Hey Redditors! For the next hour I’m answering as many of your questions as I can. Breaking Bad, the Better Call Saul first season finale — nothing is off limits.
And before we begin, I’ve got one more surprise. To benefit theater arts through the Geffen Playhouse, I’m giving one lucky fan and a friend the chance to join me in Los Angeles and talk more over lunch. Enter to win here: [www.omaze.com/vince]
Have you ever thought of opening a Los Pollos Hermanos?
Believe it or not… there is talk of a Pollos Hermanos becoming a real restaurant. This is not an idea that I generated personally. But it’s one that’s been presented to me, through the good folks at Sony, and the idea came to them from a businessman who has an interest in doing just that.
Speaking for myself, I’d love to see that happen!
In casting for Breaking Bad, how close or far was Aaron Paul to your initial vision of Jesse?
Aaron Paul very much fit the bill of my interpretation of Jesse Pinkman from the get-go. Otherwise we wouldn’t have hired him. But having said that, a great deal of Aaron’s personality and goodness then became a part of the character of Jesse Pinkman as the show progressed. In other words – we the writers were inspired by Aaron’s specific qualities as a human being, and we incorporated many of those qualities into the character of Jesse Pinkman. And we did this with all of the other actors as well – from Bryan Cranston on down. It’s a wonderful thing about television – that you can do that. You’re telling one story for so long that you have the time to adjust the story, over many episodes and many seasons, as you learn more about your actors. No other medium allows for that. For instance, when you’re writing a movie, the script has to be completely finished before production starts, and there’s no chance to make those changes as the shooting continues.
Did you ever anticipate that the pizza throwing scene would be copied as much as it was?
No, I never anticipated that the pizza-throwing scene would be one of the “non-submergible” moments of Breaking Bad. None of us did. It seemed like a fun thing to include in the episode at the time, but none of the writers of the series thought it would take on a life of its own. Thank you for asking that question, because it once again gives me the opportunity to say: for any of the folks who wanted to throw pizza on the roof of the White house, it’s very unfair to the sweet lady that lives there. Please, please do NOT do it. If you want the photo of a pizza on the White house roof: Photoshop it!!! That’s the way to do it in this day in age. You can have any size pizza, and it won’t risk this very sweet lady breaking her back getting her ladder out and climbing up to clean pizza off her roof.
Out of all the characters that were killed in Breaking Bad which one’s death affected you the most?
I have to say the death of Walter White affected me the most, because what it represented was the end of the story and the completion of this seven year journey we had taken together — the cast, crew, writers and directors of Breaking Bad. That was the most affecting death to write. I actually teared up when I wrote it. I think a close second was the death of Mike Ehrmantraut.
George RR Martin commented that he thought “Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros”, which Martin also said has influenced him to make an even worse character in future books to “fix this” – what do you think about this comment? Would you look forward to seeing such a character in Game of Thrones?
I take George RR Martin’s comment as high praise indeed. I suppose the grass is always greener, because I would put young King Joffrey up against Walter White as far as pure unadulterated evil goes, because he was pretty intense — but I’m glad a writer as talented as George RR Martin is thinking about Breaking Bad in any shape or form!
Do you feel like your work gets over-interpreted?
That’s a good question! The short answer is no. That’s because I view people interpreting Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul very closely as the highest form of flattery. However, I will admit that a great many of the interpretations that people have of both shows involve details and conclusions which — frankly — I never had in mind. But my opinion is that these shows, once on the air, belong to you the fans as much as they belong to me and those who act and work on the shows, so your reactions are just as valid as mine.
Did you ever read /r/breakingbad‘s theories during the show, for example the use of the colors in the show or walt picking up his victim’s habits?
I’ve never actually been on reddit before — not as a consumer, at least. Not because I don’t find reddit interesting; I just don’t look up anything Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, or Vince Gilligan-related. That said, I have heard throughout the years that people find our use of color interesting, which I’m happy to hear, because a great deal of thought went into that between the writers and the costume designers.
Who was the biggest prankster on the set of Breaking Bad?
