We sat down with legendary TV showrunner Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, El Camino, and Better Call Saul, to ask him about his work ethic, creative process, and what makes him tick.
So, ever try meth?
“Golly, well no, not me. Unless you count the prop stuff we had on the set of Breaking Bad. But that’s just blue rock candy, and I do love me some candy. (laughter)”
What does that mean anyway, Breaking Bad?
“Honestly, it was just something that Aaron Paul kept saying on set when we first shot the pilot episode. None of us knew what it meant but he said it was such enthusiasm that we just ended up calling the show that. Originally it was gonna be something stupid like ‘The Whites’ but that just didn’t work out for a number of reasons.”
When writing Better Call Saul, did you and your staff find you had a lot to learn about the law?
“Oh god, yeah, we knew next to nothing going in. For example, did you know that in New Mexico you can get arrested for giving a cigarette to a dog? See, I had no idea, and had we not brushed up on it I could have easily found myself in jail.”
You previously wrote for X-Files. Was it a challenge to write for something more grounded to reality like Breaking Bad?
“I mean, yeah, originally we had this alien character that Jesse Pinkman was supposed to pal around and do meth with. You know, one of those classic, big headed ‘gray’ types. The rest of the staff pushed back on it though, and we ended up swapping him out for Skinny Pete. Pretty seamless switch, honestly.”
Did any actors ever give you a hard time on set?
“No, not at all. We actually kept the prop severed head of Tortuga on set, you know, Danny Trejo’s character, as sort of a warning to anybody who felt like acting up. It certainly kept Jonathan Banks in line, that’s for sure.”
Did you ever expect Breaking Bad to become such a popular worldwide phenomenon?
Creating a successful spin-off series is a notably daunting task few have ever accomplished. Were you ever worried that Better Call Saul would fall flat for fans?
You recently had some choice words to say about AI. Do you really feel it is a threat to humanity that could bring on the end times?
“Absolutely. Think about it: if this interview were AI, we could never have this lovely conversation, could we? We could never get to know each other like this so intimately.”
That’s so true, bestie.
“Y’all are too kind over here, I swear.”
Did you ever get a chance to eat at the Los Pollos Hermanos pop-up restaurant?
“I did! But I got kicked out for trying to deep fry a twinkie and my watch.”
There can sometimes be a fair amount of violence and gore in your work. Do you consider yourself to be a violent man?
“Oh golly, no, not me. That stuff gives me the heebie jeebies, to tell you the truth. I just find it therapeutic to bring some of my intrusive thoughts to life. For example, Skinny Pete is actually my sleep paralysis demon.”
Is there a reason that Jesse Pinkman really liked Funyuns?
“Yeah actually, I was born and raised in a Frito Lay house. My father was a Funyun man, as was his father before him. It only felt right to pay them some respect like that.”
Was it ever challenging to rein in actors with comedic backgrounds?
“Oh, god, you have no idea. You ever been to a Planet Fitness, where they have that big ‘lunk alarm’ that sounds off if people start dropping weights? We had to install one of those on set any time Odenkirk and Cranston started goofing off. That really shut ‘em up.”
Do you prefer living in New Mexico over Los Angeles?
“Yeah, it’s great here. Obviously I miss living close to the industry and all that, but I’m basically hailed as a god here. I mean, they built a set of statues for me and everything. My goal is to one day become mayor of Albuquerque and quit show business forever.”
You ever try throwing pizzas on top of the Walter White house?
“Yeah, it’s become sort of a morning ritual for me. I’m the reason they had to set up that fence around the property, though. That’s okay, they’re just playing hard to get.”
Are there any cast members that you are particularly proud of since starring in your shows?
“Oh yeah, they’ve all gone on to do amazing things since then. Jesse Plemons hasn’t taken my calls much lately ever since he became pals with Scorsese, though.”
So I’m scrolling through your Wikipedia page and it says here you’re from… Richmond, Virginia?
“Come on, man.”
Sorry, that’s really lazy and unprofessional– oh yeah, you worked on a short-lived X-Files spin-off series at one point, The Lone Gunmen.
“Tragically short-lived, yeah. Some people say it was because of that 9/11 episode. I guess the Bush administration already had pitched the idea elsewhere so of course they got dibs and put the kibosh on my show.”
Have you tried the mezcal that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are selling?
“That’s kind of a bitter subject, actually. They kept pitching formulas to each other on set instead of memorizing their gosh darn lines, and it really became a problem. I told ’em, ‘you better knock that monkey business off until the show is over,’ and you know what, they listened.”
With Better Call Saul being over, do you have any plans to return to the Breaking Bad universe?
“Well right now I’m pitching around a Skinny Pete spin-off simply titled The Skinny Pete Spin-Off. I’ve got a handful of networks that I’m currently in the negotiating stages with.”