The sun was shining brightly on Albuquerque today, as AMC’s Breaking Bad was nominated for 13 Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, and acting nods for four of its power players, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and Giancarlo Esposito. “It’s a good day to break bad,” quips Cranston, who was nominated again for his mesmerizing performance as Walter White, the terminally ill high school chemistry teacher who has corroded into a dangerous meth lord. “Everybody get out there and break a little bad.” EW spoke with three-time Emmy winner about his nomination, the show’s great fortune, and his favorite moments from season 4.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you sleep last night?
BRYAN CRANSTON: I go right to sleep. In fact, we just had a New York trip, so I was a little bit jet-lagged. But no, I sleep well. I don’t think about that sort of thing. I don’t think I should. I don’t think anybody should. This kind of thing should be a nice surprise that you react to, not anticipate.
Well, when you saw all the nominations for the cast, that was certainly a good thing to react to.
That was huge. Once I found out that we had 13 nominations for our little show, it’s like, “Wow, that’s fantastic.” And it would be phenomenal to see those people get their recognition. I mean, they did, today. And it would be lovely if they were able to win an award. And especially the show. Because we’re all involved in it collectively.
What sticks out to you when you look back at Walt’s story last season? He is well on his journey to the dark side by the end of the season when he declares, “I won.”
He is. Last season seemed to be where all the elements were coming into play for him, where he was finally not only accepting his new life, but embracing it, allowing him to feel empowered. For the most part of the season, however, he was feeling oppressed by Gus Fring’s [Giancarlo Esposito] heavy hand and wasn’t able to come out from under that kind of pressure. Against all odds, he did. He was Bobby Fischer defeating the champion. It was the Miracle on Ice, the American hockey team beating the Russians. Because he had all the cards. He had money. He had control. He had henchmen. He had video cameras. He was three, four, five steps ahead of Walt and had all the advantages. So to be able to defeat someone like that was huge. And now I look at it, and I think, “Well, there’s two ways you can go with that. Either you thank your lucky stars and realize, ‘We just dodged a bullet here, and now let’s get out of this horrible business and get back to some semblance of a life.’ Or you go, as Walt chose this year, ‘Yeah, damn right. Look what I did. I won! I beat him!’ And now, unfortunately for Walt and everyone else around him, he is behaving like a teenage track star. He’s pounding his chest and saying, “Look at me!” and wants to create an even bigger enterprise than Gus Fring had. Now he’s challenged. He’s competitive — and not in a healthy way.
Do you have a favorite Walt scene from season 4?
I just keep thinking of “Crawl Space.” That moment of futility when he realizes that he can’t protect his own family because the money’s not there, so he can’t give it to the guy who makes people disappear. And not only that, to rub salt in the wound, the money went to my wife’s ex-lover. [Laughs] The absurdity of that just caught him by surprise — the absolute despair — because he’s laughing as a dead man and realizes the irony of how this all played out, and this is how it’s going to end. That struck me.
Also just the logistics of “End Times,” where Jesse comes to Walt’s house. Walt is completely expecting the assault, and he’s ready. And Jesse want to put a bullet in his head because Brock, the boy, was poisoned with ricin. And he must know it’s me, and I’m laying there — he pushed me down — and I’m saying, “Why would I do this? Why? What do I have to gain by doing this?” And you know who does have something to gain and who has used children in the past. All that logic was able to come spewing up. It was perfectly played by Walt. The interesting thing is that I, Bryan, didn’t know that Walt had indeed poisoned the child when we were shooting that episode. Because I had not read the final episode yet. And so I was able to play that earnestly. And I thought I was telling the truth. I thought Walt was saying, “Think! Why would I do such a thing? It doesn’t make any sense!” It was all so well played that I was reading the final episode — “Oh, we got him. It blew up. Oh my God. We gotta go clean the thing up, and blow up the superlab…” — and then the last page almost insignificantly had three lines of action in the description. And I didn’t even turn the page before it over completely because there was a sea of white and just three black lines of ink. I went, “Blah, blah, blah, backyard… oh, what’s this? Camera pushes in on a plant… Lily of the Valley…” And all of the sudden, I was like [gasps] “Oh my God! I did do it!” It was just amazing to me. That’s what’s so great — I did not see that coming.
How do you navigate the Giancarlo-Aaron situation, seeing that they’re both nominated in the same category?
I said, “I’ll vote for you.” To each one of them.
Emmy Awards: ‘Breaking Bad’ star Giancarlo Esposito on his nomination, plans for Emmy night