Best known for his role as Badger, Jesse Pinkman’s longtime friend and on-again-off-again drug-dealing lackey, Matt Jones brings a welcome dose of comic relief to Breaking Bad’s usual high-wire tension and meth-addled misery. The man of a thousand knit caps is also a longtime improv and sketch performer with a lengthy list of TV credits, having popped up in everything from Community to NCIS to TRON: Uprising. Jones recently donned the world’s most uncomfortable-looking fake beard to play Dwight Schrute’s cousin Zeke on the attempted The Office spinoff The Farm, and is currently slated to star as Anna Faris’s ex-boyfriend Baxter on the upcoming Chuck Lorre sitcom Mom, set to debut this on CBS fall. I had the opportunity to talk to Matt about his sitcom work, his time with the famed Amsterdam comedy theater Boom Chicago, and how often he feared for Badger’s life on Breaking Bad.
So the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad are set to air and I know you probably can’t share too many details about what happens, but can you at least tell me if we get a good sense of closure on Badger?
Uh, I can’t. [Laughs] I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you that… I was describing this to someone, the great thing about the show, and the great thing about these last eight episodes is, as a fan of the show, if you watch the show sometimes you think, like, “Oh man, what if that happened?” And in these last eight, some of that stuff happens. Some of it doesn’t, but some of it you’re like, “Oh man, I thought that might happen, but holy shit, I can’t believe it did.” Stuff like that.
What was it like for you to be a part of the show since the beginning and to watch it grow into this monster hit?
It’s so crazy! I mean, when I first did it, my first episode would be 2007 when we recorded it, and nobody knew what the show was. I didn’t know what I was auditioning for; I didn’t know anything. And then, slowly but surely, over the past six years people have become fanatical about it. And it’s crazy how no one expected this or could have predicted how big the show has gotten. I mean, I didn’t even realize at that point that the show was going to be that good. [Laughs] I mean, I think even Vince [Gilligan] himself is surprised how incredible it’s turned out.
This is one of those series that’s known for having a high body count. Have you ever entered a season worried that Badger wouldn’t make it to the end alive?
Oh yeah, I’ve always thought I was going to die at some point. I mean, I think every person that’s on that show has it in the back of their mind that they might die at any point. But, hey, you never know, you never know. I mean, it’s an honor to die on the show, if it were to happen to anybody. But, yeah, you never know if you’re going to die or not on that show.
Even if you do, you at least probably get a very interesting death.
Yeah, I hope I would.
I know there’s talk of a potential Saul Goodman spinoff. What do you think a Badger and Skinny Pete spinoff show would be like?
Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in doing that show because I’ve moved on to other things. Because I’m doing another show now, and I just loved Breaking Bad as a whole, as what it was. But I don’t know, I think a spinoff show, if there were to be one and I did do it with Breaking Bad and Skinny Pete, wouldn’t be that interesting. It would just be us sitting around, getting high and talking shit. That’s all we really do.
It can be a talk show.
Oh yeah, yeah. That’s what it would be. It would be like some kind of Chelsea Lately for stoners.
Well, speaking of spinoffs, I know you’re probably disappointed that The Farm wasn’t ordered to a series. But are you at least happy you don’t have to wear that beard anymore?
Yes! Wearing that beard was awful. I mean, it was a fun experience, but I think everybody, they all weren’t too disappointed it didn’t get picked up because just like Breaking Bad, spinoffs are kind of tricky, and you want the shows themselves to kind of end in an honorable way. And, whereas the spinoff was a fun experiment, ultimately, I don’t think it worked as well as any of us had hoped, but it was really fun doing it at the time.
Did you have any idea of the direction the story might have gone or how Zeke might have developed as a character?
I think, uh, I actually really don’t know. I know they wanted me to be kind of Rainn [Wilson]’s sidekick and everything weird. I was going to be his, the way he was the sidekick to Michael Scott, I was going to be the sidekick to Rainn in that way. I know they had all these ideas, like how I was really into metal music, and I was surprisingly good with women and that annoyed Rainn, stuff like that.
Were you at least happy to be involved with the finale and get a chance to close out that story?
Yeah, that was really fun. Being able to be a part of the close to one of, y’know, these rare comedies is insane. I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe I’ve ever been on television. The fact that I got to be on both those shows while they were ending is pretty incredible. Shooting The Office finale was so insane. It was two weeks of constant shooting. I mean, the end was only like an hour, but they shot, I’d say, at least a three-hour episode that people didn’t see. There were huge scenes and storylines that didn’t even make into the finale because they shot so much.
Was it like shooting a movie with that much material?
Yeah, they just shot so much. They were writing scripts – they ran out of paper at one point while we were shooting at this farm house. They were writing script ideas and lines on pieces of cardboard for people to use. It was crazy. And they didn’t tell anybody on the cast or crew that Steve Carell was coming. So he just showed up one day and everybody was really surprised.
