On last night's Breaking Bad, Skyler White, Walt's formerly mild-mannered wife, took drastic action in the face of Walt's forced cohabitation. [SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't seen the episode yet.] Instead of quietly slipping back into life with him, she initiated an affair with her boss (and alerted Walt to that fact with a terse, "I fucked Ted"). For Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler, it was a joy to finally get to see her character act out. "[Creator] Vince Gilligan told us that basically everybody in the show will 'break bad' in their own way. Everybody has those shadowy sides to his or her personality. Now is Skyler's time," she told us. We met Gunn late last week after she'd filmed a guest spot on Law & Order (she plays a woman whose husband is found dead ... in a cage) to talk about where her character is going, and how a mimed hand job helped land her the role.
Last night, Skyler surprised us all by having an affair with her boss, who she knows is cooking the books of his company.
Skyler seems to have bad luck picking men! She’s choosing men who somehow have a criminal element to them, and so it’s odd that she does it. I liked the fact that she broke bad that way in terms of having an affair with this guy. It's a reaction both out of desperation — she can’t talk to anybody — and also it’s rage on her part. She’s just so angry at her situation.
She's so angry that she wants Walt dead.
It speaks to how trapped she feels. Does she take the kids and run? Her son hates her, which is so terrible to play. R.J. [Mitte], who plays Walt Jr., is so sweet and genuinely so caring about me. And so when he had to call me a bitch, he kept saying, "I don’t really mean it!" I was like, "I know, it’s okay."
How did you feel when you read that Skyler was going to find out about Walt's drugs in this season's first episode?
It was hard over the first couple of seasons, because Skyler’s always in the dark, and she’s the impediment to him. Walt's really the ultimate antihero to people, so it was tough for Skyler and for the writers to keep her in the dark. I think the writers really went back and forth about how long this can go on, and how will she find out and what will she find out. And when I got that first script, I thought it was the right thing to do. From the get go, Skyler’s a very savvy person, she’s observant, she’s watchful, so it was liberating to finally get through that.
I know that some people, men especially, find Skyler to be an annoyance.
[Laughs.] Aw. It’s so interesting, we’ve heard that a lot. And I think men really identify with the reasons that Walt’s doing these things. Skyler thinks she’s married to one person, and she’s doing her best to keep the family together, but it’s interesting that she’s so polarizing, and I do think it’s because, as I said before, she’s the one in the way of what Walt does.
How did they sell the part to you? Did they say, "Nothing good will come of this marriage"?
They never really told me what was going to happen with the relationship, but when I spoke with Vince about the character, I wanted to make sure she was going to be more fleshed out than "the long-suffering wife." Vince sold me on one sentence, though I can’t say what it was. But it was along the lines of, "This is where she’s going to end up as a human being " But it hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t tell you.
You went from Deadwood to Breaking Bad. Not too shabby.
I know! I've been so lucky; I could be on a lame sitcom or on a procedural, doing the same thing over and over again. On Breaking Bad, the subtlety of the writing is so interesting; those scenes where we’re sitting at the kitchen table — we have so many miserable meals, we always laugh and say, "The Whites never have any fun meals." Vince is so spare in the dialogue, but it speaks volumes about what’s going on. It’s about the silences and what’s not said.
The show is so detail oriented, down to the set and the costumes.
Want to hear something funny? At the beginning of the show, our costume designer and Vince came up with this idea of a color palette for all the characters, and it’s been shifting subtly, and it’s something that people may or may not be aware of. Skylar started out in baby blues, and now she’s moving into greens. Beige was the color that Walt started out in, and then green was the color that he wore when he started to break, so that should tell you where Skyler's going.
Did they ever tell you why you got the part?
They liked that I was strong and they liked that I seemed smart. And Bryan [Cranston] and I had a really good relationship right off the bat. And they said, "and you’re really funny!" Because in Deadwood, I was so serious. For the audition, Byran and I had to do the scene when I’m giving him a hand job. So, yeah, that was fun, not uncomfortable at all ... We actually had a lot of fun working that out, 'cause I was like, "I can’t mime that, I’m going to feel like such a moron," and so then Bryan had the idea to use [a chair leg], and it worked out brilliantly and was very funny. And Vince saw we were just like, "Hey, how are you," and just got into it.
When do you find out if there's going to be a season four?
Within the next couple of weeks, I think. Our premiere episode did really well in the ratings, so we're all optimistic. I hope in season four we get to explore the backstory of Walt and Skyler, to see what they did love about each other and what held them together. We also don’t know anything about the sisters, or their family, or why their parents didn’t show up when the baby was born. We have a general sketch and outline, but hopefully we'll get to see more about that.
Whatever happened with your sister Marie's kleptomania? It seems like that was just dropped.
Yeah, what happens is that Vince gets so many ideas going, and then he starts to fall in love with certain story lines and characters, and the drug cartel at this point is really at the forefront. Underneath it all, though, he keeps saying that this is really a family drama.