‘Breaking Bad”s Skyler: ‘The Chickens Do Come Home to Roost’
In anticipation of the Breaking Bad series finale on Sunday, September 29th, Rolling Stone has been publishing an exclusive interview with a new cast member every day.
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I’ve been watching a YouTube video called “Skyler White Says ‘Shut Up’ for Three Hours.”
Oh my God. Really? That is hilarious.
It’s the scene with Marie from season five, where Skyler shouts “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Her dialogue is looped, and it runs for three hours, set to the New Order song “Blue Monday.”
You’re kidding. That is insane! You would have to be in quite a mood to want to hear that for three hours. I knew people had downloaded “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” as a ringtone. But I had not heard of that one. However, we are getting sent the most incredible Breaking Bad tributes.
Do you have a favorite tribute?
Bryan [Cranston] forwarded a mashup of his lines, turned into a version of “My Way.” It’s very plaintive and almost heartbreaking.
Over the last few years, when people have seen you in public and recognized you, what have they said to you?
They usually start going “Oh my God! You’re Skyler!” Generally, those are the people who have binge-watched the episodes for three days in a row, so perhaps they are in a state of semi-sleep-deprivation. [Laughs] The Skyler-haters out there tend to keep their comments to the Internet. Nobody’s ever marched up to me and said, “I hate you!” – which I very much appreciate. Although I would also appreciate if somebody would come up in person and say “I hate your character,” so that I could address it in person. But that hasn’t happened.
So let’s role-play.
This is exciting. OK.
I’ve just seen you in the supermarket, and I say to you, “Oh my God! You’re Skyler! I hate your character –she’s such a bitch!”
Number one, I’d say, “Are you currently in therapy?” [Laughs] Vince [Gilligan] and I have been asked this question a lot, and I answer it differently, depending on what mood I’m in. It’s a complex issue.
The story of a disempowered man who’s disappointed by life, and then becomes the outlaw and tells people to fuck off – it tapped into something in our culture that made people root for him with a fervor, a real kind of “Yes, I want to be that guy!” It touched the part of us that knows what it is to be the underdog, to feel helpless, and to fantasize about having power. And viewers aren’t going to like the person who stands in his way. That person was Skyler. When he said, “I’m doing this for my family,” she said, “I don’t buy your line of bullshit.” And that made people really angry. And if you add gender politics and perhaps some sexism into it, it becomes even more complex.
At the beginning, the writers and I were perplexed. Vince said, “It’s not a good idea to murder people and cook drugs. And you’re going to call her a hideous, shrew-ish bitch? What’s the deal with that?” I don’t think the writers intended that, at all.
Vince is still perplexed that so many people hated Skyler, and want Walt to get away with being an evil bastard. He thinks he made Walt too sympathetic.
That’s interesting. I’ve heard him say he found it disturbing that people were still cheering Walt on, even after the horrible things that he’s done. He found himself thinking, “My God, this guy has done all these awful things, yet you still think Skyler is a horrible bitch?” He said, “Boy, I sure don’t want to sit down and have dinner with those people.” When Skyler was vilified and hated, at first I took it personally.
In order to make Walt sympathetic, Vince had to show his marriage wasn’t a happy one. Skyler serves him veggie bacon on his 50th birthday. And she gives him history’s worst hand job.
[Laughs] Yeah, she’s multitasking. She’s surfing on the computer while she’s trying to pleasure her husband. She’s got a lot to do. It’s such a funny scene. And as the show went on, it got darker and darker, and you lost the beautiful black comedy of those kind of scenes.
She’s not really a great wife, is she?
I don’t know that he’s a great husband! I don’t know that they have a great marriage. It’s the portrait of a couple who are scraping by, and don’t have any passion left in their relationship. And Skyler’s way of dealing with things was to control it and manage it. In the hand-job scene, it’s not that she’s trying to emasculate him. She’s trying to do the best she can with limited means. From the beginning, Vince set her up very distinctly as a pragmatic person. I think he knew that some time later, in the face of adversity, she wouldn’t cry and crumble in the corner, but would stand up and carry out a plan of action.
