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Q&A: 'Breaking Bad''s Jesse Plemons on Todd's Killer Instinct

Former 'Friday Night Lights' star talks about becoming TV's least lovable character

August 20, 2012 12:00 PM ET
Aaron Paul, jesse pinkman, jesse plemons, todd, bryan cranston, walter white, breaking bad, meth, cooking
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, Jesse Plemons as Todd and Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote/AMC

"There's definitely some stuff going on in that mind of Todd's . . . " says Jesse Plemons of his cold-blooded character on Breaking Bad before trailing off mid-sentence. Even the actor who plays Todd is at a loss to explain how the clean-cut young exterminator/burglar feels about the shocking murder he committed in this season's seemingly pivotal fifth episode.

" . . . Yeah," he concludes, as though Todd's murderous mindset is a mystery he doesn't particularly relish solving. But the chance to break bad after playing the beloved nice-guy Landry on the late, lamented Friday Night Lights was a major reason Plemons took on Todd in the first place. And it couldn't have hurt that, as Landry, he was no stranger to controversial plot twists, either.

So, how has your week been?

It's been . . . What day is it? [Laughs] It seems like it's been longer than a few days. I didn't even watch the episode, because I'm still finishing up season four and I want to watch it all in sequence. I had people over for dinner and left my phone a room, and when I looked down there were 20 different texts from people, like, "WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? OH MY GOD!"

What shook me up so badly about it, aside from the horror of the act itself, was that right up until the moment it happened I had every belief that it wouldn't. I'm like Jesse – I thought that wave meant the kid would be all right.

Totally. The pacing and the build to that episode, even just reading the script, was so brilliant. You're going up-up-up-up-up, and you finally have a moment where you take a breath: "Holy hell, they did it!" And then out of nowhere . . .

Before I saw this week's episode, I had a very different idea of how this conversation with you was going to go. I was prepping a bunch of "Well, how did you enjoy your brief time on Breaking Bad?" questions.

In that episode, you're not sure if he is gonna make it past that conversation. That's why he's pleading with them, trying to explain that he's devoted and dedicated to the team.

What is going on in Todd's mind? He tells the group that while he stands behind his decision, he regrets doing it. Is that true, or is it just something he's says because he knows he's supposed to?

I think he's sorry that it had to happen, but in his mind it had to happen. He's really pragmatic, and he was so caught up  in that moment – having gone through that whole process and somehow, miraculously, pulling it off – that I just don't think he was gonna let some kid get in the way of that. He's at a point where he's still new to the team, so every move he makes is under scrutiny.

From his spiel and his last plea there in that scene, it's hard to tell what's genuine and what's not. But the way that I saw it, before this, he was probably really, really bored doing what he was doing. He's someone who likes having jobs to do, likes tasks. This was something that was really exciting, something he could really put his energy into.

That makes sense. So much of his argument for why they should keep him around after this centers on how he could valuable he thinks he could be to the team. That's what he cares about.

I think he really is intrigued by Walt, too. I mean, if I were to randomly meet Walt and somehow be put in that position, he's a really intriguing guy. Todd doesn't know all of what's happened, obviously, but I'm sure he knows some of Walt's history. I think he's enjoying the ride.

Todd's a world away from your Friday Night Lights character, Landry. When I told some of my friends I was interviewing you, one of them went on about Landry like they were actually old high-school buddies. Todd is no one's high-school buddy.

No. He's the guy who you're like, "Who's that guy? He was always creeping around. Loved spiders." [Laughs]

Landry was my first experience portraying a character for that long a period of time. I talked with Bryan [Cranston] and Aaron [Paul] about this a little bit: Having that much time with a character, you learn things and discover things that you don’t have the opportunity to discover when you're doing a movie with a finite ending. Once you have that much time with someone, you get to the point where there's no real thinking involved, it all just starts happening. That's when it's really fun.

With Landry, I have the same sort of feelings toward him as your buddy probably does. He seems like a friend to me as well. It's the most fun I've had with a character. With [Breaking Bad], it's a role where I've never done anything like this before, so it's exciting to start dissecting and figuring out.

Both FNL and BB are on the short list of the most acclaimed shows ever made. You've got to feel a little fortunate about that.

Totally. When I was finally able to tell people that I got Breaking Bad, it was a mix of "Ah, that's incredible!" and "Ah, I hate you!" My friends were super excited, but the people who'd been watching it and obsessing about it for so long were like, "Arrrgh, I just want to meet Walt." Those characters are all so alive right now.

Both shows were adored by critics, and their viewers loved them too. But given their positions on their respective networks, Friday Night Lights had to struggle to keep going despite pulling in more viewers, while Walt and Jesse are on the cover of Rolling Stone right now. It seems like only Breaking Bad got the pop-culture cachet that both shows deserved.

It was very strange to be a part of a show that we felt so strongly about, and the people that you talked to who'd seen the show felt so strongly about, but which was always on the brink of going under. We'd have these dinners, and Kyle [Chandler] would say something that was like something Coach Taylor would say, and we'd say, "Well, we'll see what happens." DirecTV saved us.

Friday Night Lights has had this weird ripple effect: It seems like just now, after it's been off the air, there's a whole new wave of people who are watching that show. Netflix is really good for that. Me and Bryan were talking about that, too. It's changing right now. And it's so hard to even get a clear picture of what the numbers are, because of the Internet and whatnot.

It's definitely interesting coming on a show so late in the game, where they're at the peak of their excitement. The fans are as excited now as they've ever been. To try and hop on to that moving train, no pun intended . . . well, pun intended. [Laughs]

Spoiler alert: Todd and Landry do have one thing in common, though. Have you ever considered appearing on a show where you don't murder anybody?

I knew that was coming. [Laughs] It's in my contract: I gotta kill at least one person.

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