Talking Bad – JOE meets Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
What’s that Netflix? You want us to do what now? Meet Vince Gilligan in London to chat about his beloved creation, one of the greatest television series of all time, Breaking Bad?
Yeah Mr Gilligan! Yeah interviews!
And so, following a very kind offer from the online streaming giants, JOE hopped on a plane, made our way to a London hotel room, and sat down with one of the most influential television writers of the modern era to talk all things Breaking Bad.
That is, we talked to him once we had stopped squealing like an excited little schoolgirl and the in-house security had us quietly sedated.
After trying, and failing, to convince some of the other gathered journalists into physically forcing the charming and witty Gilligan to reveal plot details of the final episodes of the final series, we got stuck into our ruthless spoiler-filled chat...
WARNING: Contains traces of moderate Breaking Bad spoilers so, if you haven't seen the most recent episode, read on at your own peril...
JOE: We know you’re a very busy man Vince (that’s right, first name terms) so thanks for meeting with us today.
Vince Gilligan: Thank you very much, lovely to meet you too.
JOE: You’re rushing off to Edinburgh and Paris over the next few days, what are you up to there?
VG: I’m heading to festivals in both cities but, ahmm, I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t looked that far ahead! I’m kind of taking it one day at a time because it’s a bit overwhelming for me thinking of it all at once. I’ll be honest, I haven’t paid that much attention, I just go where they tell me!
JOE: So you always just do what you’re told then?
VG: I do what I’m told, that’s what I do! I always do what I’m told.
JOE: Well, in that case, someone said that you HAD to tell us the ending to the final series of Breaking Bad...
VG: (Laughs) That’s funny, that’s funny... *stares at JOE in stony silence*
JOE: Congratulations on the success of the show. You obviously can’t actually reveal any of the details of the final episodes but it’s just that we’ll get in to trouble with our readers if we don’t ask...
VG: Thank you. Well, you know what, it’s funny. Everyone thinks that they want to know but they don’t. I always think that when it comes to spoilers, I’ve never been someone who’s in to them personally.
Hearing something said in words by someone who is as ill-equipped to describe it perfectly as I am, is like hearing a painting being described. Do you want to hear the painting be described or do you want to actually see the painting? Just hearing someone tell you what happens is very different from experiencing it on screen.
I think most people ask what the ending is and, as I start to jokingly reply to them, they start shouting “I don’t wanna know! I don’t wanna know!” at me. I love that, I love that about fans.
JOE: How do you think that spoiler or spoiled aspect will work with future remakes of Breaking Bad, such as the new Colombian version? Obviously a lot of people will know exactly how the story goes, so do you think that will detract from their viewing experience?
VG: That’s a very good question, hopefully it won’t detract from the show. They are indeed plugging away at making the Colombian version as we speak and I heard that they’re up to episode six.
I also would think that for the artists, the film-makers, the writers, directors and actors who are making those versions, it would be fine if they wanted to take some artistic license here and there. And certainly, if you’re remaking something, you have to do it so that it will work for the market that you’re actually making it for, so maybe there is some room to manouvre there creatively .
JOE: How involved with the production are you on that version? Are you a consultant?
VG: I hate to admit it, I’m actually very uninvolved because, when the process started on the Colombian version, I was deep into writing and directing the final episodes. But my assistant, a young man named Gordon Smith, was flown down to Colombia and was available on the set for the first episode as a consultant. He answered a lot of questions for the good folks down there, helped them however he could, and he brought back reports of how nice everybody was and how hard they were working to make it a good show. I look forward to watching it as a fan.
JOE: And where else would you like to see Breaking Bad remade?
VG: I’m greedy, I’d like to see it remade everywhere! I’d like to see what the UK version would look like...
JOE: And Irish as well...
VG: Yeah! Yeah, I would love to see that!
JOE: Because I saw that Walter’s name in the Colombian version is Walter Blanco (Blanco is Spanish for White) and the Irish word for white is ‘bán’, so Walter Bán could be his new name. Plus, it sounds like 'bong' which ties in nicely with the theme of the show...
VG: (Laughs) I love it! I love it! I want to see that version. There was even talk of a Turkish version and, the first time I ever heard the idea floated, we talked about a Danish version. That was years ago though and I haven’t heard anything since. But hey, (laughs) I’d love to see the Irish version, that’d be fantastic! I’d love to see that happen.