Probably Bryan Cranston. He loved to tease Aaron Paul mercilessly. This came about after I told Aaron Paul early in the series that I had planned to kill off his character. From then on, every time a new script came out, Bryan would hurry to read it first so he could put on a sorrowful face and say to Aaron, “Gee buddy, I’m so sorry. You’re going out with a bang, at least.” And Aaron, God bless him, seemed to fall for it every time.
What other characters from Breaking Bad might we see in Better Call Saul?
Anybody and everybody. The sky’s the limit! That’s the beauty of this format. The story takes place six years in the past, where all the Breaking Bad characters are alive and well, but that’s not to promise that you’ll see every character that we introduced in Breaking Bad. We’re still feeling our way through Jimmy McGill’s format, discovering how and why he becomes Saul Goodman — and in the process, there’s any number of directions our story can take. So I couldn’t really tell you even if I wanted to who will show up, or when. Better Call Saul is still very much a work in progress.
What were your greatest fears in producing a spin-off for Breaking Bad? How did you overcome them?
Without a doubt, my greatest fear was abject failure — and that is still my greatest fear. Seriously: I was afraid that the show would go on the air and people wouldn’t like it, and — worse than that — people would say it sullied their memory of Breaking Bad. But fear is never a reason not to try something. That’s what I told myself throughout the months of production and pre-production on Season 1, and that’s what I tell myself now. Fear is a good thing — it’s the fire in the boiler that drives your locomotive, so to speak. I try to temper the fear with hopefulness, and I try to use it to keep me going, but it’s always there no matter how much success I experience. I always feel like the next time around — for instance the next season of Better Call Saul — could be the one when people finally say “This guy sucks.” Here’s hoping that won’t happen. I can tell you for a fact that that fear drives me and Peter Gould to make sure that Season 2 will be every bit as good as Season 1.
Why do you think Breaking Bad connected so closely with viewers, to the point where they wished Walter White would have lived?
I wish I knew! Although, I’m certainly glad viewers did connect with Walter White. In the early days of the series — when I was at my most foolish — I deliberately tried to make Walter White so unlikeable that his behavior would shed viewers. In hindsight, I think that was extraordinarily dumb of me, but I have to admit that by the end of the series, I myself did not have a whole lot of sympathy for Walter White. For me, he had gotten too dark to empathize with, which is not to say viewers should all feel the same way I do. I’m glad viewers still rooted for him up till the end and wanted him to live. Hell, even my mom did! And if you knew her, you’d be pretty shocked she would root for a guy like that. I think Walter White was smart, active, willful — and that’s what we look for in our heroes. The fact that he was engaged in some pretty heinous criminal behavior might have been a bit beside the point. He nonetheless had many other qualities that we deem heroic in fiction. Maybe that’s why people stuck with him. Certainly people stuck with Walter White because he was played by the astoundingly talented Bryan Cranston, who remains constantly watchable no matter what character he is playing.
Why did you pick Saul for a spinoff? I would thought that spinoff with gustavo and how he became a respected business man and how he came to know gale, etc would have been fascinating too.
I have to admit, a spin-off series about Gus Fring would be a good idea. There’s no perfect answer to that question, other than to say that creating a spin-off series related to Saul Goodman was an idea that we batted around pretty much since the creation of the character. We always loved writing for Saul Goodman throughout the run of Breaking Bad. Now we find writing for Jimmy McGill, he’s so good with words that writing his dialogue is great fun, too. But you’re right, Gus could carry his own story. I wish there were more hours in the day, so that we’d be able to do ALL these shows!
From the Aztec to the Volvo in the final episodes, everything about vehicle selection in Breaking Bad seems spot on. How much thought went into these choices, and what were some other ideas?
A lot of thought went into choosing the automobiles for Breaking Bad and for Better Call Saul. We writers have a lot of help from our transportation captain, Dennis Milliken. As our head teamster, Dennis takes great pride in finding us interesting vehicles for use in both shows. As writers, we spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of car best represents a particular character.
What was your favorite “X-Files” episode that you wrote and will you be writing more for the reboot?
I had so many favorite X-Files episodes, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.
If you held my feet to the fire, I’d probably say “Bad Blood.” But really, as an experience, my favorite writing moment on The X-Files was probably writing “Je Souhaite” episode. That’s the one with the genie.
