the vulture transcript

Dean Norris on the Breaking Bad Premiere, Hank’s Machismo, and Bryan Cranston’s Overachiever E-mails

Dean Norris. Photo: Getty Images

Dean Norris attributes his nearly three decades of steady work playing mostly cops and military types to going bald in his early twenties, but let’s give the guy a little more credit than he gives himself. It’s thanks to him that Breaking Bad’s Hank Schrader has gone from a cliché-spewing booya DEA agent — essentially comic relief — to a savvy, vulnerable mensch who could be the show’s ultimate hero. “Blood Money,” the first episode of the last eight, positions Hank for big things in the show’s final stretch. We met him at the East Village bar the Edge the day after the episode’s New York premiere, where the 50-year-old actor talked at length about series creator Vince Gilligan’s justified sainthood; his favorite Breaking Bad scenes; his other show, CBS’s Under the Dome; and how much fun it was to sock Walter White in the jaw. Here, the unexpurgated transcript.

“Blood Money” did not disappoint. Bryan Cranston directed the episode, right?

You’ve got two powerful scenes in the episode. At the beginning, when you’re driving home after the most illuminating shit in the history of TV. And at the end, when we get the Hank-and-Walt confrontation we’ve all been waiting for. How did you two work out those scenes?
The last scene was really interesting. The first take was really violent and hard. That’s how it was written in the script. Bryan and I thought it turned out okay, but we weren’t entirely satisfied. It was weird that this happened, because usually on Breaking Bad scripts you show up and it’s written in such a way that you kind of flow right into it. But we felt uncomfortable; it seemed like too much. I talked about this with Vince last night. The thing about Hank at that moment was that he feels such betrayal, like your best friend just cheated on your wife, some horrible thing like that. The betrayal angle helped us see the scene as it really was, that it was hurt as much as rage, though the rage is obviously there. And Vince asked me, “What was that great thing where you grabbed the back of Walt’s head?” when Hank says, “All along it was you.” It wasn’t a specific reference, but I realized it was from The Godfather 2 — Michael Corleone saying to his brother, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” And it was like my best friend — well, not my best friend …

But somebody you trusted.
Right. Someone Hank’s known for twenty years — a family member, which is even worse.

At one point, early in the scene, it looked like you were tearing up. Did I imagine that? 
I did almost feel like crying, or Hank did at the time, because of the betrayal. And that made the scene work for Bryan and me. And then Walt’s response at the end, “If you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly,” was originally written to be like, “I’m a dying man who runs a car wash,” and then he switches to Heisenberg, and he’s a badass. The direction in the script was that Walt picks up his glasses and walks out of the garage. That’s the way it was written. And if Cranston had done it that way it would have been great; everyone would have loved it because everyone loves badass Heisenberg. And I think it was the writer, Peter Gould, who said to Cranston, “Think about what Hank just said to Walt — essentially ‘Who the fuck are you?’” And Cranston, in his greatness, synthesized that as Walt being sad, too. In the next take, his speech was much more heartfelt — more of a plea than a threat. I think he might have had a tear in his eye. I just saw it last night for the first time, but as I recall, shooting it, he, too, was almost in tears. It was more like he was saying, “Be careful.” For real be careful. Like seriously, be careful! [Laughs.]

It’s such a loaded scene. Walt’s decision to show Hank the GPS was a little rash, though he’s so arrogant at this point that it’s not unexpected. But then he kind of runs the gamut of possible emotions: He confesses to Hank, then takes it back, then mentions the cancer coming back — feel sorry for me! — and ends with a veiled threat. Which makes Hank’s line, “I don’t even know who I’m talking to anymore,” even funnier.
I gotta tell ya, even though I’m in the scene, sitting in the theater, when that garage door goes down? I got the chills. Oh, fuck! [Laughs.] It was really fun to watch and be in the audience. It’s the old thing that any show is made three times: when it’s written, when it’s produced, and when it’s put together. I see the words on the page, and I get to act in it, but to see it put together is a whole other thing. So I was watching it with bated breath. I also wasn’t sure which ending they would use. At the last minute, Cranston set up a camera in the corner of the garage, to shoot that tableau of us facing off, and I’m happy that’s the ending they used rather than badass Heisenberg picking up his glasses and stalking out. But both of those decisions — playing the scene as equal parts rage and hurt and that last note — are great examples of how simple things can change the tone of an episode.

