What's an example of a role that terrifies you?
For example, I just did one little indie film this last hiatus, Cripple. It’s a true story about this guy, Adam Niskar, who’s this kind of heavy drinking, womanizing businessman at the top of his game and he’s celebrating a huge promotion and he’s pretty drunk and he dives into a lake, fully clothed, breaks his neck and his spine and becomes a quadriplegic. The story is him coming to terms with his new existence and seeing if he can kind of pull himself out of that. I myself cannot imagine going through something like that, and I’ve never been around someone who’s had to go through something like that. Those kinds of stories really intrigue me—people that I’m completely not. Just something like that, to just like transform into someone else is what I’m all about.
That's some equally heavy material for your vacation from Breaking Bad. What do you like to do for yourself when you come off a particularly intense day of shooting?
I like to sleep. A lot. [Shooting Cripple] was strenuous because I was little in 99% of the frames and working every day, all day long, but working on Breaking Bad, it seems like a pretty heavy show, but it’s such a family environment on the set, we just goof around and laugh all day really. That’s the only way to do it, because if we didn’t have that, I think we’d be pretty depressed all day. This show, as you said, it’s pretty heavy. It’s good to have a sort of sense of humor to break through the tension of the material that we’re playing with.
And the show can be very funny sometimes, you find yourself laughing at a lot of the dark humor situations that these characters go through, but I will say this: Season Four is so much darker. Not in terms of more explosions and more depth and all of that—there’s definitely that going on—but just what all these characters are going through is just so intense. At times it’s hard to and of take it off, but you have to leave it on set and go home…and sleep.
Portrayals of drug addicts often rely heavily on cliché. What did you do to ensure that Jesse's addiction came across as truthful?
A lot of research. You can find anything online, and I’ve said this a million times before, but YouTube has been like my best friend. You can type anything in on YouTube and you’ll find it, and it’s genuine stuff, it’s real people living these experiences. Like the first time Jesse was using heroine, I couldn’t track anything down of someone using heroine for the first time, but I definitely found some stuff on YouTube of people literally shooting up heroine and what it did to them, what it did to their speech pattern and how it kind of slowed their voice down and how they just started nodding off. Just watching that stuff over and over and becoming addicted to shows like Intervention, showing what it does not only to the person that is using but to the family members around them and their friends.
And I’ve had personal experiences with people I’ve cared for deeply and I’ve seen drugs really just eat their soul and take it away and they become this vacant, absent person. And at a certain point I could tell they had some sort of control over the drug, but they went to this like, tilting point, where the drug completely had control over them, and I think that’s where Jesse as sort of at at a certain point in the second season with the whole heroin addiction. But yeah, it’s pretty intense, so hopefully all the research kind of pays off in the end.
How did you address your friends?
I obviously would confront them, try to have some sort of group meeting, you know, like an intervention really. And the thing is, when they get to a point like that, you really need people, you need a support system. When you’re addicted to…I’ve never been addicted to drugs at all, but I’ve seen it completely take over people’s lives. And you have to have a support system, because you can’t do it by yourself, you just can’t, because you’re too weak. How I handled it was just to try and be there for them. And they may not want help, and you keep trying and keep trying and keep trying, but at a certain point you can’t sacrifice your own happiness to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.
What is something that you think works against you personally as an actor?
I guess my pickiness, really. I get a lot of frustration from my team—my agents, my manager—at times. They’re like, “We gotta get you a job.” But they understand—I’ve been with my manager since day one, for 14-plus years, so he really gets me. I’ve gone through many different agencies, and it’s hard for them to understand what I’m all about. I don’t wanna do jobs just for the money, I want to do jobs for the role, the actual project, I don’t care if I get paid anything really. I just want to do something that interests me, that challenges me. And if that happens to be in a big-budget movie where they’re paying me a bunch of money, then fantastic, but usually, to be honest, big-budget films…nothing against them, but it’s hard, it’s tough, to find something that’s so gritty, and like, I just gravitate towards indie darlings I guess. And that’s the type of film that I love. But yeah, that is definitely something that holds you back from working more. Because a lot of projects come my way, but you just have to…I say you have to say no to those projects, make enough you’re passionate about if you want longevity in the business, so, who knows. I could be completely wrong, but….
You did a great Funny or Die trailer for a fake Weird Al Yankovic movie. Is there any chance we might see more than just a video short?
You know, it’s so funny, so many people actually think that’s a real-life movie trailer and people are convinced that that movie’s really going to happen, but no.
Funny or Die originally approached Bryan [Cranston] and I to do a skit together actually. We had a creative meeting and pitched ideas back and forth. We were going to do a skit on Octomom—this is actually Bryan’s idea—where Bryan was going to play Octomom’s vagina, holding a press conference, and then I was going to play Octomom's clitoris. You’d have to read the script, it was actually pretty funny. We couldn’t work out the schedule because of work, and then she went out of the spotlight, so we decided not to do that anymore.
Any plans for more comedy?
It’s so hard for me to kind of fall in love with comedy, but if something comes my way…I mean, I loved Weird, I thought that was a really fun character.
It was fun, and you got to get heavy.
You gotta get heavy, you gotta get heavy! Exactly!
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)