My Take On TV chats BREAKING BAD with Betsy Brandt

You’re all watching BREAKING BAD, right?  There’s a reason that this show is winning awards left and right, and why, specifically, Bryan Cranston has monopolized the voting for the Emmys (and is now the host of SNL’s second 2010-2011 season episode).  The show is gritty, and dark, and painful to watch at times, yet one of the strongest cable shows we’ve seen in years, and one that has me counting the days until the season 4 premiere.

I spent some time last week talking with series star Betsy Brandt (Marie Schrader, devoted wife of Hank Schrader), about the exciting season they just finished, why she loves her writers so much, and any ideas she has for what’s coming next year!

Can I just say that BREAKING BAD may be one of the greatest shows on television?
Can I just say that I love you? [we both laugh]

How did you get involved in the show?  Did you know from minute one that this was going to be something as great as it is?
I was a huge fan, and had a relationship with the casting directors, Sharon Bialy, and Sherry Thomas, and they are just fantastic.  They are really, really fantastic women, but they are amazing, rockstars at their job.  When they called me in, I thought, oh, it’s probably something good, and then I got the script and I read it, and I said to my husband, this is the best pilot I’ve ever read.  Hands down, the best pilot I’ve ever read.  And then I immediately worried, “I wonder if anything would ever happen with this” [laughs], because that happens sometimes, with movies too.  I’m like, there’s a really great film, and they can’t find the money, and then something else that I can’t believe will get made will get made. And then, when I went it, and pretty much once I met Vince Gilligan, I really wanted to work on this.  I went in, and I read for, there were three women in the pilot.  I went in for Marie, originally, and then we met and talked, and he read me for all three of the women, and one of them was Skyler, and they ended up writing the third out.  It was intended that the character would be a regular, but there really wasn’t much to do to keep her in the main story.  I tested for Marie, and they offered me Marie, and I was elated.

How has Marie changed since the original part that you read?  Is there anything that you brought to the table that wasn’t originally included?
There wasn’t a lot of material to her, especially in the pilot.  Vince talked to me about really how he saw her fitting into the story, and I remembered saying to him, “I know she’s not the most likable character, but I love her.” I don’t even know why, and I don’t need to know why.  She just seemed very real to me.  It seemed like there was a place for her, in that family, and in that world, and also in the world that she’s not in.  I asked him, you know, while we were doing the pilot, like, what does she do for a living, she works, what does she do.  He said, I don’t know, what do you think she does?  I think that she’s an x-ray technician, and he seemed a little stunned, and said, okay, and then later on, in Season 1, he said, that’s so great, it really works for us.  I said, I wanted her to be in the medical field, or do something.  I said, she’s either an x-ray technician or an insurance adjuster.  I would be happy if she were either of those.  And she’s an x-ray technician and it just really worked out with everything that Walt’s going through.  I didn’t want her to be a doctor.  That just seemed too easy.

Let’s talk about where this last season ended and where we can go from here.  For people who maybe haven’t seen the finale yet, where is Marie now, as we ended the last season, what do you know at all about the new season?
I don’t [laughs], I mean, I can guess.  Marie’s world has been turned upside down.  Hank is such a big part of her world.  Hank is her world, and he almost died.  We know he’s going to live, but he’s not out of the woods, but she looks at it as, if he can’t walk, or he can’t do his job, I worry for him.  That’s a big part of the man that he is, the man that he thinks that he is or needs to be, thinks that he needs to be.  To me, I just felt like, in every scene where the doctor is saying, he might not walk, she just can’t hear it.  She can’t accept it, she just can’t hear it. There has to be some way that we can fix this.  There has to be something that we can do to fix this, that’s how she looks at things.  I think that the road to recovery will not be quick, especially since our shows moves slowly. I don’t think it will be easy.  That’s really all I can guess.  They don’t tell any of us what we have coming.  We get outlines before we get the script so we have an idea of what’s going to be going on.  I will visit the writers because I love them, but not to pitch ideas for myself or anything.  They do what they do and they’re really amazing.

When will you begin shooting?
We are going to start shooting in January which is throwing me off!  Because it’s so long, it feels like it’s so long to be away, although we’ve been seeing each other a lot lately, the cast and crew.  We’ll start shooting in January, and it also kind of throws me off for Albuquerque.  When I go, my family goes with me.  My daughter goes to school there, and she plays soccer.  We do all of the things that New Mexico has to offer!  We go to the state fair, we go to the Balloon Fiesta which is amazing, and the Christmas parade, we do it all.