JOE: We’ll see what we can do sure. Where are you in terms of deciding what to do next, following Breaking Bad?
VG: My agents, as we speak... well, (looks at watch) maybe not as we speak because they’ll be asleep! But they’re working away trying to figure out a deal so I’m not sure where I’ll end up. There are a couple of possible studios that I could end up at.
First up though, I’d love to see a spin-off series centred around our Saul Goodman character, the crazy lawyer character played by Bob Odenkirk. That would be a lot of fun I think.
One of my writers/producers/directors on Breaking Bad, a guy named Peter Gould who’s a very talented man and who actually created the character of Saul Goodman back in Season Two, is working on it with me. The two of us are trying to get it up and running and, at the moment, we’re waiting to see if it’s a go with our studio or network. It would be a lot of fun to do that. I would like to help get that going and then let it very much be Peter’s show.
JOE: Would it be an hour-long show like Breaking Bad or would you make the episodes shorter? Because Bob Odenkirk is used to comedies and Saul Goodman is a very comic character so would shorter, darker episodes be the thing to do?
VG: That’s a very good question and that’s a question that Peter and I spent a lot of time discussing. Our best guess at the moment, with a caveat that it could change, is that it would be an hour long.
The best way that I can describe it is that we put as much humour as we could into Breaking Bad to leaven the extraordinary darkness. To my mind, Breaking Bad was roughly 80% drama and 20% comedy or humour. Maybe this would be the flip of that, something like 75% comedic to 25% dramatic because just turning Saul Goodman’s world into a 30-minute sitcom wouldn’t quite feel right or authentic to me.
Saul Goodman is a funny character but he lives in a very serious and dangerous world so, if we gave that short shrift, it would feel inauthentic to me and, to make it more sitcom-y, if you will, would be to do it an injustice I think.
JOE: Would the Saul Goodman show air again on AMC? Would they have the first right of refusal?
VG: AMC definitely have first right of refusal and I’m hoping that the show happens, I have no reason to believe that it won’t. This is always the time when you basically pitch something and wait, so it’s a good time, for instance, to be in Europe for three weeks while other people above your pay-grade try to hammer out all the details. Let the powers that be figure things out for themselves.
JOE: What made you choose Saul for a show as opposed to some of the other characters in Breaking Bad?
VG: For years I’d been thinking about it, and my writers and I had been talking about it probably since Season Four or thereabouts (2011). We were thinking, “Y’know, he might be a fun character to spin off.” We started thinking about it in earnest maybe a year or a year and a half ago. The best way that I could put it is that he is a lot of fun to write for and the actor is a wonderful person.
Every actor in our ensemble, they are all people that I want to work with again in the future but it is as much that the character himself is so much fun to write for – spinning some of the crazy dialogue that Saul Goodman gives out is just a pleasure.
It’s a pleasure to put words in Saul Goodman’s mouth and I guess that’s as good an answer as any.
JOE: Would there be potential for other Breaking Bad characters to have spin-offs, possibly as prequels? Such as charting the origins of Gus and his rise to the top?
VG: It is possible and it’s also possible that the Saul Goodman show will indeed be a prequel. If I sound like I’m being coy, it’s as much because we haven’t quite nailed it all down yet but it’s a strong possibility that it will be a prequel and, if it is, the sky’s the limit. You’re exactly right, potentially we could see Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), we could see Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), we could have a lot of fun with it.
JOE: Do you think that the new show could start to go into production as soon as this year?
VG: I would think so, I think it could. There’s no hard or fast schedule for it yet and there are a lot of details that need to be hammered out but I would think that it could be possible. Certainly it’s possible that we could open a writers’ room before the year is over.
Peter and I both have been very spoiled by Sony and AMC as they had allowed us a great deal of lee time in order to write Breaking Bad. These final eight episodes, for instance, we were given many months of lee time to break them and for the final 16 we were given over a year to figure out the story.
In other words, per episode, we had three to four weeks of story breaking time and that’s not even counting the writing. That’s how long it took seven of us writers in a room figuring out the ins and outs of it, the minutiae of the plot of each episode and I’ve been very spoiled by that.
