'Breaking Bad': Anna Gunn on saying goodbye to Skyler, and what's next
It’s been more than a week since the Breaking Bad series finale, and we still can’t shake the grief. And now that some of our favorite actors are moving on to their next projects, we realized that we had no idea what was next for Emmy-winning actress Anna Gunn, who’s finally had to let go of the much-debated character of Skyler White. So what does she have to say about leaving Breaking Bad as one of the few survivors? Was she happy with the goodbye? And what’s next on her agenda?
We caught up with Gunn to discuss just that and more:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like for you watching the finale and saying bye to that character? How would you describe that experience?
ANNA GUNN: Well, we actually watched the finale right before we did the Talking Bad taping at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, before the big shindig there. So we actually watched it in a trailer. It was me and RJ [Mitte] and Giancarlo [Esposito] and Jonathan Banks, and it was really moving. Of course we knew what happened because we had read it and done it, but it’s always amazing to watch those things because you almost forget to an extent just how extraordinary the writing really is in terms of the way every single detail fits together and all the bits and pieces, and how all the threads that Vince [Gilligan] and our incredible writers, how they just tie those all back together. I think at one point, RJ and I looked at each other — when Walt is in the house and he has that little flashback back to the beginning when he remembers being in the living room and first seeing the news story about the meth bust and he talks to Hank about it and that first idea comes to him — and RJ and I looked at each other and went “Oh my gosh” because it was looking back to the beginning of that time 6 years ago. It was just a huge thing. It was emotional on so many levels. It was emotional to see the characters, to go through their story line and then for us as actors to just see the whole thing come to a close. Giancarlo and I were gripping each other while we were watching it, and there were times when things were happening where we were going, “Oh! Oh my gosh! Oh!” Even though I knew what was coming, when you’re not in those scenes and then you see them played out, you just can’t believe how gripping and powerful and heartbreaking they are. It’s still kind of sinking in, I have to say. It’s just an enormous, enormous thing to say goodbye to, but that being said, I think it was such a smart thing that Vince chose to end the story at this time and chose to wrap it up at this time because he had that much story to tell, and I think it was always, as he said, it’s always good to leave the party with people wanting maybe a little bit more before you’ve outstayed your welcome. So I think it’s a good way to think about it as well, to leave on a high.
Were you satisfied with Skyler’s ending? Were you surprised she lived?
Yes, I was happy to see that she lived. I don’t know what kind of life she has in front of her to be honest. But I do see some hope. I think Skyler’s a tremendously strong person, and I think that Marie is a tremendously strong person, and I think that there is hope that possibly the two of them can somehow mend what has happened between them. Maybe that’s just my sense of hopefulness as a human being, but I feel like they are and always have been such close sisters in that they are now really all that they have left, and they are going to be the ones to protect those children, and so you have this sense that perhaps they’ll pull together and that they’ll make sure that those kids are okay and that they’ll stick together. I was certainly satisfied with the way that the story was told all around. I thought it was a really perfect ending in terms of storytelling. I thought it was sad, really sad. So seeing her in that really depressing apartment and seeing her as a shell of her former self. There was a real heartbreaking quality to the fact that she knew that she had fallen down the rabbit hole and not only had her whole existence been turned upside down, but she had been responsible for some of it. And you wonder how will she recover from it and how will she go on and there’s so many things that you don’t know and unanswered questions … that there’s a real sadness about that, I think, but that’s part of the beauty of the storytelling.
You’ve talked in the past about how tense Skyler was as a character and how difficult it was to shake her at times. Have you managed to shake her at this point?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Certainly more than enough time has gone by, and I’ve done other things in the interim, and you learn as you get older and when you have kids and other obligations and responsibilities that you can’t carry those things around. You put on that hat, and then you take that hat off. There are some residual things that sometimes hang around, but that’s just part of it. That’s part of the job, and that’s actually not a bad thing. That’s part of the beauty of being an actress, you get to explore different facets of what it is to be a human being and what it is to explore different personalities, and actually that’s one of the things I love about it. Though it may be uncomfortable to explore some of those things, it’s one of the great things about it as well. But certainly yes, at this point, I have shed that. There is lightness back in my life.
What’s something you’ll really miss about playing her?
