartfelt, and there was a lot of crying. There is not a week that goes by that I don't get a phone call, an email, a text or a picture from Bryan (Cranston) or Vince or Anna (Gunn) or Betsy (Brandt).
How did you feel about the show's ending?
Well, I always knew that it was going to end, and my pep talk to Vince was, "Don't let it go on one more episode than it should." That's a mistake people have made before. I believe we were given the option of taking as many episodes as Vince needed or wanted, but I'm very proud that he exercised beautiful restraint.
Do you remember finding out the ending?
|My family and I watched the final episode at Betsy Brandt's apartment in New York.|
Well, I'm a very clever guy (laughs
). Because I directed the first episode of season 5A, the season opener, and because I'd had Bryan in that bearded 'end of the show' look when he comes out in the Denny's and he puts his eggs into the '52', I had to know [how it ended]. But it's not coincidental that when Skyler comes home, RJ (Mitte
) and Bryan are watching Scarface. I'd tell people, "Look! All the clues for the ending are going to be right in front of you." But I was pleased to see how he wrapped up the Elliott and Gretchen (Schwartz
) story. That's really the motivation for the whole darn series.
What's been your single highlight of your Breaking Bad year? Where were you on the night of the final episode?
Well, everybody was invited to go to Aaron's (Paul) fundraiser in LA, but I was working in New York. But we had the most wonderful viewing party. My family and I watched it at Betsy Brandt's apartment in New York, with my camera operator, Andy Voegeli, and his wife and child.
Did you have fried chicken?
[Laughs] No, but we did send out for takeout Mexican.
Did your wife know what was going to happen in the final episode?
No, no, I didn't tell her. I didn't tell anybody.
Aside from that fan letter Anthony Hopkins wrote to Bryan Cranston, who's been the most surprising Breaking Bad fanatic you've encountered?
I don't really keep track of that, but I will tell you one thing it's a little embarrassing when you it's ten months on and people are still looking at you goggle-eyed. I just worked on a show in Chicago, and one of my producing directors was Mark Tinker, who did Deadwood, and he could not stop talking about it. Every time a new episode aired he'd either tweet or send me an email with "Holy shit!" or "Woah, oh my God! Look at that!" (Laughs) So it's been industry people who have been the most effusive.
You directed Kafkaesque in season three. Have you been getting that word into conversation since then?
|When a new script came out, everybody - and I've never seen this before - everybody on the crew would read it.|
) No, and I had actually to look up, when I did the show, to see why it was relevant to the title of the show. But no, that never comes up. The biggest lines from the shows that I directed have always been, "I'm not the guy who knocks," or, "Magnets, bitch! Magnets!"
We were big fans of the magnets scene.
You know what? I think that that scene was so Breaking Bad. I think that episode was what Breaking Bad did so well, which was take these horrid, horrid situations with horrid people - to a certain degree - and make them funny and charming and human, and let us laugh at them, but never letting us forget that their raison d'etre was not necessarily a great one.
Which, of course, is a tough thing to achieve.
It is. When a new script came out, everybody - and I've never seen this before - everybody on the crew would read it. Third grips, third electrics - incredible artists and incredibly skilled craftspeople but guys that don't readily delve into the material they're working on - but when a new Breaking Bad script came out every single one of them was reading the script.
Lastly, of all of the props on the show, which would you most like to give someone as a Christmas present?
I'm not giving away my hat! (Laughs) They gave everybody a symbolic hat with the network name printed in it, but I've also got one of the hats. The only other thing I asked for on the show was the slate cover. We used these digital slates to ID each of the shots and we had three slate covers. Vince got the A slate cover and I asked for the B camera slate cover, which is now framed in my house in New Jersey. The C camera slate cover is in the Sony archives in Los Angeles.