And by the way, I’m going to assume that Hank is not going to tread lightly.
[Laughs.] Uh, I don’t know if I can answer that. But feel free to assume.

Was it fun socking Cranston? As a viewer, it was enormously satisfying.
[Laughs.] Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I said to him, “You know, I almost never miss on this. Maybe twice I’ve missed, and I hope it’s not this time, motherfucker.” [Breaking Bad director and producer] Michelle MacLaren said, “That’s going to be the punch heard around the world.”

What about the bathroom and driving scenes?
We talked a lot about how Hank comes out of that bathroom.

And by the way, after Hank’s discovery, I don’t believe, as you’ve insisted, that Hank wiped and washed his hands before he leaves the bathroom. I’m surprised he remembered to pull up his pants.
[Laughs.] We had to come back and redo that scene. We had shot the entire bathroom scene last year, and maybe halfway through shooting the final eight episodes they decided to reshoot that moment, to slowly push in on the bathroom door, to milk the anticipation for Hank’s reaction. People had been waiting for it for a year!

And what were you, as Hank, thinking as you were driving home from the White’s house?
He’s just trying to not fall apart and make it home. And then he has a recurrence of the PTSD while he’s driving, which hearkens back to fucking three seasons ago, to the shoot-out with Tuco.

I’ve always wanted to ask: What was it about the Tuco shoot-out that fucked Hank up? I’m assuming he’s been in other shoot-outs.
I talked to Vince about that a lot and asked him that very question. It wasn’t anything to do with having killed a guy — though I’m not sure that Hank was in any other shoot-outs, to be honest. One of the more interesting things I found out when I was researching the DEA and cops in general — and it informed a lot of how I played Hank from the beginning — was that 99 percent of cops never shoot their guns on the job. Never. I talked to DEA agents and cops with twenty years on the force that had never shot their gun, let alone killed anybody. And, you know, in the police department, if you ever shoot somebody, they immediately put you into counseling; it’s a big thing, for that to happen. And I thought, Wow, what a crazy business. You think about shooting every day; you train for it regularly, you go to work and you have your gun, and yet you never use it. And that’s what informed that scene. It was about being in this combat situation — that’s what caused the PTSD.

And while we’re on the subject, I love the fact that, if this had been any other show, the reason for the PTSD would have been explained in the next episode. On Breaking Bad, you didn’t know the reason until the next season, when he tells Marie [in the season-three episode “One Minute”]. That whole Marie scene, man, will forever be my favorite. I love [executive producer] Tom Schnauz to this day for writing the greatest speech. It was so funny, that speech. I couldn’t say the last lines without tearing up: “I think the universe is trying to tell me something, and I think I’m finally ready to listen. I’m just not the man I thought I was. I think I’m done as a cop.” And they didn’t want me to cry. I talked to the director, Michelle MacLaren, and she said, “No, you can’t.” But every time I got to those lines, and it was a long speech, I couldn’t help it. That’s why it’s a side shot rather than full on. You can see me tearing up a bit and hear it in my voice, but it’s kind of out of focus.

But his obvious emotion is what makes the scene so moving! Why do you think those lines made you cry?
I don’t know. I just thought it was so painful, to admit that to his wife. It’s something I couldn’t imagine him saying. And Betsy Brandt [who plays Marie], who I just love, brought so much awesome humanity to that scene.