What I liked about Skyler was actually that she never gave up. She was tenacious. There were two sides to Skyler, as there were to pretty much every character in the show which is again what I thought was so wonderful about the writing. I think Bryan [Cranston] said it too, there wasn’t a black-hat, white-hat kind of quality to any of these characters. There was a lot of gray in the way these characters were drawn, and she was no different. She had her flaws but she had also, to me, there were certain things about her that I felt were really admirable, and the fact that she fought really hard for her children and for her family; she fought just as hard as Walt did and sometimes you didn’t necessarily see as deeply into that because you didn’t get as much of a glimpse into all those things as you did into him, simply because he was the main thrust of the story and storytelling. But she really really was somebody who was never ever going to give up on that. But then her flaw was that she could not turn him in to the police, and she could not run away with her kids, and she could not do the things that perhaps would’ve saved her and her children and maybe the rest of her family from the doom that finally befell them. And I felt ultimately that was really because of a couple of things, which were that she both felt that she was perhaps smart enough to be able to fix the situation or to change the situation or control it, and then ultimately also that she actually really loved Walt and that there was something in her that really, when it came down to it, she could not turn him in, and she could not run away because of that. And that’s a thing that you see in some people where despite being in almost an abusive relationship, because sometimes it really was akin to that, the things that he was doing to her and to the family were pretty bad. She simply could not do what she had to do to cut herself off from that. And that was really her mortal flaw as it were, so there were times when I wanted to say, “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to do something here!” but again, that’s part of the amazing thing about acting and about storytelling is that you’re playing the truth of humanity, and that’s the truth of a lot of people’s situations and that was the truth of her situation.
Do you think she got her goodbye, or do you think she theoretically would have attended a funeral for Walt?
I’m not sure. I don’t know. I feel that at that point in time she was so devastated and so almost laid bare and laid out by everything that had happened and because of the fact that I think she also felt responsible for what had happened to Hank, I mean I think the moment when a lot really died inside of her was when she came home and she realized that Hank was dead, and she thought that Walt had done it. And even if he didn’t, to her I feel that she felt that even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself, that the fact was that everything he set into motion lead to his death and that if it hadn’t been for him doing those things that that would never have happened. But I think she also felt that she was partially and largely responsible for it herself, and had she only taken those steps that I just talked about that maybe that would not have happened, and so I think that’s where she really died inside, and where that love that I talked about for Walt, I think that’s where it really died for her. And yet what was interesting about playing that very final moment where Walt asks to see baby Holly for the last time, you can see just that glimpse of her looking at him, and what my choice was in playing that moment was that she still sees that man that she married all those years ago, and she still sees that life that they once had and that he is the father of her children, and it all could have been different and it all ended up here, and there is immense heartbreak in that. But there’s a finality and a tragedy to it and I think if he had died and there had been a burial, she would’ve found a way to say goodbye, but I don’t know how public it would have been. But I think she would’ve found a way because again, that love, that thing that kept her connected to him and that wouldn’t allow her to leave, that was that thing that kept her there for all those months, and ugh. This is making me sad talking about it.
No no no! Let’s switch it up. What’s next for you? Anything you’re looking forward to?
Well I’m right now looking at lots of scripts and just trying to choose what I think would be most interesting and exciting after Breaking Bad. I’m looking at lots of film scripts right now, and really looking at different characters and looking at playing a really different character from Skyler, so I’m looking at comedy, which would be a lot of fun after all this, especially after talking like we were just talking. [Laughs] It would be a lot of fun to play some comedy. And I’m looking at just some really interesting different character roles that would be a complete 180 from Skyler that would allow me to really stretch and show my range and show colors and things that I haven’t been able to in the past few years. And also looking at some theater pieces, getting back to that, because that’s really my roots as well, and I love the theater. So looking at some of that and maybe going back to New York for a period of time to do a play. So there’s lots of good stuff, lots of interesting stuff, and we’re just going through it right now, and it’s a good time. It’s a lot of fun.
Absolutely. Well I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you so much for chatting with me!
I hope I didn’t depress you.
I’ll just keep reminding myself that you’ve been able to let Skyler go and it’s all light and happiness.
I have. I have a very good life; I’m very happy; I have let the burden of Skyler go. That was the thing I think was we all knew how incredibly lucky we were and what an amazing stroke of good fortune this was for all of us and it’s rare when you have that kind of experience, and we enjoyed every second of it. And I think that’s what was really also very special about it is we really loved our time together. I’m smiling about it now. I remember my last on the set – I’ve told this story – but I remember driving home after having a cry on the set saying goodbye to the crew, I remember driving home with this huge smile on my face because I thought, “That was one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me and I’m so lucky to have had that.” It was really an amazing thing, and I think we all felt that way.
Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.