That’s because that’s the first episode I got to direct as well as write. And it was really a wonderful turning point in my career and it was a great deal of fun to boot.
Unfortunately I won’t be writing for the reboot, because my work on Better Call Saul will keep me from doing that. I’m very sad to miss out, because I would love to have a hand in The X-Files reboot. The X-Files was my second favorite job ever, a close second to Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and I’d love to be a part of it. Rest assured, I will be watching it as a fan. I can’t wait to see it.
What has been your best/funniest/weirdest encounter with a fan?
For me, the story that springs to mind is when someone told me — this was probably about four years ago — that he and his wife (who was pregnant) had been binge-watching Breaking Bad. His wife went into labor, but none-the-less sat there until they got to the end of the episode. That was a pretty unbelievable story.
Chuck McGill’s arc was brilliant. How did you come up with the idea for the resolution? The lack of a main villain, then turning out to have been a good guy in such a subtle, painful, and awful way was really brilliant.
Thank you. Believe it or not, the idea of Chuck being the “bad guy” was a late addition to Season 1. We were probably working on episode 7 when the idea dawned on us that Chuck had been the reason Jimmy had never moved forward at HHM. When that idea dawned on Peter Gould and I, along with our writers, we got very excited. But back to an earlier answer, this points out one of the things I love most about writing for TV. There are enough episodes and enough lead time (if you’re lucky) for writers to change the direction of a story midstream. We took advantage of that in Season 1 of Better Call Saul, and in the past for Breaking Bad. It’s a great creative opportunity to have at one’s disposal.
I live in Albuquerque and love to see our city showcased as such a main character on monumental shows like Breaking Bad and now Better Call Saul. I’m curious how you feel about our city overall? Also what were some of your favorite places to frequent while in town?
I love Albuquerque. The first time I ever visited was on my way to Los Angeles for my X-Files job in 1995. Then, I got to tour Kirtland Air Force Base on a fact-finding trip. This was in about 1998. I loved that experience — and years later when it became apparent that it was the best place to shoot Breaking Bad, I was very pleased to return. There are so many things I loved. I love taking the cable car up to the peak of the Sandias. I loved The Savoy and Zinc and Jennifer James 101 — among many other great restaurants. I love the people. I love the natural beauty that surrounds it. I love the endless dramatic skies. I think the skies are one of the things that make it really stand out on film. I’m happy to shoot Better Call Saul there now, because I really missed it during the interim between the two shows.
Breaking Bad is my all-time favourite TV series and I’d like to thank you for it. What inspired you to come up with the idea for the show?
I was on a phone call with my best friend, Tom Schnauz, whose name you may recognize as a producer, writer and director on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. This was about 10 years ago — he and I had been writers on The X-Files and we were both looking for writing jobs that were as good as that job, as we were both out of work at the time. He made the joke that we should put a meth lab in the back of an RV and travel America — he was making a joke, but that really stuck with me. The idea of doing a show about a character that would do that seemed fun to explore — and that was the inspiration, as it were.
Why was Nacho used so sparingly in Season 1 of Better Call Saul? A lot of fans thought he’d be more of a major player.
We thought Nacho would be more present in Season 1 as well. We did not shy away from using Nacho as a character — and we love Michael Mando, who plays him. This is a great example of how — like it or not — a television story takes on a life of its own. As a writer, you have to follow the thread of the story you’re writing, even if that means spending less time with certain characters. In other words — to put it succinctly — there was so much more story to tell relating to Jimmy and his brother Chuck that we writers found it hard to fit in more great moments from Nacho — but don’t despair, you’ll be seeing much more of Nacho in Season 2. You heard it here first!
If you weren’t working in this industry, what else do you think you’d be doing right now instead?
I think I’d like to be a helicopter pilot. I think I’d enjoy that. I don’t know how good I’d be at it, in terms of having it as a career, but I think flying around in a helicopter all day would be pretty satisfying to me.
On top of making one of the most compelling shows ever created, you seem like a cool, laid back, genuinely nice, friendly guy. It’s too much. There must be a dark side to you, so what is it?