“I’m not the man I thought I was” is to Hank as “I’m the one who knocks” is to Walt.  Every subsequent action and decision springs from those lines. Hank, of course, becomes an even better man than he was. I always liked Hank, but that speech made me fall in love with him.
That’s where I feel like Hank came into who he was — the realization that he had to be a better guy. I think that if he wasn’t married to Marie, if he was single, or if he was married to someone who was more corruptible or not as earnest as her — I always think back to her, that it’s for Marie that Hank is going to be a good guy.

But Hank was so mean to Marie!
[Laughs.] It was the writers, not me! And when he was the meanest he was in distress.

Do you know if Hank is based on anyone?
I don’t know, although I was at a restaurant once, near my house outside of Los Angeles, and this guy came up to me, showed me his DEA badge, and said, “I’m the guy Vince talked to about your character.” And I asked Vince, and he said, “Yeah, that was him.”

I watched the pilot again, and Hank has come a long way. I forgot about what a dick he was to Walt in that birthday-party scene — the one where he makes the Keith Richards comparison. You can see why Walt kind of hates him. [Norris cackles.] Hank’s never quite that mean to Walt again. After Walt’s cancer diagnosis, he’s generally just nervous around the guy.
Yeah, yeah. Those are some of my favorite scenes, actually — Hank’s strangled emotions.

Hank’s early relationship with his partner, Steve Gomez, is kind of painful, too. All those racist “jokes.”
Actually, in the original script for the pilot — the material I used to test for the network — Hank was more racist.  There was some hard-core shit. Not like the N-word, but there were Middle Eastern references. I think that was kind of what secured the job for me — in the way that Walt is bad, but you still kind of like him, Hank was kind of a racist guy, but you still kind of liked him. But they toned that down by the time we did the actual pilot, and they toned down the razzing with Gomez as the show went on. I think it was because the more serious stuff was taking over; there was no room for it anymore.

The actor who played Gomez — my good friend Steve Quezada — was the only guy cast local, out of Albuquerque. So the show meant a lot to him. He’s a comedian, and he started this talk show, The After After Party. It’s an Internet thing, and it’s not bad. Gomez was supposed to die but for the [2007–2008] writers’ strike. I think the strike hit on episode seven, and he was supposed to die in eight. And I knew he was going to die, but he didn’t. We had rented a house in Corrales, a great little village outside of Albuquerque, and I was playing golf with Steve all the time. And I couldn’t figure out what to do: Should I tell him? It’s not my place to tell him. But maybe I should tell him in case he’s expecting things? But then the writers’ strike happened, and they rethought everything.

Gilligan told me that he had a very schematic idea about Hank, what he called a hail fellow well met and a figure of worship for Walt, Jr. And then he got to know you and saw how smart, sensitive, and well educated you are, which made him realize Hank could be much more. Maybe I’m underestimating DEA agents, but I doubt the word tumescence gets tossed around much.
We talked about that all the time during the series. Vince wanted to make sure Hank was portrayed as a smart guy. Otherwise he’s just a doofus and you’ll dismiss him.

That’s not to say that Hank doesn’t put on a good macho show. “Dollars to doughnuts, I shit you not!” He’s a cliché machine.
My best friend growing up is a cop, and it’s such a tough-guy business, and you do talk in those terms — in clichés and sports metaphors; anything to keep your real self hidden. It’s gotta be, “Eh, fuck you,” etc.

Saul gets a lot of attention for his pop-culture references, but Hank’s made just as many: French Connection, Kojak, Rain Man. At one point he says of Gus, “This guy is Terms of Endearment convincing.” Really? Hank watched a chick flick?
Maybe Marie made him sit down and watch it. I think that’s what happened there. I like all of Hank’s Shania Twain references.