You’re also an active improv performer at UCB LA and iO West. How did you get your start in improv performance?
I started doing improv in high school, because I’m from LA. I went to a high school called Claremont High School about 45 minutes from LA. And when I was in high school, ComedySportz Los Angeles had me start coming out and working with them. And then when I was about 18, I started doing improv all over LA for about four years. But back then there wasn’t like a… Improv was not cool, so the improv scene was like, there was Groundlings and iO and ComedySportz, and I was part of this thing called Ultimate Improv that’s not around anymore, but there were these kind of satellite shows that people did that just a bunch of dorks went to. There were no, like, pretty girls going to improv shows back then. And then I got a job in Amsterdam working with this theater called Boom Chicago doing sketch and improv over there. I was over there for about three years and I did a thousand shows in, like, fifteen different countries, and then I came back. And UCB had started in LA so I started working with them, and I did iO West. I mean, I’ve been doing sketch and improv for about fifteen years. It’s been a long time.
What was it like developing as an improv actor while living and performing in different countries?
European audiences, they don’t really get subtlety. So you can’t just stand there and talk and be clever. You actually have to, like, make big moves – big moves as far as story and character. You have to be funny fast. So a lot of people that have come out of Boom Chicago, a lot of people from SNL, a lot of people that were on MadTV – I did Boom Chicago with Jordan Peele from Key and Peele – all those people got really funny because we had to. Like, you didn’t have a choice. If you were doing a show in Europe and you weren’t funny right away, they got bored pretty quick. So, you had to learn how to, in our case, you had to learn how to captivate an audience who was either drunk or stoned or both. And audiences of three or four hundred in a smoke-filled theater. It was insane, but it was probably one of the best times of my life.
So, it was challenging but it was very beneficial for you?
Yeah, as far as comedy and improv goes, it was a fucking extreme sport. There was no parachute. It was crazy, it was insane. But you came out on the other side with a stupid amount of blind confidence, which has been invaluable in helping me in my career. I’m more afraid of talking to a person one-on-one than I am of being in front of an audience of five, six-hundred. I mean, I did shows at Boom Chicago, we were doing festival shows opening for bands like Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, a bunch of bands, for like four or five-thousand people.
So now you’re going to be co-starring in the new sitcom Mom from Chuck Lorre as Anna Faris’s ex-husband Baxter. Can you tell me a little bit about your character?
Yeah, I’m actually her ex-boyfriend; we never got married, that’s not true. I was too drunk and stoned to do it. Anna’s character, Christie, she’s a recovering alcoholic. And I kind of represent the kind of guy she used to be with. So I’m still kind of a stoner weirdo, and we have a kid together who’s about ten years old, he’s named Rosco, and I’m still around. I’m a good dad in the ways that I try and I care, but I usually fail. I’m kind of an idiot. So the character’s a bit of a stretch for me. [Laughs]
Well, what interested you about Mom?
A ton of things. CBS is the most-watched network in America, and Chuck Lorre is one of the most successful television producers of all time. And, I mean, Anna Faris is awesome, and Allison Janney on the show is incredible, and we just have so many great people working on the show. The studio is a couple of miles from my house. I don’t have to live in Albuquerque or anything like that, and a live audience is one of the biggest things. My background has been in live performance basically my whole life. It’s so much fun to have an audience around. I love having an audience. It’s so much better than playing to silence.
You’ve also done some voice work for cartoons. You starred in Kick Buttowski for Disney and most recently Sanjay and Craig on Nickelodeon. Is it ever disorienting for you to go from doing these more mature shows, like Breaking Bad and Mom, to something aimed at kids?
No, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I do a bunch of voiceovers for a lot of kid’s shows, and I love it. It is the best job. Because I just go in there and I just get to act like an idiot. I don’t know, it’s not a hard transition. I just go in there and goof around. I actually just got back from recording an episode of Sanjay and Craig and they had me to improvise a lot, they had me just go nuts; you just get to go so over the top. You get to redo it over and over if it doesn’t work, so it’s easy. I’m doing a big movie coming up, a huge budget animated movie that I’m one of the leads in. I’m not allowed to say what it’s for, I’m not allowed to talk about it yet, but it’s so fun. It’s just so fucking easy. [Laughs]
So I just had one more Breaking Bad related question. I know your character’s opinion on this topic, but I was wondering what you personally thought was the best zombie video game?
Oh, Left 4 Dead, definitely. I’ve played a lot of Left 4 Dead, 1 and 2. What’s the one in the mall?
That was Dead Rising.
Dead Rising? That was all right. But Left 4 Dead, if you play in your house with the lights turned off, alone, it legitimately gets pretty scary sometimes. I mean, Resident Evil is okay, but Left 4 Dead is so open and you have to work together. It’s the most realistic, to me, to what a zombie apocalypse would be like.
Jeremy Popkin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia. His work has been featured on Ology, Nerve, and Destructoid.