When Breaking Bad started, DEA agent (and brother-in-law of meth chef Walt White) Hank Schrader was a blowhard goofball, the comic relief of the show. But this season, after witnessing the murder of his fellow DEA agents, he's been pulling away from his wife, Marie, and becoming increasingly violent and withdrawn, and last night it all came to a head in a shocking episode. (Spoilers after the jump!) Dean Norris, who plays Hank, loves a gag as much as the next guy, but is grateful for the chance to play such a realistic character. “PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is a real issue for law-enforcement guys,” Norris told us. “I think it was courageous of these writers to take this character, who they could rely on for humor, put him in a dark shell and say, 'We’re going to explore his dark side, too.'” We talked to Norris about where Hank is going after last night's insanity, who came up with the term "cheesedick," and whether we'll ever see any little Hanks running around.
Now that Hank killed the Cousins, who’s going to be the creepy bad guy?
Well, I think Gus takes over that role. I think he played those twins and the DEA pretty well.
Can we expect to see Hank, who lost his gun after beating up Jesse, become the vigilante cop?
Yeah, I think that might be more likely [than him going back to the DEA]. A few episodes down the line we see how much he holds the DEA responsible. I mean, they took his gun, so he’s pissed.
Your character was more comedic when the show started, but he's gotten very serious. Can we expect some comic relief coming up? We’re in cardiac arrest over here.
Yeah, there are a couple things they do toward the end of the season. How he gets out of the hospital is really funny. We’ll leave it at that.
So you didn’t invent “cheesedick” or “douchemonkey”?
I wish I had! I don’t know if that came from Vince [Gilligan, show creator] or the girl — it’s a girl! It’s like a twentysomething-year-old girl who writes Hank’s blog [on AMC’s website]. I’ll throw some ideas at her, but she does most of that. I don’t know whether Vince does it with her, but together they come up with those weird — what are those called? — “douchemonkey” and all that. Cheesedick.
I don’t think there is a word for that.
Cheesedick’s one of my favorites! That might’ve been in one of the scripts early on. Hank used to use a lot of those in the early days. We’ll get back to it a bit toward the end of the season. Using some of that, uh, colorful language, I guess we’ll call it.
You’ve played the bad-ass cop role a lot [Criminal Minds, Medium, Evan Almighty, Little Miss Sunshine]. How’s Hank different?
Well, I think particularly this year, they’re allowing Hank to kinda show his weakness, and that almost never happens. It’s interesting because the number of cops who actually pull their guns and use them is very, very, very small, but you see it on TV every week. They’re in a situation where they’re shooting and killing people, but they never ever go into the psychological effects of that, and in real life it’s really a big deal. That makes this character, for me, a whole different character than I’ve ever played, and, personally, than I think I’ve ever seen on TV. They’re really going to take a look at the psychological effects of having gone through that stuff.
Is the PTSD what caused Hank to start acting out? He was such a lovable manly-man and now he’s getting in bar fights and beating up Jesse Pinkman.
Yeah, I think that’s definitely it. You never know how you’re going to react under pressure until you have someone shooting at your head. Cops aren’t some sort of indestructible people. They’re just people, and they have to deal with this thing in their head, that they’re gonna get killed every day.
Can you tie up some loose ends for us? Marie’s kleptomania? The Teddy-bear eyeball that Walt carries around? Maybe we’re just falling for Vince Gilligan’s sucker traps.
I think the Teddy-bear eyeball will come back around. I think that’s kind of a Stephen King–ish element, like you can’t escape your past, or things that have affected you kind of stay with you and they follow you around. As far as Marie’s kleptomania, we don’t see that in the immediate future, but you’re actually going to get a lot of interesting stuff with her. I think she’s great. Hopefully it turns out that people see that we have a really loving marriage.
Right now it seems very strained.
Yeah, but I felt that she really came to her husband’s defense. Despite how crazy he’s been at home, she’s still there for him and she comes to the office and gives him a hug after a bad day. I just thought that was really touching. He’s been holding it back for so long and he’s afraid to admit it. There are many men who would’ve taken that out badly, you know. He’s just been emasculated [by the DEA], and a lot of men would’ve maybe been mean to their wives or even been abusive, but they come together. I like that. It’s really sweet.
Are we ever going to see a pregnant Marie?
[Laughs.] I don’t know! Betsy Brandt [Marie] was talking today about what might happen in season four, and she said, “I wonder why we don’t have kids?” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know!” So maybe we’ll find that out.