Bryan Cranston’s career-altering turn as television’s maddest scientist on Breaking Bad has earned him three Emmys. The AMC show returns Sunday for the first half of its final season, and Cranston picks his 13 favorite moments playing the unforgettable Walter White.
Breaking Bad is back on Sunday for its final season, which AMC has decided to break into two parts—the first eight episodes will air now and the final eight will air next year. In the series, Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime out of desperation, but stays in it out of his own sociopathic need. Cranston has won three Emmys for his shining portrayal of the maddest scientist on television and is poised to nab another nomination next week.
Cranston, who was mostly recognized for his for his comedic work on Malcolm in the Middle before he was cast for Breaking Bad, thinks of Walter as a gift because of the range required to be a loving husband and father who is sharp enough to become a drug lord and deviant enough to become a murderer.
“He doesn’t realize what he’s become,” Cranston said. “He has no clue. He’s so in it and is so subjected to it that he doesn’t have a good mirror image of himself anymore. He can’t see how he’s changed.”
The Daily Beast asked Cranston to pick his favorite Walter White moments. Cranston narrowed the list to 13, focusing on scenes where “something propelled Walt to the next thing or changed him somewhat or made the situation more profound.”
Here are Cranston’s picks, in chronological order, as told to Maria Elena Fernandez:
I’m at my second job and my boss is giving me problems and I’ve just had had it, and I quit. And I say, “Fuck you and your eyebrows!!” And I walk away, smacking away all the air fresheners. And after he says, “You need to go wipe down the cars. I grab my crotch. And I say, “Wipe down this.” It showed a man who reached his limit. He’s not going to take it anymore. And I think it’s very relatable to a lot of people. You take it and you take it and you take it, and there’s just a point where you go, “I’m done! You can fire me. You can do whatever. But I’m done.”
2) Season 1, Episode 2: “Cat’s in the Bag”
When I told Jesse (Aaron Paul) that I need a specific kind of plastic tub in order to liquefy a body and he doesn’t get me the right thing. He puts it in his own bathtub and the bathtub breaks through and dissolves and this liquefied dead body drops from the second floor to the first floor. Yeah. That was a crazy time! That was just an amazing experience. Hydrofluoric acid doesn’t eat through plastic but it will eat through porcelain. And that’s what happened. It eats through and corrodes the porcelain and then the wood flooring beneath it and, boom, down it comes.
3) Season 1/Episode 3: “…and the Bag’s in the River”
Walt actually takes the bike lock and chokes Krazy-8 (Maximinio Arciniega) with it. That was the first time figuratively that he got his hands dirty and became a changed man from that experience. This was just the introduction to his new life, and already it’s gotten out of control. I realized from that point on that this series was going to be a roller coaster to hell. I just have to hold down. When I read the scripts, I’m just holding on, saying, “Oh my God.” And I think that’s the same experience the audience had.
4) Season 1/Episode 5: “Dead Freight”
This was an episode where I shave my head for first time because of the chemotherapy that I’m taking. I just might as well do it. And we see a glimpse of Walter White as bald man for the first time. In that same episode, he’s using chemistry again to blow up Tuco’s (Raymond Cruz) office. I come and I threaten him for the first time. So this was a big turning point to go to a brute who is physically commanding and intimidating and be able to turn the tables on him. That was a big turning point in Walt’s life.
5) Season 2/Episode 9: “4 Days Out”
This was a really fun episode to shoot. Jesse and Walt go off by themselves to do a massive cook, to develop a lot of product. And they get out of there in middle of nowhere and they realize that they’ve run out of power and gas. It only lasts for a certain amount of time. They’re out in the middle of nowhere and they’re dying of heat and they’re thinking, this might be it. We’re actually gonna die right here. And Jesse says, “Come on, we gotta make a robot or something! Do something! You’re Mr. Science! Make something!” And he actually touches upon something that Walt realizes is not as far-fetched and a long shot but it just might work. And I say, “We might have it. Here’s what I want you to do, go get this and that and the other.” And he says, “What are you gonna do?” And I say, “You mentioned it earlier. We’re gonna make a battery.” And we make this battery and, using chemistry again, it gives us enough power to power the engine and recharge the RV battery and go. We get out and we save ourselves. The interesting thing about that point is it was the last scene. It was the last thing in the night. It was late. We were trying to go home. And a crew member named Nick Shuster says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if when you say, ‘You mentioned it earlier,’ Jesse says, ‘A robot?’” And we thought that was hilarious. So we told the producer that there was something wrong with the camera and we had to shoot that little scene once more. This time, Aaron said, “A robot?” And it was so funny. It just shows you that good ideas come from anywhere. We used it in the show. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, loved it.
6) Season 2/Episode 12: “Phoenix”
In one scene, I was holding my infant daughter, Holly, and Walt has this urge to tell someone how he feels and what he’s doing and this warped sense of pride in this endeavor. And he can’t tell anybody except one person. He holds his baby daughter and he goes out to the garage and he lifts up the insulation and shows her the tens of thousands of dollars that he’s been able to make so far. And I love the juxtaposition of the tenderness and the gentleness with his daughter and showing her this blood money. It just gave me chills. It was so interesting and compelling as a story point.