Albuquerque has been on the rise – you hear a lot about shows heading there to shoot!
Tamale-wood! It’s a hot place to shoot, a hot place to film!  They can use that for free ha!   It’s beautiful out there.  My husband and I, before we had kids, vacationed there.  I remember going there with my family when I was a kid, and falling in love with it, and saying I wanted to live there some day.  And so now I get to do this, it’s amazing.  The people in Albuquerque, that’s where we shoot, so that’s all I can talk about, but the people where we shoot, are really, really generous to us about shooting.  In LA, we’re used to it.  Other cities, at first, it seems like a great idea to have the industry and money come in, and all of the things that come with are sometimes not so good. You know, having your street closed for half a day, or a highway shut down, and people don’t do so well with that.  Albuquerque has been really, really welcoming to us.  It’s booming there.  It really is.  I mean, there are new studios going up all the time.  And then when there is more work there, more industry there, it gets easier, so more people come.  It’s like the new Vancouver.

Talking about BREAKING BAD and cable in general. So many cable shows have been on the rise, and become the shows we talk about.  Why do you think that is?
Two things, but they really coincide with one another.  They’re taking risks with the material they’re even choosing to continue.  I don’t know if our show could be on a regular network.  And then, also, just the things that they do, and say, once you jump off the bridge and say, I’m going to do this show about this chemistry teacher who cooks crystal meth, and sells it with a student that he failed, from his class, really, because, how many shows like that do you think get pitched at pilot season?  And they did it. AMC did it, and none of these other networks are doing shows like that, and then once you jump off, to keep going in that direction.  Hiring the actors that they hire.  And making the choices that they do along the way.  It’s the material, and I have to tell you, it’s really fun to be a part of it, and really, really fun to work on.  It feels like a home for me.  It feels like it suits me.  I feel like, those kinds of shows, they are more my style.  I’d have the time of my life doing a sitcom, too, but this feels like it suits me.

There is so much inherently wrong with these characters, they’re incredibly flawed, but it makes the show somewhat more relateble, and easier to gravitate to.
I’m on this, so I have a vested interest.  Also, though, in things that I watch, if I don’t care about the characters, then why?  I can appreciate that it’s clever, or appreciate that it’s well done, but I can only be interested for so long.  I’m not going to watch that for maybe an entire season, let alone, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.  Once you’re really involved in these characters, and also, I think, Vince and our writers pull no punches.  Sometimes, you can feel like you have just been taken advantage of as a viewer.  I have felt that way with shows before.  I can’t believe, jump the shark kind of thing, can’t believe you did that kind of thing.  And they don’t do that, and Vince would never do that.  He decides where, to a point, the premise of the show, but not exactly where it’s going to go.  I don’t think even he knows where the end is going to be.  He builds these characters, and creates these people, and then you know, for us, the actors, we get to create them, too, we get to be a part of that. That’s really what he does.  That, and he and our writers can come up with these amazing ideas, which kind of scares me.  If I didn’t know them, it would be kind of scary how they come up with these ideas.  Being in a room with all of them is really, really fun [laughs].  The idea of it, if you just watched the show, it’s like, where did that come from?  Really, a head on a turtle?  Don’t babysit my kids.

How do you prepare for a role like this?
I’m pretty straightforward.  Kind of like I do for every other role.  If it’s this kind of role, and most of the stuff I do, a lot of empathy, and really trying to put myself in that character’s shoes.  We were doing the commentary for the DVD or Blu-ray or however you buy it, and I was watching that scene from last season in Episode 8 where Marie and Skyler walk into the hospital room and Hank is laying in the bed, and Dean Norris had to fly in just to lay there, but I started to tear up when I was just watching it because I’m married, and I could only imagine what that would feel like to have your husband or your wife, to feel that.  It’s just so much.  These two characters, they have such an amazing relationship and I think they always did.  I think we saw little bits of that from the beginning of the show, but now, we’re just getting to know everybody more as the seasons go on, and I feel like we’re just getting to know them more and it’s really, really fun to do!

Why do you think someone should get caught up and be ready for next season?
Because I can only imagine what they’re going to do for Season 4, especially since the writers have had some more time in the room.  You know, 1, 2, and 3, the kind of work that they do, they are under the gun.  Sometimes, we don’t get our scripts until pretty close to shooting, or changes will be made and now they’ve had more time, so I can only imagine what they are going to do.  I mean, season 1 blew my mind with the things that we did, and where the show went, just in those 7 episodes.  And then season 2, I thought it was even better, and then Season 3, I really was like, this is amazing.  I knew this was amazing, and we all felt that.  We are all excited to show up and be able to do the work that we do, and make the best show that we can!

I’m probably going to re-watch the DVDs between now and when Season 4 finally premieres!
Well, we are going to be doing, and I don’t know what they’re going to be, we will be shooting some minisodes, and I don’t know what they’re going to be.  We’ve done them before when we had big breaks, and they’re interesting things to do, you know, funny, and great.  I’m hoping that they’ll be something that will really be part of the ongoing story.  We’ll have to keep you posted!  I have to say that I think we have the smartest fans.  All the people that I meet, people I know that watch the show.  My smartest friends are fans of the show, and not just because I’m on it!