Fans have griped over the time it took for Hank to figure out that Walt is Heisenberg. I’d argue that it hasn’t been that long at all; as of the 2012 finale, Hank had only known about Heisenberg for a little over a year.
Exactly. I always get that question: Why hasn’t Hank figured it out? It’s obvious to viewers because they know all about Walt. And if you really look at what Hank knows — cops do this all the time, put people into categories, for better or worse. It relates to profiling, which is such a controversial thing, and I get why that is, but profiling has worked. It’s unfortunate, there are a lot of human-rights issues involved, but if you have limited resources and not a lot of time, you’re going to focus on the likeliest bad guys. It doesn’t always work, of course, and in Hank’s case he had an image in his mind of a drug kingpin, and it sure as hell wasn’t his milquetoast brother-in-law. His only blind spot is Walt, because he’s family and someone he’s known a certain way for twenty years. But that’s the point of the whole show, that it could never have been this guy. And that’s what makes the revelation, and what you’re going to see in the last eight episodes, all the more fun to watch.

Breaking Bad fans get into some serious nitpicking. For example, there was some heated discussion about Hank’s decision to use Walter White’s master bathroom rather than the hallway bathroom. Do you ever want to say to fans, like William Shatner on SNL, “Get a fucking life?”
I don’t because I think Breaking Bad deserves all the obsessive attention. I get it when people love the show so much that you want to talk about it. I love it, too. And I actually think it’s a good life if you’re smart and cool enough to be into it so much that you pick it apart. [Laughs.]

I like what Gilligan said recently about how, at a certain point, a show belongs to the fans as much as it does to its creators. It takes on a life of its own, beyond what the writer’s might have intended. 
I loved that, and I hadn’t heard it before. It is true; every fan’s theory is equally valid.

Gilligan has a saintly reputation, which is rare among showrunners. Is he as generous and kind as he seems to be? Surely he’s thrown a paperweight or screamed at an assistant. 
I had a child during Breaking Bad, and his middle name is Vincent.

In other words, you’re not going to dish?
Even if I wanted to, there’s nothing I could dish. I’ve never seen him lose his temper. And he’s such a sweet guy. My wife, Bridget, likes to tell this story about one of the Emmy shows where we lost. I think it was the first time Aaron won [2010], and we thought, This is the one where we’re going to win it all. We should have won — we should have won them all! Vince wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he was upset, and rightfully so. And as we’re walking from the Emmys to the Governor’s Ball, he says to my wife, “You look really nice in that dress.” She could see how upset he was, but the first thing he did was compliment her on her dress. He’s just a Southern gentleman and a really good guy.

There are some showrunners, who I won’t name, who do a simple rewrite and put their names on it. Believe me, Vince does his once-over on every episode, and he doesn’t put his name on it.

Let’s talk about the process for actors. When did you get your scripts?
About a week before we shot.

Is it true that Gilligan wasn’t on set much?
No, he wasn’t, unless he directed. But he had Melissa Bernstein on set, who was his eyes and ears. If something veered from the script, or if something on the set changed, we’d literally have to take photos, e-mail them back to Burbank, and wait until we got approval from Vince before we could resume shooting. Sometimes he approved; sometimes he didn’t. We’d have all these damn wardrobe fittings, which annoyed the shit out of me. I’d have to come in before every episode so that Vince could see the different variations in colors on me — you know, five different shades of orange, five different shades of gray, five different shades of crimson. It’s because he’s into color — you may have noticed. [Laughs.] The first time I went to his house, I went into his guest bathroom and it was all orange. I’m thinking, Son of a bitch, he’s sitting on the crapper and thinking, ‘I’m going to make Hank wear orange.’

But, you know, that’s why the show is so good, because there aren’t fifteen people — including some 25-year-old MBA who thinks he’s a creative genius — adding their two cents. There’s no doubt in my mind that the key to the success of Breaking Bad is AMC allowing one person — an obsessive person, obsessive about detail — to control the show.

