‘Breaking Bad,’ AMC’s Emmy-winning drama about a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer who starts cooking crystal meth to furnish his family with funds for the future (say that three times fast), returns Sunday night (10 p.m.) for a third season. Creator Vince Gilligan (‘The X-Files‘) sat down to tease what’s in store for Walt (Bryan Cranston) & co., and to indulge some harebrained ideas for garnering more viewers.
This season picks up almost immediately after the plane crash in season two’s finale. Did you toy with doing a ‘Desperate Housewives’-esque flash forward? Or did you always have that timeline in mind?
We toyed with lots of stuff. That’s a good question because it brings up something, that with this season in particular we play a lot with time. We do a lot of flashing around, mostly flashing back and seeing things we hadn’t previously seen. In general, we seldom if ever flash too far forward in time.
Why is that?
It always feels like the clock is ticking on this character’s life. He’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he’s been packing a lot of life into a very short amount of screen time. We also like playing out the consequences of his actions and decisions so we seldom think too long or too hard about skipping over big moments. That’s why we more or less always pick up where we left off.
We’ve seen snippets of flashbacks in previous seasons – Walt when he was with Gretchen (Jessica Hecht), for instance – but we’ve never really seen Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn) truly happy. Even when season one began they seemed off-kilter.
Yeah that’s true. Their marriage was maybe getting a little stale.
So in terms of flashbacks, are we ever going to see a time when they were actually compatible?
As a matter of fact, yes. We’ve got some interesting flashbacks this year and one of them we’re going to see a little bit of life years ago with Walt and Skyler.
And what about other characters? Will they do the time dance as well?
Yes indeed. Some who we thought we’d never see again!
Might the six feet under Tuco (Raymond Cruz) resurface? He was so good. And by good I mean bad.
Well, maybe not Tuco but other characters similar to him. We may see Tortuga again – the fellah who wound up with his head on a tortoise. But I don’t want to give too much away.
Catch up on the previous two seasons below:
Despite all the critical success the show has received, it’s still been a journey for ratings. Do you ever think about trying to write towards a broader audience, and what that might mean?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more people watching our show. Now that you mention it, I’m kind of proud to say this – it’s never dawned on me to try to chase a larger audience. The truth is the show has to be what it is. The characters have to tell us…this sort of sounds like crap but it really is true. When you’re in a writers room, if you’re being honest, you don’t ever want to push the character in some direction that you think they ought to go. You want to talk it through at great length and figure out where that character’s head is. You have to let the characters live their lives the way they would live them, and let things unfold in an organic fashion. If you don’t do that you’re not being true to the characters.
To that end I kind of keep hoping in my heart of hearts that people catch on to the show and embrace it for what it is. It’s never going to be ‘ER.’ It will never be a big broad swath hit, even if we made more of an active effort to make it more of a crowd pleaser – but I don’t even know what that means.
I always feel like when you chase something like that you’re bound for failure. There is no formula. They either hit or they don’t. Whenever I get a little bummed that we don’t have a few more viewers than we do, if I’m being good about it, I say to myself ‘you’re lucky the show is on the air at all.’ It’s so crazy that anyone in the first place would put a show on the air about a guy who’s dying of cancer and decides to cook crystal meth. It’s amazing after that, that as many people would watch it, and critics and our peers have been so nice to us award-wise.
Crossover stunts are always good for viewers. I’m gunning for Jesse (Aaron Paul) to go on ‘Intervention’ if he doesn’t get his act together.
Now there’s an interesting idea! I bet ‘Intervention’ wouldn’t be into that, though. It might feel like it was belittling the folks who were really going through it.
Perhaps a time-traveling crossover episode to the glory days of ‘Mad Men.’
[Laughs] What would be fun would be to swap casts with ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad,’ and just do an episode there.
Could that ever happen?!
No! [Laughs] Not in a million years. But it is fun to think about. It’d be more fun for me than it would for [‘Mad Men’ creator] Matt Weiner. The only people to benefit from that would be us, the underdog. They would have a lot to lose!
What about guest stars? Any people you’re dreaming about having on?
For me I just like working with people I find interesting. This season we tried to get Alton Brown, the host of ‘Good Eats.’ I love that show, and I’m not even a chef. I’m not even a cook, actually, so certainly not a chef! I just love watching his show because you learn so much about chemistry. Apparently we got word he was really flattered but too busy to do it. I don’t know how it would have helped us ratings-wise but it’s the kind of thing I where I think it’d be fun to meet certain people.
Who would you kill for?
You know who I’d love? Either as an actor or a director – Werner Herzog. I don’t know if that would ever happen. He’s probably too busy doing movies.
Do you have a character in mind for him?
I could come up with one real quick if we could get a guy like that!
Well by putting it out there, it could happen…
You never know!
‘BREAKING BAD’ RETURNS SUNDAY MARCH 21 AT 10 PM ON AMC