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Breaking Bad’s Matt Jones and Charles Baker on Playing Lovable Stoners Badger and Skinny Pete

Against all odds, stoner sidekicks Badger and Skinny Pete have survived five seasons of Breaking Bad. (Outside of the main cast, only Hank's partner Gomez can say the same.) As Jesse’s loyal lieutenants, they’ve sold meth at Narcotics Anonymous meetings (and accidentally got sober in the process), Riverdanced, and one time, while super-duper high, debated in great detail which video game does zombies best (Badger on Call of Duty’s dead guys: “Nazi zombies don’t wanna eat you just cuz they’re cravin' the protein. They do it cuz, they do it cuz they hate Americans, man. They’re the Talibans of the zombie world.”)  The good news is they’ll be back for more than one episode before the series ends. Vulture got hold of both Matt Jones (who plays Badger, and will next be seen in the Anna Faris CBS comedy Mom) and Charles Baker (Skinny Pete) for a quick chat about getting cast on the show and the key to playing high. (Check back on Monday to see what they had to say about filming their standout scene from Sunday’s premiere — a tribute to a certain sci-fi classic.)

Do you remember your initial auditions?
Jones: My audition story is very, very different from Charles’s. 
Baker: Yeah.
Jones: Charles’s is pretty incredible. Mine was just the scene where I’m smoking a joint with Aaron in the alley. I did it on tape once for the casting directors and then they flew me to New Mexico. That was in 2007. I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to film, I had no idea what it was. I just knew the dad from Malcolm in the Middle was starring and it was for the network that had done Mad Men, which had just come out. So AMC was nothing yet. And then after I did two episodes back to back, and then the writers' strike happened, and Vince said, “Hey Matt, we’re going to have to cut it to just one episode because we gotta wrap up the season and we need a character to introduce Jesse to Tuco and then die. We think you’re too likeable, so we’re gonna bring you back later.” I was supposed to die. Instead of that, enter Charles.

You’re saying Charles is less likeable than you?
Baker: [laughs] I guess that’s what they thought. They told me it was all about hardness and toughness. I looked tough. They didn’t say anything about unlikeable. [Jones laughs.] I was originally called in as a day player for my first episode. I didn’t have any indication it was going to be more than that. I was gonna be in the fourth episode of the first season. It was me and Combo sitting with Jesse in his house just smoking and trying to convince him to give us some of his blue stuff. 
Jones: What was your character’s name?
Baker: Originally it was just "Skinny Stoner". [Jones laughs.] In my original audition they had a Skinny Stoner, a Tattooed Stoner and a Chubby Stoner, and I read for the Skinny Stoner. A couple days later they called me back and they had rewritten the script with just Skinny Tattooed Stoner and Chubby Stoner, and I thought, Man, I got this. They called me out of the blue after that first episode and said they wanted me to come back, and Bryan Cranston told me the story about how they originally wanted Matt to introduce Jesse to Tuco and changed their minds because they wanted someone, you know, tougher.
Jones: I’m pretty tough!
Baker: Jesse was supposed to die in that episode, but then they didn’t want to get rid of him, so then they were gonna have the guy who introduces him to Tuco die, and it was gonna be Walt who killed him. But then they thought it was too soon for Walt to be murdering innocent people just because they knew who he was. And then since Jesse wasn’t going to die, they decided he needed to have some kind of base, a solid foundation to keep coming back to, and that’s what I think Badger and Skinny Pete ended up becoming.

What’s the key to playing a stoner well?
Jones: Don’t think too much, ever. 
Baker: Yeah, don’t think too hard about it. Don’t read too much into anything. There is no “in between the lines” in our dialogue. I went to one of the writers once and said, “Should I say this line with this kind of intent?” and she was all, “You’re reading way too much into that. Just read the line.” Also, not trying to look like stoners and not trying to act like stoners. A lot of times we had to be snorting that rock candy [posing as meth] or smoking that herbal substance that resembled marijuana, and we’d have the reactions to that. We’d cough on that terrible herbal stuff or we’d have that drainage, that sugar trickling down the back of your throat while trying to do a scene. It gives you all the motivation for looking like you’re doing the drug. And then the dialogue — all we had to do is look like we meant what we were saying.
Jones: I know that when I first auditioned, [series creator Vince Gilligan] told me I got the part was because I played it really funny. He said no one else played it funny and he asked me why I did. And I said, “Because it read funny to me! This guy’s a fucking idiot. He acts like an excited idiot.” I don’t think they were planning for Skinny Pete and Badger to be funny characters, it just happened that way.

Snorting sugar sounds awful.
Jones: Nah, it’s just a drip. Like a sugar drip in the back of your throat.

One of my favorite Badger and Skinny Pete scenes is when they’re trying to secretly sell meth at an NA meeting by talking about how awesome the blue stuff is.
Jones: Oh, I remember it took 40 fucking takes to get it.
Baker: [laughs] Yeah, I remember it just because of how absurd it was and how horrible what we were doing was, and how fun it was to be a part of it. Also Vince gave us a really good compliment on one of the commentaries on the DVD for that, which was that we were pretending to be Skinny Pete and Badger pretending to be two other people. There were a couple of layers in that that people take for granted.
Jones: Oh! Yeah, I remember specifically Michael Slovis [who directed the episode] saying, “Hey, you guys are acting too good. We actually think you’re remorseful. You guys have to stop looking like you actually wanna be in recovery. You’re being too heartfelt.”
Baker: Yeah, we had to dumb that down a little bit, which played great. I mean, for me, it felt like it was a pretty decent acting moment even though it was one of those where people were like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t acting.’ I was pretending to be a guy who was totally different from me who was pretending to be a guy who was totally different from him. That’s some pretty hard stuff there, that’s all I’m saying.

Over the years, we’ve gotten to see some hidden talents. Skinny Pete appears to have been classically trained on the piano, and Badger kind of knows Riverdance.
Jones: Oh God. 
Baker: [laughs] He hated that scene.

Why?
Jones: I didn’t hate filming it. It just said, “And Matt does Riverdance.” That’s all it said. So I was like, “Alright, I’ll just get fucking drunk, that’s great.” But then when people starting coming up to me in public and screaming “Riverdance!” in my face, that’s when I started to hate that scene. I think other people ruined it for me.
Baker: The really sad part is that scene where I’m playing piano and Matt is just hacking that guitar up. He actually plays guitar better than I play piano, but they wouldn’t let him show off. We could have done a dueling banjos kind of thing but only one of could be really talented, so he kind of got the short end of the stick there. If they had let him play guitar, it would have been a lot more impressive.
Jones: I got to sing on that Twaughthammer track.
Baker: I was telling someone yesterday that part of the reason I was thrilled about the piano bit is because I was left out of the band. I could have been a good keyboardist.

Did they write that piano scene specifically because they knew you played?
Baker: I kind of manipulated that one. While we were at that church filming the Narcotics Anonymous bit, both Matt and I were playing the piano in the back. Lucky for me, he stepped away and I kept playing when one of the writers walked in, and she told the other writers. I had heard they looked to see what we were up to when we weren’t on camera, and so I wanted to give them some options [laughs].

Photo: AMC