Speaking of color, I love that Walt and Skyler are suddenly wearing all creams and whites, as if quitting the meth business means they’ve been cleansed of all sins. How was it being directed by Cranston?
He and Michelle MacLaren are probably my favorite Breaking Bad directors. Bryan got better, I thought. He was always a great actor-director, no question, but I thought he got better as a visual director. Michelle was always great at visuals; to do what she did in the time that she got, to make it so cinematic — she’s very gifted.

MacLaren directed “One Minute,” right?

The shoot-out with the cousins was a masterpiece of tension.
On page, that whole parking-lot scene was about half a page, which in usual terms means 30 seconds on film. So it was a five-minute scene with no words. I think Michelle was on the megaphone, because she was far away. So she would say, “Okay, look scared. Now look really scared. All right, you’re feeling a little better. Oh no, PTSD is kicking in! Grab the steering wheel. Oh, you’re freezing up, you’re freezing up! Look left. Look right. You think you see him. No, that’s not him!” That’s how that whole scene was filmed. So we kind of created it on set.

How long did it take to shoot?
Two days to shoot that whole scene. We added some inserts later, when Hank is lying on the pavement. It was in the middle of winter, and the pavement was, like, fifteen degrees. It’s fucking cold in Albuquerque in winter, man!

Loved the cousins!
They’re brothers in real life — Daniel and Luis Moncada. I always bring my sisters to premieres, and they loved those guys because they were so nice and huggy. You may have heard this, but they each had “Fuck You” tattooed on their eyelids; they had been gangbangers, and that’s what they wanted people to see when they were lying in their caskets. I said to Luis, “Fuck man, didn’t that hurt? And he said, “Well, the ink hurt, but what really hurt was the spoon they had to put under the eyelid while they were doing it.” [Laughs.] But they were really good guys.

My favorite killer was Mike. Jonathan Banks inspired you in some way when he was on the show Wiseguy, correct?
When I was thinking about acting, TV was like Walker Texas Ranger and Murder She Wrote. Everyone looked great, no one sweated, no one was bald. And then Wiseguy came along [in 1987] and it was grittier, and Dennis Farina, God rest his soul, and Jonathan Banks, who wasn’t necessarily a good-looking guy, but a tough guy, and a TV star, you know? And I remember thinking, Fuck, if he can get on TV, I can. I could be that guy. I probably would have become and actor anyway, but he gave me encouragement. And then I didn’t see him much, and then he shows up on the Breaking Bad set. And I’m like, “That’s the guy I saw 25 years ago,” and I told him that.

Was he pleased?
He was. You know, he’s a gruff old guy. He doesn’t show much. But a sweet guy.

Who did you hang out with on the set?
Really only Aaron Paul. I’d have dinner with Betsy occasionally, but Aaron was the only guy who would go out. Cranston doesn’t go out. I didn’t get to work with Aaron enough, but every time I did it was just phenomenal.

You got to beat the crap out of him. But then pretty much everyone did.
[Laughs.] That was hard. He’s such a good-hearted, fun guy.

What of you is in Hank?
The fun parts, I hope. [Laughs.] The comedy parts.

What are you going to miss most about the character?
His morality. Hank wants a clean soul.

What are you going to take away from Breaking Bad?
Subtle things, from Cranston mostly — craft-wise and profession-wise. I have called and will still call Bryan in the future if I have any professional choices to make. He was the guy who talked me into taking the part, and I see how he led the cast by example: never late, always the first one out there. When we were preparing for the next season, we’d get an e-mail from Cranston: “Hey, let’s see if we can step it up a little bit this season.” And I would think, What the fuck? I thought last season was pretty good. [Laughs.] There’s not a split second when he wasn’t completely present — every second onscreen was important. He never stopped thinking about how to make a scene better, no matter whose scene it is.

