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'Breaking Bad': TV on the big screen and a cast Q&A [updated]

April 23, 2009 | 10:38 pm

“Cinematic” is a term critics and fans sometimes associate with “Breaking Bad,” considering the AMC drama is shot on a 35-millimeter camera and the individual episodes often play out like short films. Those qualities also made for an especially dazzling Wednesday night in North Hollywood, where AMC rolled out an advance screening of Sunday’s episode for members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences – the group responsible for the Emmys.


Make no mistake, this was a night to woo; this was AMC dressing up in its finest suit and trying on a new pickup line. And the drinks were on them, so I was there, too.

Pete Hammond, who would moderate a post-screening Q&A with the cast, first took the Leonard Goldenson Theater stage and gushed, “I think one reviewer said it best when he said, 'This is television as God intended.'" Applause came from the back, but from my seat near the front of the 600-seat theater – filled to about 2/3 capacity – I couldn’t tell if it was mainly from AMC hands.

The next hour was more clear. Up on the big screen, “Breaking Bad” simply popped. The colors jumped, the jokes killed and a tense-but-also-hilarious climactic sequence involving Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and some DEA agents was an absolute homerun that brought the audience to a tizzy. Because the episode has yet to air, I can’t go into much more detail. But I will say this: Some fresh life is about to be breathed into this series, and it begins with three words: "Better call Saul!" Bob Odenkirk is the visiting actor to look for here, and judging from the theater's reaction, he steals Sunday's episode, hands down.

Simply put, the wooing went well. On my way up the steps, I heard a woman in front of me saying, “I have to watch this show,” and then a man behind me whispering to a date, “It’s just the perfect blend of humor and sending this guy to the grave.”

But before the theater emptied there was the Q&A, and here were some of the highlights:

First of all, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn just looked weird.In a good way, I mean. Paul wore a white button-down and slacks, looking so oddly slick and non-gangsta; I guess we’re just so used to seeing him in that beanie-and-oversized-sweater getup. And then there was a complete hair reversal in play: while Paul’s hair was mostly gone in the form of a buzz cut, Cranston suddenly appeared onstage with a shaggy mop of hair and a goatee to boot. He would later be asked about going bald for the series and say that he’d actually looked forward to it, adding, “It’s just hair,” which will grow back, and those of us who were thinning up top hated him for a moment. And then there was Anna Gunn … not pregnant. This was Bizarro World.

Series creator Vince Gilligan admitted some interesting tidbits.A) He originally intended for the series to take place in Riverside, largely because he knew a DEA agent who worked there and was the partial inspiration for the character of Hank (Dean Norris). New Mexico offered an intriguing tax rebate, though, and Gilligan said, “I wish the state of California could get its act together” on the tax issue, which drew applause from the industry folk. B) When Gilligan originally conceived the series, he envisioned some very bad things for Jesse (Paul’s character). "We were going to kill Jesse off,” he said, and then Cranston added with a grin, “We still might …”

Instead, Paul has become a punching bag. Viewers of the series know full well that the man has taken several beatings on screen. When he gets each new script, he said, “I’m like, OK, how am I gonna get beat up in this episode? But I love it." Well, sometimes. He recalled an earlier episode in which Jesse got into a scuffle with Tuco (Raymond Cruz), which called for Jesse to go through a screen door head-first. “We did the scene eight, nine, 10 times,” Paul remembered, “and I’m supposed to kick the screen door with my foot [off camera] to make it look like my head is going through it.” The problem: In one take, his foot got caught and he literally did go through the door head-first. Cruz continued on, proceeding to pick Paul up, knee him in the stomach and slam him up against a shed. Paul still doesn't recall anything after the screen door, though, as the impact was strong enough to knock the wooden door frame off its hinges and send a dazed Paul into the emergency room, where he remained for four to five hours. “That’s so unprofessional,” Cranston told him. “I mean, really.”

As for Gunn, the question arose as to just how long her character will remain pregnant.“Unfortunately for her it goes on for many seasons,” Gilligan teased. Gunn joked that at some point, people just might begin to think that she has a goiter.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though.When Gilligan mentioned that Cranston is able to switch from, say, casual sports talk before a take to a dramatic line reading with the snap of the marker, the actor said that after a certain time, “eventually, the character will just kind of drop down inside of you,” he said, making the transitions easier. “This is an actor’s dream part,” he later added. “All of the actors in here know that it’s all about the writing. There’s no way I’m up on the [Emmy] stage if not for the writing.” He did say that every so often, though, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. “When I shave my head and put on those clothes,” he said, “I do get depressed.”

And then came the million-dollar question, from an older gentleman who hollered from the back of the audience, “Are we ever going to have the pleasure of seeing Bryan Cranston in his underpants again?” Cranston immediately got up from his chair and began to unbuckle. Until: “I just remembered I’m not wearing any.” As for the past nudity, he said, “I just have to give America what it wants.”

-- Josh Gajewski

Photo: The cast of "Breaking Bad" sits down with Pete Hammond at the Academy of Television Arts and Science panel. Photo by Jason Redmond / Berliner Studio / BEimages.

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly credited the photo to Josh Gajewski / LAT.