Thank you, for that. I hate to say it, but I’m probably not nearly as nice as I seem. Most people who think I’m nice are fans that interact with me at Breaking Bad events or who happen to say hi to me on the street somewhere. In those moments, it’s impossible for me not to smile and say hi and pose for a picture with someone who loves my work so much. It’s so flattering for me when people tell me they love my work, but like anyone else I certainly do have my less attractive moments when I am angry or impatient or just plain tired. I’m glad people don’t see those moments as often, but believe me: they do exist.
I heard that Saul Goodman’s Office at the Shopping Center location is now a Bar in real life and can’t be used as a set anymore. At the end of Breaking Bad you had to shoot scenes at weird camera angles where it looked as though they were outside Saul’s office with the inflatable Statue of Liberty in the background. What will you use as a new location when Saul establishes himself? What other problems do you run into when a whole town is part of your story?
That’s an excellent question — where we will put his new office, or where we should put his old office, so to speak. The exterior of his old office is now a country-western bar, complete with a mechanical bull that you can ride. It’s in an L-shaped strip mall, and luckily there are a LOT of L-shaped strip malls in Albuquerque and in the US. When the time comes, I think we can find something that matches the old one well — and the interior we can match on the sound stage!
What was the last album you listened to and liked?
I would have to say the Breaking Bad soundtrack album created by our extraordinary composer Dave Porter. It’s available on vinyl — can you believe it?! That’s the first time I’ve heard of an album in vinyl in more years I can count.
How do we know you’re not Gordon Freeman?
Sadly, my knowledge of video games pretty much ends with Super Mario Brothers. I thought you were going to say I either look like Mario or Luigi! Actually, now the folks here are showing me a photo of Gordon Freeman from Google — and yeah, I do see the resemblance. Although, this guy looks way more badass than me. So thanks for a compliment!!
Is there anything that inspired you as a kid or an adult that made you create hit shows like Breaking Bad?
I’ve always been inspired by good storytelling — reading it and watching it; in novels, movies and TV series. I’ve always been an avid consumer of good storytelling in all its different forms, so I think that held me in good stead when it came time for me to work in TV as a career. A stroke of good luck that I had when I got to write on The X-Files was that the job the taught me how to do THIS job. It was a wonderful seven year-long education in TV writing, directing, and producing — I wouldn’t be here talking to you folks if it hadn’t been for The X-Files. I wouldn’t have had the skills necessary to create my own show if it hadn’t been for that “film school.”
Have you ever been to Brazil or do you have plans to come here?
I have been invited to Brazil, and unfortunately I haven’t had the time to partake of that very kind offer. But the beauty of this Omaze fundraiser is that anyone, anywhere in the world can win it. And if you win it, you’ll be flown here to Los Angeles to have lunch with me. Here’s the link: omaze.com/vince So I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Best of luck, pandapoderoso!
My whole life I have wanted to tell stories as a career. When I was younger and had difficulty making friends I would get through these moments by making stories. In fact telling stories helped me conquer a good part of my crippling social anxiety by using my story to do stand up comedy. When I got to college I knew I wanted to make a career in writing film or and TV, with dreams of making something amazing one day. As of now, that career seems like more of a fantasy. I’ve been rejected from every single internship or job I’ve applied to and my writing feels more and more worthless. I have the fear of finishing any of my projects which I put months of work into since I have no idea what it feels like to be successful and at some points I just want to give in and not write. I hate writing that down because the only real career I see myself being very happy with in writing! I know in order to succeed I need to keep pressing through the disappointment but I ask you, how did you do that? How did you handle the negative reactions? Breaking Bad originally got rejected from several networks for being something to ambitious until AMC gave you a chance. How did you keep pressing forward?
A great question — and always a tough one to answer — but you were right, Geoff, in realizing that it’s necessary to press on. I find that anything in life that’s worth pursuing comes with a lot of rejection along the way. The TV business is full of emotional ups and downs, to be sure. I’m not a big sports guy, but I always think about the fact that in the MLB you can make $20 million for only hitting the ball once out of every three at-bats. I think of the TV business that way. Most shows and movie scripts that you pitch will be rejected, it’s just the nature of the business — and it’s not fun at all, let me tell you — but you just have to stick with it, and you have to believe in yourself and you have to keep reminding yourself that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes talent and luck and equal measure, but most of all: it takes persistence. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never, never, never, give up” – Good luck.