I feel now that, whatever is good about Breaking Bad, aside from the wonderful actors portraying the characters, I feel that what’s really strong about the show, I can credit to the fact that we had enough lee time to figure these stories out. I don’t want, in any projects that I work on in the future, to not have that sort of lee time.
(Laughs) That’s my long-winded way of saying that we could open a writers’ room, but I’m spoiled now and Peter and I need the time that we need to figure out the stories before we actually start shooting them.
JOE: Well, we look forward to seeing it when it’s completed.
You’ve lived with Walt and Heisenberg in your own head for a long, long time now and I was wondering has he ever reared his ugly Heisenberg head in any of your own day-to-day situations? Maybe you’re in your local shop, they don’t have what you’re looking for and you go full Heisenberg on the poor shopkeeper?
VG: (Laughs) Ah, not as such in the shop but, y’know, listen – this has been the greatest job of my life and probably will be the greatest job that I’ll ever have but, having to live with Walter White in my head 24 hours a day for over six years can be detrimental.
He’s a tough guy to carry around in your brain for that amount of time and it’s a hard thing to turn off. You start to see the world through Walt’s eyes, through Heisenberg’s eyes, but I don’t think he made me ‘break bad’ at any particular moment or in any particular sense.
On the other hand, perceiving the world as Walter White does, and has, caused some unpleasant moments, especially during the season when Walter was under constant threat of death from Gus Fring – I started to get a little paranoid.
I’d be in a parking deck somewhere and think “do I hear footsteps, is someone coming for me?” (Laughs) It sounds a little crazy but living with that guy in your head can be tough and, as sad as I am that the show is over and I’ll miss the people involved with it and, as much that I’ll miss the creative satisfaction of it, being able to scrape the residue of Walter White and the way that he thinks will probably be a healthy thing.
JOE: This season the show opened to double the ratings of last year, the numbers have been increasing every year with people watching on Netflix and now Netflix is doing its own original TV shows. Do you think that your show was, or is, the breakthrough for the future of streaming online?
VG: We benefited from nearly perfect timing in regards to Netflix and the technology of streaming video on demand. I don’t claim that we deserve that, or that was some divine right or what not, it might’ve been just dumb luck.
But just as another show that I worked on years ago, The X-Files, benefited from its timing in relation to the onset of the Internet, Breaking Bad benefited from its timing relative to SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) coming online. I do not think that it’s a stretch to say that, if not for Netflix in particular, and SVOD in general, I wouldn’t be here talking with you and I wouldn’t be on this press trip. I would have nothing to sell.
In other words, it’s very likely that Breaking Bad would have been cancelled after Season Two, maybe Season Three. When we first went on the air we had a very small number of viewers and luckily the viewers we did have seemed to like the show. They would tell their friends but, lacking SVOD, not enough people would have been able to catch up with the show and, with a show like Breaking Bad, you don’t really want to start watching it halfway through Season Two or Season Three – it wouldn’t work I don’t think, it would be a very hard thing to catch up on.
I think it was dumb luck on our part, but I’ll take it. And we’re grateful to Netflix and SVOD for coming into existence when they did, otherwise I wouldn’t be here right now.
JOE: Could you also say that you’re grateful to the websites who may have hosted the show illegally, because Breaking Bad received a huge following once it was pirated online?
VG: That’s true, that’s true. And that’s the double-edged sword of those pirate sites. There has been a pro and con with regards to the online streaming, you’re right.
JOE: And finally, did you ever get a chance to bump into the Sony executive who once told you that the pitch for Breaking Bad was the worst television idea he had ever heard?
VG: Oh yeah! I work for him! And you know what? He’s a great guy and what I would not respect about him is if he tried to change history and say “Oh I always believed in it from the start.” He’s the big boss at Sony and he says, to this day, “Hey, I was the one who said it was the worst idea ever and now I’m glad you guys went ahead with it.” He’s a very cool guy and I respect that about him. And you know what, honestly, on paper it does sound like a really bad idea so I don’t blame him!
JOE: Thanks for your time, it was great to meet you Vince (still first name terms) and thanks for making just really, really brilliant television.
VG: (Laughs) Thanks! Thank you and great to see you too.
All five series of Breaking Bad are available to watch on Netflix, with the show’s final new episodes available to watch from each Monday.
And, if you haven’t seen any of the show then SORT YOUR LIFE OUT AND START WATCHING IT NOW. Bitch.