The cast of Breaking Bad reunited in last week’s issue of EW to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the acclaimed meth drama, relive high times, and discuss the pulse-pounding moments from the Emmy-grabbing five-season run. Fans fell hard for Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the defeated, cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who started a meth-making operation with one of his going-nowhere ex-students, Jesse (Aaron Paul). In fact, many remained so loyal to the dark genius of science that they stuck by his side as he transformed into a murderous monster, and turned on his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), the voice of reason who opposed his new vocation and sought to protect her family as her own moral compass became compromised. Some of those fans directed vitriol at Gunn, who told EW, “It wasn’t a pleasant thing to go through, necessarily, but it was fascinating.” As Gunn’s costar Aaron Paul said: “Why did our audience not sympathize with this poor woman? I really felt for Anna, because she’s just such a beautiful human inside and out, and she played Skyler in such a fierce way, and people just dragged her character the most.”
Turns out, Paul did not escape fan wrath, either. During a roundtable Q&A with Cranston and creator Vince Gilligan as part of EW’s Breaking Bad reunion, Paul, who won three Emmys for his performance, revealed that he received some unpleasant backlash from Heisenberg-happy fans, albeit on a smaller scale. Although Walt and Jesse were partners in conquering the meth market, Jesse also was often a stubborn thorn in Walt’s side. And after being manipulated into myriad misdeeds and murder — and following his discovery that Walt had lied to him about poisoning his girlfriend’s son — the apprentice turned on the master by cooperating with ASAC Schrader (Dean Norris) to bring him down. (That didn’t work out so well for Hank or Jesse.) Below, in an outtake from the interview, Paul talks about the jarring Jesse jeering that he was subjected to, something that was news to Cranston and Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan.
AARON PAUL: I remember there were definitely a couple of seasons where people absolutely hated Jesse.
BRYAN CRANSTON: No.
VINCE GILLIGAN: No.
PAUL: I got it all the time! Yes.
GILLIGAN: Really? I’ve never heard that, ever. I only heard about Skyler.
PAUL: I have no idea why.
CRANSTON: But what could you have done?
PAUL: [to Cranston] Thank you! People would literally come up and be like, “I hate you!” I’m like, “Oh, great.” Maybe they just hate me in real life, I don’t know…
CRANSTON: That’s probably more accurate.
PAUL: And then it came back a little bit towards the end there. The diehard Heisenberg fans were like, “You f—ing rat.” Really.
GILLIGAN: People are saying this s— to you?
PAUL: Oh, yeah.
CRANSTON: [mock-menacing] Good. My posse. [All laugh.]
GILLIGAN: I could never be an actor — aside from lacking all talent for it. I don’t know how you put up with that stuff.
CRANSTON: No, I am surprised by that.
GILLIGAN: That’s insane. That’s so crazy.
CRANSTON: Eventually I think people had to realize, “Oh, I’ve hooked my wagon to the wrong person. I was sympathetic towards Walter White and he betrayed me.” If you’re a viewer, you have to come to that conclusion, and go, “Oh, my God, I was invested in this person and rooting for him, and he became this evil monster.” That’s why at the end [of the show] I was so happy when he says, “Skyler, I have to tell you why I did this all.” “Please don’t you dare tell me that you did this for your family!” “And he goes, “No. [“I did it for me.”] At least you saw that he came to terms with who he was, and he realized who he was. Maybe it was always there and it just became active like chemistry itself, going back to the very first episode. It’s the study of change, and that’s so brilliantly laid in there — and it came to full fruition at the end.”
Paul was thrilled to reunite with his old Breaking Bad castmates at a photo shoot for EW’s recent cover story. “I love these people,” he says. “I feel blessed to have shared this incredible experience that is Breaking Bad with each and every one of these people. I remember when we were shooting the first season, Dean and I were talking, he goes, ‘You know, in ten years, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Goddammit! I used to be a part of Breaking Bad!’ And now it’s crazy that 10 years has passed, and I am still constantly thinking that. It’s like, wow, how lucky we all are.” And for the record, he’s open to reprising the character on prequel Better Call Saul, which was co-created by Bad overlord Vince Gilligan. “I trust in Vince,” he says. “It would have a purpose, and whether or not he decides to find that purpose or searches for the purpose, I don’t know. But if he does find that purpose, I’m happy to jump on board.”
Paul — who stars in the films Welcome Home, The Parts You Lose, and The Burning Woman, and voices a character on BoJack Horseman — next stars with Octavia Spencer, Ron Cephas Jones, and Lizzie Caplan as a convicted murderer in Apple’s upcoming true-crime drama Are You Sleeping, which is based on the book of the same name. “I was blown away by these characters,” he says. “I’m a huge podcast fan, and it reminds me of listening to some of my favorite podcasts, and you’re not really sure what side you should be on, who you trust, who you don’t. Warren Cave was convicted of stabbing his neighbor to death on Halloween night when he was 16 years old. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. And this is 15 years later, and Octavia Spencer plays this journalist who starts talking about this story on this podcast and she believes that Warren is innocent, and she’s trying to shine a new light on this now-closed case.”
The chance to play “something I’ve never done before” drew him to the role, says Paul. “I’m excited to just dive into this person’s skin and seeing what I can find. He’s been in prison for some time, so he’s a complex individual that I think is going to keep the audience guessing.”
Tread not-so-lightly over here to check out the gallery from EW’s big Bad photo shoot.