What strikes you as you think back on filming that sequence where you’re destroying the house just looking for the last little electrical flicker? He seems plagued by such demons in his obsession to find the electrical source. And he cancels his appointment with Dr. Cruz — it’s devastating to watch that whole sequence, and it’s alarming on a cellular level.
Well, good, I’m glad it alarmed you. They tried to stay in sequence as much as possible because I was creating these gaping holes in the wall, and they didn’t want to have to rebuild them. They did a couple of times. But mainly it was done in sequence. I did it all. There were no stunt hammers at work. As an actor, it was kind of exhilarating, but as Chuck it was…I don’t think he’s the most physical person that ever lived. He’s one of those guys who probably played a lot of golf years and years ago, but not a physical person, and always hired the people to change that oil filter for him. So there was something that felt proactive about it to Chuck. Chuck really felt like, “I think I can do this. I know I can track this down. They’re not helping me over at the power station. That damn disc keeps going around.” Listen, Chuck had never had to doubt himself until several years ago. He really was on that cloud. Falling through the cloud was hard, landing on the ground was harder, and then finding a way to dig himself out of the ground is the hardest of all, but he never really gave up.
Let’s talk about the brutal final conversation between Chuck and Jimmy. Jimmy came over to mend fences, but was it just too little, too late after the humiliating damage that Jimmy did by exposing Chuck at the hearing? Chuck levels Jimmy with that comment, “You never mattered all that much to me,” but he’s not playing his cards fairly; that’s not how he really feels. What are his intentions in that moment of trying to wound his brother?
It’s absolutely not true. A great deal of his life has revolved around Jimmy in a mostly negative way, but there were times when Chuck had the upper hand that it made him feel better. Listen, a drowning man will grasp at anything, but he got a little floatation out of those moments when he bested Jimmy. And when he was flattened by Jimmy in the courtroom and then later with all the HHM stuff, he found himself in a position of orphanhood. The family was gone. The firm was gone. He had nobody. He had Dr. Cruz, who was a person that he pays.
Clea DuVall is amazing. She’s one of those just remarkable actresses who doesn’t have to do very much, and she’s terrific. But Dr. Cruz is the one person that we’ve seen him be completely honest with. And his way of getting rid of Jimmy, of sending Jimmy out the door that one last time with a lie — if he had told the truth, he would say, “I want you out of here because my life can no longer revolve around you” — there is some kind of duplicitous pride that comes into play there. I feel uncomfortable analyzing something as a viewer. I haven’t seen this episode… But there is something in saying something as untrue as, “You’ve never mattered that much to me,” just for the purpose of hurting him so badly that he won’t even come near the door again.
Chuck was a sanctimonious, unrelenting man who scorched his brother’s chances for advances at the law firm. How much of the fan hatred for Chuck do you attribute to that, versus the fact that we came into the show with a rooting interest for Saul from Breaking Bad so we’re going to take Jimmy’s side over an adversarial force?
Sure. You will follow your protagonist and you will hiss the antagonist if something is correctly constructed, and I think that this series is brilliantly constructed. It’s the same thing with Tony Soprano and Walter White. These are people who are not doing good things. Listen, we root for the Wild Bunch in that movie. [Laughs.] These are terrible people. These are the worst people. They’re awful! But the Mexicans are worse [in this movie]. We have a tendency to do that, whether it’s very light stuff, like the lovable rogues of The Lavender Hill Mob or those caper movies where people are doing criminal things, but they’re our heroes. The guys in The Italian Job — both versions of The Italian Job — we love hanging out with them. We love driving around in the little cars with them. But we also know that they’re breaking the law, but we’re rooting for them anyway.
You are introduced to Chuck as a fairly benign person, a person to pity, and later in that first season when it’s revealed that he is the behind-the-scenes architect of Jimmy’s change, things change. People call Chuck a lot of terrible names. When they say those things to me, they’re always very complimentary about my work but they do not like Chuck. [Laughs.] And I wouldn’t care to continue the conversation if they loved Chuck. I do think that the brighter watchers of the show really do see him, even though he’s an antagonist, as a real human being. You can feel whatever you like about him, as long as you believe he’s real, to the extent that you’re going to follow the story… Our viewers are always careful to tell me the great compliment: “I wouldn’t hate Chuck so much if you were playing him believably.” So, that’s always good.
NEXT PAGE: McKean on the chances of a Chuck return and his favorite Chuck scenes