There’s been more of a conversation about toxic fandoms as of late, as apparently people just cannot stop themselves, but one actress intimately familiar with the “bizarre and confusing” heat of audience anger started experiencing it in 2008, with the premiere of the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad. As part of Entertainment Weekly’s look back at the ten-year-old series, Anna Gunn analyzes her “very tough” experience fielding the vitriol from fans who couldn’t stand Skyler White, wife of series protagonist Walter White and a character who often stood in the way of her husband’s journey to becoming a meth kingpin.
“It was very bizarre and confusing to us all,” Gunn recalls. “It was a combination of sexism, ideas about gender roles, and then honestly, it was the brilliance of the construct of the show. People did find a hero in Walt, but they wanted so much to connect with him so viscerally that to see the person who often was his antagonist — therefore the show’s antagonist in a way — they felt like she was in the way of him doing whatever he wanted to do, and that he should be allowed to do what he wanted to do.”
Gunn recalls one early public event that clued her in to what was in store. “It was fairly early on that a guy stood up and said, ‘Why is your character such a bitch?,’” she recalled. (In a New York Times essay she wrote in 2013, the actress describes reading a fan post that asked,“Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?”) Gunn says the level of vitriol doled out by the show’s fans made her question if she, or her acting ability, were somehow to blame. “There was a lot of questioning: ‘Am I doing something wrong? Am I not serving the character? Am I not serving the story?’”
Her cast members, meanwhile, were equally confused. “I really felt for Anna, because she’s just such a beautiful human inside and out, and she played Skyler in such a fierce way, and people just dragged her character the most,” Aaron Paul told EW. Said Bryan Cranston, “It baffled me from an objective standpoint.”
According to Gunn, even a decade, or, more specifically, this past decade has brought about enough societal change that she feels fan reactions have evolved. “Now that the show’s done, it’s kind of amazing how much it’s shifted,” she says. “In particular, women will say — I mean, it still gets me kind of emotional — ‘The journey that she went through…’ They may or may not be aware of the Skyler backlash. That’s incredibly gratifying. It’s men and women who connect with that. There’s been such a shift happening in society and in our consciousness that it’s really landing much more strongly now.”