In the first season, Walt gets very excited by his new sense of power. And in contrast to the bad hand-job, in episode seven they have hot sex in the car – either the front seat or the back seat.
It was the back seat. I remember it well. [Laughs]
She’s turned on by the new Walt, which is part of what keeps him going.
She’s turned on because it’s suddenly like a different man approaching her, with a new zest. When she gets pulled into the drug business, it awakens the same things in her that get awakened in him. This is like the moment when she goes to visit Ted Beneke in the hospital, and she’s mortified to see the state he’s in. But when she glimpses that fear in his eyes, and she understands that she is the one that he is afraid of, she has her own sort of Heisenberg moment: “Oh, you’re afraid of me!”
Which is a great feeling.
It is! When you’ve spent your whole life afraid of the world – afraid the bank is going to take your house away, afraid they’ll take your car away, afraid that you can’t pay your medical bills – and all of a sudden someone’s afraid of you, that’s a great feeling. No one is all good or all bad. Walt didn’t start out as just a good guy who suddenly turns bad. I think Vince was saying that Walt was that guy all along, and the right set of circumstances set it off. And the same goes for Skyler. She wasn’t an innocent housewife who suddenly turned into an accomplice. She was so deeply dissatisfied, and was looking for something to give her life some meaning. Because otherwise, why didn’t she run away? Why didn’t she turn him in to the police? Why didn’t she do any number of things that she could have done?
Over the years, did Breaking Bad seep into your dreams?
Absolutely. I’d sometimes show up on set and say, “Damn you, Vince Gilligan!” Because even after reading the script and filming some of those scenes, if I watched the show too close to bedtime, it disturbed the hell out of me. There were times I’d wake up and wonder if I’d dreamed about an actual scene between Skyler and Walt, or if I dreamed about something happening between me and Bryan. Did I dream about me and Bryan having a fight, or did I dream that Skyler and Walt were having a fight? Did I dream a scene I’d already done, was I dreaming about a scene that is yet to come, or was it just something my imagination was making up?
Once I woke up with the image of being locked out in the desert, by myself. I was thinking, “Where did everybody go? Did they leave me? Did they move the trailer, or forget that I was here?” And I wondered if I was Anna or if I was Skyler. I woke up with a start, and I didn’t understand what was going on. That happened a few times.
Let’s lighten the tone a little. Bryan Cranston loves to play jokes on cast members. Did that include you?
He tried several times to crack me up on camera by putting things in his tighty-whities – once there was a can of hairspray – and dancing around, or by taking his tighty-whities off altogether when it was my closeup. He was like my brother! I didn’t want to look down there. I am a trained theater actress, so I do not break easily. I’d look right at his eyes and complete the take. He tried over and over to get me. Finally, he had the prop department put something in the bedside table when I went to search his condo. So he did get me that time.
What was in the bedside table?
It was a filthy sex toy. [Laughs] The subject matter was often intense and dark, and it’s impossible for the crew to maintain that kind of somber tone for 13, 14 hours a day, so he was pretty incredible at being able to lighten it up.
Before you knew how the show ends, did you have a strong impulse to see Walt with a bullet in his head, or riding off happily into the sunset, with his family intact?
I did not feel in any way that it would be truthful to have him walking down the street with his arms around his family. I certainly did not want to see that. I didn’t have bloodlust, either, which might be odd, given that Walt has turned into such a brutal character. I hoped there would be a reckoning – not a bloodbath, necessarily, or death. But in the end, the chickens do come home to roost . . . I know I’m being vague about it, because I feel like I have to be vague about it.
If you gave away the ending, Vince would probably get very mad.
Oh my God. He’d go all Walt White on me. There’d be a tortoise in my backyard with a head on it. [Laughs]
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