Can you give me an example?
It’s a little thing, but remember the scene where I’ve got Jesse and Walt caught in the RV (season three’s “Sunset”)? When they were shooting my stuff, Bryan was there, just because he liked to be on the set. I had to walk from my car with a tire iron, and he said, “What about taking that iron and running it along the outside of the RV?” Just to, you know, amp up the intimidation. It was a great idea, and I should have been thinking of that.

Did you take anything from the set?
Yeah. Tuco’s grill. I took the ax that nearly chopped my head off in “One Minute,” and I had Vince, Tom, and Michelle sign it. I took my bomber jacket and my Hank Schrader name plate. Oh, and some bottles of Shraderbrau.

You realize that you’re playing Walter White in Under the Dome, right?
[Laughs.] Partly, yeah. Hank had so much inner angst for the last three seasons; we’ll see how much inner angst goes on in the last eight episodes. [Laughs.] So it’s liberating to get to play Big Jim, a character that isn’t constrained by morality. It’s a little different from Walter White, because I think Walt always struggled with morality a little bit.

Not lately he hasn’t.
[Laughs.] But he did. I think Big Jim is a complete sociopath, whereas Walter White at least struggled with letting Jane die, and he struggled with killing Krazy 8. He always did it, but he struggled with it. I think that’s why people can still tolerate him.

Does Big Jim have any redeeming qualities?
I think his redeeming quality is that he thinks he’s doing the right thing in his own way. I think all sociopaths or megalomaniacs probably think that as well. I’m sure Hitler, on some level, thought he was doing the right thing. When we were developing him, I tried to bring more to him because I didn’t want him to be just a mustache-twirling bad guy. That would be boring. There are some great scenes coming up in episode eight [which aired August 5], where you go, “Oh, fuck, Big Jim is a whole different guy.” And we need to do that a lot. It’s easy to just dismiss a character if you define him too rigidly right away.

You mean like his son, Junior? That kid is fucked up!
Talk about needing a smack! Alexander Koch is a great actor, though. He’s gotten a bad rap because people thought he was too crazy too early. But the writers are allowing him to bring some more stuff to the part.

The problem for me with network TV — particularly when you compare it to a show like Breaking Bad — is the lack of nuance. There’s no shading; everything is black and white.
We battle that constantly on the set of Under the Dome. I was telling someone about the scene in “Blood Money,” where Walt finds the GPS, and I said that Breaking Bad is a show that allows Walt to check the whole car before he finds the GPS. On network shows, he would have thought about it and immediately found it. They wouldn’t waste the time for him to feel around the car, to build tension.

The networks don’t think people have the patience for that, which is wrong.
It is wrong. The argument for network shows, of course, is that three or four times as many people watch Under the Dome as watch Breaking Bad. It’s hard to say we should spend more time building tension when we have 13 million people watching the show.

It’s annoying!
It’s just a different entity. There are people, by the way, who don’t like Breaking Bad.

They’re idiots.
[Laughs.] It’s like the difference between Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Transformers. I have a hard time sitting through Marvel-comic movies, but my kids love ‘em and my wife loves ‘em, and they make a billion dollars. I understand that kind of entertainment, and it’s not for me to say that one is a more valid form of entertainment.

Do we know what the dome is by the end of this season?
We get a lot more answers. I think the show really hits its stride in mid-season; it becomes more sci-fi. The dome becomes much more of a character; we begin to understand what its power is. And Big Jim begins to think that God has somehow conferred this great power on him, and that’s where things get interesting. So we’re going to start a whole new society, and I’m king. [Laughs.]

So let me ask you a question: When do you think another show as good as Breaking Bad will come along?

When Vince decides to do another show? I don’t know. I really like this Sundance Channel show Rectify. Have you heard of it?
I’ve heard of it, yeah. Is that a Mark Johnson show? [Mark Johnson is Vince Gilligan’s mentor and an executive producer on Breaking Bad.]

Yes, he produces it. The guy who created it, Ray McKinnon, is Walton Goggins’s film partner.
I love Walton Goggins. I remember telling someone, “I don’t know what the show is, but put me with Goggins, and it will be fine.” I’d love to work with that guy.

