Breaking Bad is one of the most binge-watched shows on television. There’s a reason for that–we watch Walter White slip into hell and take everyone he loves with him. Then we think, “Wait a minute, I might have done the same thing.” Walter is scary and relatable.
Here are some behind-the-scenes tidbits that’ll make you want to watch the show for the first time . . . or again.
Beuller? . . . Beuller?
The creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, told the Hollywood Reporter, “We needed somebody who could be dramatic and scary yet have an underlying humanity so when he dies, you felt sorry for him. Bryan nailed it.”
Now, keeping that in mind, can you imagine if they cast the network’s first choice, Matthew Broderick? What?! We can see how he may have garnered sympathy–and we certainly agree he’s a good actor–but we can’t imagine him squaring off with Tuco (Raymond Cruz) or going toe to toe with Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). We’re glad they chose to cast Cranston, whose performance throughout the series was skillfully wrought.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Got Involved
During pre-production of the show, creators reached out to the DEA for two reasons–1) to alert them to the fact they’d be airing a show about one of the most infamous drugs that existed at the time, and 2) to ask them for help.
Ultimately, the DEA agreed to send chemists from their ranks to teach Bryan Cranston (Walter) and Aaron Paul (Jesse) to make crystal meth. Cranston told High Times, “They had the choice to say, ‘We don’t want anything to do with it.’ But they saw that it might be in their best interest to make sure that we do it correctly.” The show goes to great lengths to reveal the systematic nature of the process as we see Walt and Jesse begin in the RV and move up (or down) to their state-of-the-art lab.
The Blue Stuff is a Product of Artistic License
While the DEA laid the foundation for how crystal meth is made, the creator of the show–Vince Gilligan–knew the devil was in the details. Gilligan incorporated the overall process of making meth into the show right away, and then he turned to a real-life scientist for guidance on the minutia. It’s one thing to understand the big picture; it’s quite another to learn how individual pieces of lab equipment work and how specific chemicals interact with one another.
Dr. Donna Nelson, a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma, was hired to serve as a science advisor during season one. In 2013, Nelson told Mental Floss, “The goal is not to be a science education show; the goal is to be a popular show. And so there’s always going to be some creative license taken because they want to make the show interesting.” Part of that creative license was making Walt and Jesse’s meth blue. Nelson reported that, according to science, it would have been colorless. We can all agree the blue color made their product more iconic.
Gus Fring Was Supposed to Be a Smaller Role
When Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring) was offered a quick guest spot on Breaking Bad, he wasn’t crazy about the idea of playing a small role on the show. He told his manager he wanted to be part of a film-making family, not an actor who continued to come and go on several series and films. Ultimately, Esposito’s manager negotiated for 12 episodes, which gave the actor enough time to create a character arc and become an intrinsic part of the story.
In an interview with TIME, Espositio explained, “Vince told me that I changed the game and raised the bar for the show. And I’m proud of that, but I could only do that because of the depth of the writing and the chemistry between Bryan Cranston and myself. And their writing inspired me to think, to create someone polite, threatening and poignant.” Gus Fring is one of the scariest villains in the show! We’re glad Esposito fought for his place in the story.
The Real Life Heisenberg
The overall story arc of Breaking Bad leads us to understand that we can choose our actions, but we can’t choose our consequences. The real-life namesake of Walter White’s alter ego, Heisenberg is a brilliant nod to this truth.
The name Heisenberg came from Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who developed the principle of uncertainty. The entire show is predicated on the cause and effect of taking risks—the more significant the risk, the bigger the consequence, the bigger the uncertainty. We tip our proverbial hats to the show’s writers for this subtle yet powerful connection.
Heisenberg’s Hat Has a Story All It’s Own
While Walter White’s (Cranston) Heisenberg hat has become an iconic part of the show, it wasn’t part of the original costume design for the character–it was born of practicality. Once Bryan Cranston (Walter) shaved his head during season one, he was cold most of the time. As a result, he asked Vince Gilligan if he could start wearing a hat. At first, Gilligan refused, stating that Jesse (Aaron Paul) was the one character who should wear hats.
The show’s costume designer, Kathleen Detoro, told SundanceTV, “Finally, Vince said, ‘I think there’s a place …’ It was Bryan asking for a hat, me asking Vince, and then Vince figuring out where in the story it makes sense: It’s when he really becomes Heisenberg.” The result of this decision-making process is one of the most iconic hats in television.
The Death of Jane
Aaron Paul (Jesse) had to shoot many brutal scenes throughout the five seasons of the show. He was thrown around, screamed at, and he had to react to a lot of tragedy and chaos. No other scene proved as difficult to shoot for him as Jane’s death.
During a Reddit AMA, someone asked Paul about the most challenging scene he had to shoot, “I honestly think the hardest scene for me to do was when Jesse woke up and found Jane lying next to him dead,” Paul said. “Looking at Jane through Jesse’s eyes that day was very hard and emotional for all of us. When that day was over, I couldn’t be happier that it was over because I really, truly felt I was living those tortured moments with Jesse.”
That was one of the most challenging scenes for us to watch, too.
It’s All in the Numbers, B****.
Any respectable impression of Jesse Pinkman (Paul) ends with the word, “B****.” He says it a lot. But not as many times as you might think. There are 62 episodes in the series, and it’s been reported that Jesse says the word 54 times. We don’t find that unreasonable . . .for Jesse. Speaking of 62 episodes–this number is significant to the show, as well.
The 62nd element on the periodic table is Samarium. This element is used to treat a range of cancers, including lung cancer. We’re not sure if the show’s creator and writers set out to wrap the story in 62 episodes, but for as purposeful as they were about everything else, we have a feeling this fact isn’t a coincidence.
Tuco Really Gave Jesse a Concussion
Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) made us feel like we were watching a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse. He was unpredictable, volatile, and we never knew when he was going to explode. It seems appropriate then that this is the person who accidentally gave Aaron Paul a real-life concussion.
In a Reddit AMA, Paul said, “Tuco takes Jesse, and he throws him through the screen door outside, and if you watch it back, you’ll notice that my head gets caught inside the wooden screen door, and it flips me around and lands me on my stomach and the door splinters into a million pieces. Raymond just thought I was acting, so he continued and kicked me in the side and picked me up over his shoulder and threw me against the house, but in reality, I was pretty much unconscious […] I kept pleading to him, saying ‘stop.’ The next thing I know I guess I blacked out. I woke up to a flashlight in our eyes, and it was our medic. And then I hopped up acting like nothing wrong, but it appeared like I was drunk, and I kept saying, ‘Let’s finish the scene,’ but then my eye started swelling shut, so they took me to the hospital. Just another fun day on the set of Breaking Bad!”
Breaking Bad was initially slated to film in Riverside, California. However, the show’s producers decided to shoot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for financial reasons. New Mexico offers a substantial tax rebate for film and television production.
In an interview with Slant Magazine, Gilligan explained, “And really, it’s a hard [carrot] to turn down […] and so New Mexico very quickly became the place we decided to shoot our show for strictly financial reasons. We wanted our limited production budget to go that much farther.”
Fans of the show know that ABQ played an integral role in the overall aesthetic of the show. The sprawling desert landscapes created an uneasy tension that teetered on isolation and fear in some scenes and freedom and possibility in others.