03rd Sep2013

Interview: ‘Breaking Bad’ creator Vince Gilligan

by Phil Wheat


Starting out as somewhat of a cult show, Breaking Bad has since punctuated mainstream consciousness with its tale of cancer patient turned meth dealer Walter White and his “adventures” in the drug trade. In the second of our new collaborations with AskMen we got to chat with series creator Vince Gilligan about the show and his plans for a spin-off…

Would you do a spin off, either of the show or with Walt just on his own?

We’re talking about doing a spin off of one of our fun main characters, Saul Goldman, the somewhat dirty lawyer counciliary (?) to Walter White, played by Bob Odenkirk, a man named Peter Gould who was one of my producers and writers who actually created the character, was the first writer to create Sol Goldman back in the second season of Breaking Bad, he and I are at work on a spin off and I would love to see it happen, I would love to help get it off the ground and then let Peter take it over and run it, let it be his show, I would love to see that show happen, because Saul Goldman is a fun guy to write for.

Thinking about the masterclass you’re doing at Edinburgh, and looking back at the five series you’re in the middle of finishing, what advice will you give to people at Edinburgh about how to create a fantastic TV show?

Such a good question, and so many good answers I could give to that question. I guess I would start by saying “don’t set out to create a great hit”. Listen, we all want our work to outlive us, we all want to create work, for writers like myself to write stories and create characters that have resonance and outlive us, but the quickest route to failure is to have that be too active and prominent a goal. In other words, when I came up with the character of Walter White I was just intrigued by him as a character, I found him interesting and fascinating, I felt like he was someone I could sink my teeth into as a writer. I did not stop to think how crazy a pitch Breaking Bad was, and it didn’t really dawn on me until the first time I was pitching to a couple of the Sony executives, a couple of ultimately my bosses at Sony. I was pitching them the idea in 2005, 2006, only when I was pitching the show to two of the executives and seeing these deer in the headlights looks in their eyes did I realize that this is not necessarily a show for everybody! Luckily they ended up buying it. I think my best advice would be to write stories that grip you as a writer to write about characters who intrigue you personally, and don’t think too far ahead about what will sell and what will resonate with others. The truth is, no one knows what will resonate with others, if people really understood what buyers (for lack of a better way to put it), whether it’s a new light bulb or a script if you’re a writer, if people really understood what the market wanted, that person whatever it is they were selling would very quickly become the richest person on earth. The great stories of success, whether it’s story telling or creating a company like Amazon, or Google, I think and have to believe the people who came up with those success stories had a personal passion for the idea, and weren’t thinking too far ahead about “gee, I really think this one’s gonna resonate, this one’s gonna hit”. Some of the biggest successes seem to me in hindsight to be somewhat accidental, they feel that way and this feels that way.

Do you think you could say the same thing about Jesse Pinkman as a character, that he’s become more interesting as the series has gone on? I heard there was a point when he wasn’t going to be a regular and you were going to get rid of Jesse. At what point did you realize he was going to be your Luke Skywalker to your Obi Wan Kenobi?

I was indeed going to kill off Jesse Pinkman at the end of the first season, but it wasn’t very deep into the first season that I changed my mind, after the first episode and after the pilot. I said to myself this actor Aaron Paul is going to be a star, he is a fantastic actor, he and Bryan Cranston have such great chemistry together (no pun intended, but they do) they are wonderful together, they’re like a 21st century Laurel and Hardy. I love writing for them, I love seeing them interact, and I would be a fool for killing off this character, I would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

How else has the plot changed from what you originally intended?

I’ll give you an example, I can’t tell you exactly what it would have been as we use elements of it later, but I always carry a certain level of anxiety with me, I was very neurotic, especially in the early days of the show, that we needed to be very interesting in order to stay on the air. At the end of the first season I had certain ideas, certain plot developments and machinations that I was going to put into our show that would probably have the killed the show. I can’t tell you exactly what they were as some of them may happen in these final eight episodes, but I got saved from own worst impulses by the Writers Guild strike of 2007, Hollywood basically shut down for three or four months, but the silver lining for me personally and for Breaking Bad was that it saved me from my own worst impulses. I would have thrown the kitchen sink into the final two episodes of that first season and I would have taken the plot so far so quickly that it really would have messed up the show. So I feel very lucky that the strike didn’t allow me to finish those last two episodes!

Can you tell us more about the spin off with Saul Goodman? Are you writing it at the moment?

We’re not writing it at the moment, we’re waiting to see if it will be purchased by Sony television our studio, they’re very much on board with the idea of doing it, and hopefully it will work out that AMC network will decide to put it on it’s network and on air so we’re just waiting for the deal to be worked that. That’s above my pay grade I’m waiting to see that happen.

What sort of show do you envision there?

I envision it being very much in the world of Breaking Bad. Clearly Saul Goodman is a pretty funny guy, but it wouldn’t be an out and out comedy. Put it this way, if you imagine Breaking Bad being 80% drama and 20% funny, because we try and put as much humour as we can in the show, the Saul Goodman show would be the flip of that. 80% funny to 20% dramatic. But there would be quite a lot of drama in it, because just as comedy levens drama, drama can leven comedy and make it feel more real and more rich.

Read the full interview with Vince Gilligan at AskMen.com


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