7) Season 2/Episode 12: “Phoenix”
In the very last moment of this episode, Walt has taken another turn. Jane (Krysten Ritter) and Jesse were strung out on heroin and Walt is there and sees them and she starts to choke. And he decides not to interfere with her choking and he’s witnessing someone dying before his eyes. Choking Krazy-8 out was equally damning, and yet this sent Walt on another path. He’s capable of causing harm, whether he’s physically involved with it or not. What’s so compelling about this is it not only explores the physical danger that Walter White presents but his emotional danger. We watch the disintegration of a human being. His soul has sold out and he’s capable of all these awful things, physically, yes—but also what happens to the spirit, his ego and hubris and greed and all these ugly emotional traits that are within every single human being. What we do here is expose them through one man. And I really believe that, given the set amount of circumstances, anybody could become extremely dangerous.
8) Season 3/Episode 2: “Caballo Sin Nombre”
Walt is trying to get back into the good graces with Skyler (Anna Gunn) and trying to get her to approve of him and move back into the house. He brings over this enormous pizza. She rejects both him and the pizza and he walks away in frustration and disgust. And he just throws the pizza up in the air to get rid of it and it lands on the roof. Well, we had a long discussion about it. This was an enormous pizza. You had to hold the box with two arms. I couldn’t possibly do it with one because it’s huge. I told the director I have to be this far from the roof while doing this because I couldn’t look at the roof. Walt’s not trying to throw a pizza on the roof. He’s throwing it out of frustration and it lands on the roof and he’s not even aware of it. So I actually do this. It lands in precisely the perfect spot on the very first take. I didn’t see it land because I’m not looking up there, I jump in the car and pull out and speed away. But when I come back and drive up with the car, I look up and I see the pizza perfectly placed in front of the camera on the roof. You’re kidding? It couldn’t have been more perfect and then our director says, “Let’s do a second take!” And I said, “We can’t do this again! There is no second take! It’s done!”
So flash forward to today: the lovely people who own that house where we shoot the exteriors, they will have, from time to time, someone who will take pictures in front of the White house. They get the address from somewhere. Several people have come with pizzas and they ask if they can put this pizza up to take pictures? And they say, “Go ahead.” They’re very nice people.
9) Season 4/Episode 7: “Problem Dog”
Walt was cuckolded by his wife and told what he can and can’t do. She says he has to take back his son’s brand new Dodge Challenger. And so he goes out and does donuts in the parking lot and has a great time. And then he realizes screw it, he doesn’t need the money: “I don’t have to take this back and take the humiliation because I know the manager of the car dealership is going to ask why I’m taking it back. I just don’t want to deal with it.” So instead, which is really indicative of Walt’s changing personality, usually a very pragmatic man, he does something so impractical. He blows up his car. He’s willing to blow up a brand new beautiful new Dodge instead of taking it back. That’s crazy. It really was one of those things that you see on the outside—this car blowing up and the billows of smoke. But the underlying meaning of it was another huge step and a spiral downward for Walter White.
10) Season 4/Episode 6: “Cornered”
He’s in the bedroom with Skyler where she’s worried about what’s going to happen. She’s worried about somebody coming to the door creating a dangerous situation and I tell her: “I am the danger.” It’s the first time he really owns up to it—not only to himself but also to his wife. “I’ve accepted my change, now you have to. If there’s someone knocking on the door, that’s me knocking. I’m the one who knocks.” Now he’s going into that next phase. He’s boasting about who he is and he’s beating his chest and howling and being very animalistic male, king of the jungle kind of thing.
11) Season 4, Episode 11: “Crawl Space”
The futility of it all where he realizes the way to get out of this is to pay for a guy to erase who they are. They’ll go into self-exile and pay this guy half a million dollars and he’ll give them two identities. The cartel will not be able to find them. And Walt discovers in the crawl space that there is no money. Oh my God, how is this possible? Couple that with what happened to the money? It’s not like it just burned. No, Skyler gave it to her former lover. Oh my God, if you could think of anything that would put salt on an already festering wound. It’s so absurd that it drew this maniacal laughter out of him. It just turned so ugly. So ugly.
12) Season 4, Episode 12: “End Times”
When Jesse confronted me and said, “You’re the guy! You did this! You poisoned the boy. And I’m gonna kill you for that!” And I’m convincing him it can’t be me. “Why would it be me? Think, Jesse, who is OK with children being poisoned. Who’s done that?” And so Walt was able to convince him that it was someone else. It was so wonderfully done by Aaron Paul. It was just awful. At the time, we were shooting that, I did not know; I had not read the 13th episode. So what I was telling him was the truth as far as I knew it at the time. And I really thought it was Gus Fring, as odd as it was. It wasn’t until after we read the script for Episode 13 that I discovered that it was indeed Walter White who poisoned the boy with the lily of the valley.
13) Season 4, Episode 13: “Face Off”
When I’m talking to Skyler on phone, after I ask how the boy is, and I find out he’s going to make it. That’s when I have to pretend I don’t know what Jesse’s talking about. But Walt is truly relieved the boy didn’t die. It’s not like he wants to kill people. It’s kind of what has to happen. He had to take that chance with the boy in order to get Jesse to think that it was Gus. But the moment that really takes us is into the fifth season are Walt’s last words to Skyler on the phone: “I won.” And that’s how he feels. He feels like the victor. He feels like the boss, like the king. And that’s where we pick up in Season 5.