You have a couple of movies coming up, like Ridley Scott’s The Counselor [October], with Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. What do you play in that?
A drug dealer.

Clearly you have Walter White envy.
[Laughs.] And I’ve got another movie, The Frozen Ground, with Nic Cage.

Tell me some good Nic Cage stories!
Oh, man, six, seven weeks with Nic Cage. It was phenomenal. He’s great, man. It was so weird working with him because there were literally moments in a scene where I’d be thinking, He’s doing the Nic Cage thing! But just for the record, Nic came to the set every day and knew the script word for word. He never missed a line. Never missed a fucking line on any take.

Did you hang out with him?
No. I don’t think he hangs out. He told me he’s off the grid, whatever the fuck that means. He lives somewhere, no communication. But on the set? A complete professional.

And what’s the Joel Surnow film, Small Time?
That’s with Chris Meloni. I think Chris is an underrated actor, probably because he was on Law & Order for so long. We play used-car salesmen. The best thing about Small Time was becoming friends with Surnow [co-creator of 24]. We had six weeks of just hanging out. I have great, great memories of that movie, and it’s pretty good.

I was looking at your list of credits, and it doesn’t look like you’ve stopped working since you began acting in the late eighties. Anything to do with having five freaking kids?
[Laughs.] Yeah. The nightmare scenario for me is my wife saying, “Let’s go to Hawaii for two weeks!” I would fucking kill myself if I had to sit on a beach for two weeks. Two days? Maybe. Maui? Are you kidding me? What the fuck do I want to do that for? I have a good job. It’s fun.

How old are your kids?
Four to 21.

Well, at least you stop by the house every once in a while. Do they watch Breaking Bad?
My oldest daughter watches. The rest of them will have to wait ten or so years. I love the idea that a new generation will rediscover the show. That’s one of the most fun things about doing it. When I was at Harvard there was this cinema that showed great old movies, and I used to think that I’d consider my career a success if I could make just one film that was considered a classic ten or twenty years from now. And I feel like I got that with Breaking Bad.

Your dad was a musician, right?
A singer. He didn’t have a dad. He had a really bad childhood. But him and his sister would sing on the streets of Chicago. They’d do a little song-and-dance routine in order to eat. And then he started a band, and then he married my mom and became a furniture salesman. But I learned everything I know about entertainment from my dad. He was an amazing guy. He would just be on. My favorite thing he’d say is, “I’m not a singer, I’m an entertainer.” For me, it’s the same with acting; people who do it well learn the craft. They don’t have to pick up a piece of shit and stare at it for an hour to get into the mood. And I think that’s true about acting. I think Bryan Cranston is an entertainer. It’s weird because Cranston reminds me of my dad. They have the same build.

People seem surprised when I tell them you went to Harvard. But your parents weren’t rich, so you must have been a brainiac in high school.
I was straight-A and valedictorian.

What did you major in?
Social studies.

What were you planning to do with that?
I have no idea. [Laughs.] Even though you couldn’t major in drama, I spent a lot of time acting. It was this great opportunity for a guy from Indiana — neither of my parents went to college, let alone Harvard. And, yeah, we weren’t very well off. Harvard paid for everything. And it was this great opportunity to read all the great philosophical works that I never would have read. I loved it.

What are you reading now?
Inherent Vice by Pynchon. I need to reread all his books. They’re so dense and stuffed with pop-culture references — the Breaking Bad of literature.

Before you go, and you know I have to ask: Is Hank still a hero at the end of the show?
I’d love to tell you the answer to that. I really, really would love to tell you. [Laughs.] We can talk about that when it’s over.

I would just love it if Hank were the last man standing.
You can still be the hero and not be standing.

That’s true.
Or be the last man standing and a hero. Let’s see how it plays out.

Dean Norris on the Breaking Bad Premiere