As Skyler White, wife of chemistry teacher turned drug baron Walt White (Bryan Cranston), Anna Gunn has helped make AMC’s "Breaking Bad" one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television.
The actress is no stranger to edgy small screen fair. Gunn first came to audiences’ attention as Assistant District Attorney Jean Ward on ABC’s "The Practice" and as Martha Bullock, wife of the town sheriff, on HBO’s "Deadwood."
The actress talked to TheWrap about the status of the promised "Deadwood" movies, what’s next for "Breaking Bad" and why it’s been fun having Skyler break bad herself.
This season, Skyler is acting out …
It was kind of liberating to bust out a bit, to play that part of Skyler that lashes out at Walt. But it can be tough, too — it’s hard to play the scenes where her family doesn’t understand why she’s kicking out a terminally ill person. That wears on you.
Skyler finally discovered out this season that Walt is a drug dealer this season. Were you worried that she’d come across as impossibly naive for not knowing sooner?
It was something we talked about. It’s such a fine line. Skyler is a smart lady, so it was challenging to make it realistic that she wouldn’t ask more questions and that she would never stumble onto the truth. I assumed that she noticed that Walt was acting strangely, but she was concerned about her baby and his illness, and there was just a lot on her plate.
Now that she knows, are there any fears that the air will go out of the show?
It doesn’t seem to be a problem. It turned the show on its head. Before this the whole premise of the show was that Walt was doing this for his family and can’t ever let them find out. Well, we handled that perfectly, by having it come out in the first episode of this season. Now the character isn’t in the dark anymore.
"Family" seems to be a recurring theme on "Breaking Bad." What kind of message is the show trying to deliver?
That this is a normal American family. Walt is a man at beginning of the series who has two jobs. His family has some issues. There is a child with special needs, there’s surprise baby on the way, Walt has a terminal cancer, and there’s no way to pay for treatment. Vince [Gilligan, the show’s creator] hit on a common American situation for many families right now — how do they get by, how do they pay for health care and college. It’s shockingly timely when you look at what’s going on in the country.
Walt just wants to leave his family something, so they’re not alone without any money. But he does this crazy thing and it opens a Pandora’s box. I think the show has become darker now, because originally he had just wanted to make quick money, but drug dealing has become a monster he can’t control.
The whole time there was this core of family, but this season tears the fabric of that family apart.
You’ve played wives on "Breaking Bad" and "Deadwood." How have you managed to make them multi-faceted characters?
It is challenging for sure to play the wife of the lead character. Your inner life is less illuminated than the male character, so you serve as a cipher sometimes. You’re not always a proactive person. Yet both ["Deadwood" creator] David Milch and Vince know how to write proactive, complex, interesting women. Vince and I in particular wanted make sure that Skyler wasn’t just the wronged, long suffering wife.
"Deadwood" ended so abruptly. Are you disappointed that it left so many loose ends?
It was somewhat shocking. We expected another season, and we all went out and bought houses. But you never know until you sign the papers. The idea of wrapping up everything with the two two-hour movies seemed like a great idea, but it was too difficult to get all the troops back together. But I got "Breaking Bad" a few months later, and that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So there was a lucky turn there, too.
Do you know how "Breaking Bad" is going to end?
When we get our scripts, it feels like Christmas morning. We just dig into them because we’re dying to know what happens. Vince keeps us on our toes. He tells us the basics of what we need to know, but only what we need to know, so it stays surprising and fresh like it would in real life. I often think to myself, "Wow, I didn’t see that coming."