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'Breaking Bad' Q&A: Betsy Brandt on Marie's Purple Reign

Skyler's sister sounds off on Walt, wardrobes and the slap heard 'round the world

Betsy Brandt as Marie Schrader on 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote/AMC
August 22, 2013 11:20 AM ET

"When I read this pilot," says Betsy Brandt of Breaking Bad's iconic first episode, "I told my husband it was the best pilot I ever read. Then I instantly thought, 'God, I hope they really do it.' It's not as if advertisers are dying to have their product on That Meth Show." She needn't have worried. Breaking Bad is sailing through its final eight episodes on the crest of a wave of critical acclaim and ratings success, and Brandt's character, Marie Schrader, has emerged as a major player in the quest to take down Walter White.

High-strung, occasionally kleptomaniacal and perpetually purple-clad, Marie is frequently the butt of abuse from the characters she's closest to – her sister Skyler and her husband Hank. (Say it with us now: "Jesus Christ, Marie, they're minerals.") But her shrillness and silliness are only surface-deep, concealing a deep reservoir of empathy and loyalty – which made her face-smacking falling out with Skyler in Sunday's episode all the more brutal to witness. Reached by Rolling Stone during a wardrobe fitting for her role in this fall's new sitcom The Michael J. Fox Show, Brandt spoke of her crucial character like a late loved one: "I miss her. I miss her."

So. Marie slapped Skyler.
I watched that scene with my husband, which is what I always do: The kids go to bed, so we watch Breaking Bad. But when that scene was coming up, when they were talking in the bedroom and it was getting more and more intense, my heart started beating really hard, really fast. I remember that I just kept saying to Anna [Gunn] how sad it was. I've always loved Marie and Skyler's relationship, this war-buddy relationship, and that's done. That's gone. It was just heartbreaking.

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The slap itself was the sound of that relationship rupturing.
Yeah, I love that they chose that. Marie doesn't think about it like, "Well, that deserves a slap" – it's just the reaction.

Specifically, it's a reaction to her realization that Skyler knew what Walt was up to back when Hank got shot. Now she has to choose between her sister and her husband.
It's funny: Back when Hank was shot, there's this scene in the hospital where Marie is mad at Walt, and says, "You had something to do with this! You knew!" She has some inkling . . . and then everyone looks at her like she's crazy, and then she looks at herself like she's crazy. That's not saying that Marie knew everything all the time, but it was a little sign that Walt is an amazing criminal, but no criminal is perfect.

It's easy to forget now because her recent material has been so heavy, but Marie was frequently a comic-relief character.
Compared to the other work I've done on TV, Breaking Bad was funny. In the beginning, I described it as a dark comedy. You and I both would. As the seasons went on and on, I described it as a very, very, very, very dark, dark, dark comedy. When people ask me, "How's The Michael J. Fox Show?," I say, "It's definitely funnier." But even that moment between Marie and Skyler was really fun to do. Let me tell you, it was a horrible, exhausting day, but it was also a great day. I also say that about the scene [in an earlier season] when Skyler yells at Marie to shut up. That was a really fun day!

Well, this confrontation was years in the making.
That's exactly what I said to Tom Schnauz, who wrote that episode: "We've waited for this scene for seasons." Even in that moment, when you're working, there was some sense of "Oh my God, that moment is here."

Marie and Skyler's fight over the baby was one of the most excruciating things I've ever seen on television. I was pretty much openly sobbing.
Shooting that with the babies was just . . . We used a doll whenever we could, but still, you're shooting this emotional scene with a real kid a lot of the time. It's so funny – everyone's like, "Oh, she's trying to steal a baby." I know Marie's a klepto, but I just didn't look at it that way. It was like getting a baby out of a burning building. That's just what you do. Marie's trying to get these kids out of the house. It's not safe for a baby. She reacted. Thank God that Hank said, "Marie, you can't." Well, she knows. She knows she has to listen to him. I loved that moment, too. She was just out there, and he brings her back to reality.

Hank and Marie have no kids of their own, and no family to speak of other than Skyler, Walt and the kids. The spark for Marie's attempt to take Holly was finding out about Walt and Skyler, of course, but it looked like she and Hank were dealing with a lot of unspoken pain during that scene, too.
I think Hank and Marie would love to have those kids. I always felt like there was this undercurrent of sadness when they have Skyler and Walt's kids in their house, because I think they probably wanted kids and couldn't have them. I don't know if they talked about it or not, if it even got that far, or it just didn't happen and that was it and they just left it. It didn't work out that way.

I wanted to talk to you about the color purple.
[Laughs] My house in my real life is a no-purple zone. I say that as I am trying on something that's periwinkle, which is code for fucking purple, for The Michael J. Fox Show. The only request I made is that they don't put me in that much purple. That's just a different person to me. Marie is all about the purple. But I loved that. I loved that they did that with her.

It's tough to hear you talk about the show in the past tense.
I was very, very thankful to have another job to go to, or I would have been just depressed. I know it's not very glamorous, but it's true. To have a show like that end is a huge letdown. I mean, we'll see each other, but it's not the same as working together, and I'm keenly aware of that, and not just because I have a whole new family now. I shot both shows at the same time for a few weeks, and it felt like I was cheating on everybody at Breaking Bad.

I assume the atmosphere at The Michael J. Fox Show is a little lighter.
I was shooting this scene on one of my hardest days on [Breaking Bad], for this coming episode that's going to air on Sunday. I said, "Did we get that scene?" The director said yes. I started crying, and I said, "I'm ready to do a comedy." And I got on a plane at four in the morning to take a flight to New York to start working on one.

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