It's all about survival for Skyler White.
Through the danger and abject terror she lives with as the wife of a drug kingpin, Skyler White has found a way to survive. Heading into the final episodes of Breaking Bad, it looks like Skyler may find a way to pull her family out of a deep, downward spiral that her husband, Walter White, has thrown them into. However, if history serves as a reminder, the darkest days for the White family are yet to come.
Actress Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler White on the hit television series "Breaking Bad," talked with U.S. News about her character's place in a world filled with alpha-male anti-heroes, Skyler's strengths and weaknesses as a mother and what it has been like working on one of the most critically-acclaimed television dramas ever.
Does it bother you that people seem to view Skyler as a wet blanket?
I think that was early on. As she's come into the crime and tried to take action, people have strangely come to feel more for her. I think as Walt has transformed into his "Heisenberg" behavior and done worse and worse things, I think the audience feels sympathy for her and her situation. I think at the beginning, people felt that way about her character because a lot of the audience was identifying with [Walter White] and his plight. Skyler represented the one character who was opposing him more than anybody else in the show. But as its gone along, its kind of shifted and changed.
Why do you think audiences like these larger-than-life anti-heroes? Whether its Tony Soprano, Don Draper or Walter White - these characters' actions are reprehensible.
I think it taps into some sort of psychological thing where people like to ally themselves with characters who do things that we would never do in real life. It becomes a visceral viewing experience where they get behind that character.
And they're rough on their wives, too.
The fact that the wives often get maligned, I'm not sure why that is still happening. I think that it has something to do with the fact that the wives are the ones who often speak the truth or say to the husbands "This is not okay, this is endangering our family." I think we are still dealing with some archetypes and ideas on what wives and husbands should be, and in a show like "The Sopranos," you had Carmella, who is extremely strong and has no bones about telling Tony exactly what she thought of him. Skyler is pretty similar in that she is very, very strong and stands toe to toe with Walt. She made him look at what he was doing even when he didn't want to look at it.
What exactly is Skyler trying to save at this point? Or is she past the point of no return?
I think at this point, Skyler feels that the primary concern is and always has been the children. I think that there is some odd hope that has been reawakened in her where things might be okay. There is another part of her that feels morally lost, and she knows that there are decisions she's made that she can't undo, and that lives in her as a cold fear that dwells in the bottom of her stomach.
I think you can see that Skyler feels danger lurking around every corner.
She's constantly trying to figure out the next best move, almost like a chess player. So much of it is intellectual with her. I think she really does understand at this point there are no more moves to make other than "How do I keep the kids safe?" ... She's perfectly aware that [her and Walt] have done so many things that may come back to them at any moment. It's a constant state of heightened anxiety and fear that she lives in.
Do you think Skyler is good mom?
I think she is a flawed mom. I think she loves her children more than anything in the world. I do not think she has made great decisions, and I think shes knows that. I think she understands that when she had the chance to turn Walt in, she missed that opportunity. And not only that, she was willing to look like the villain to her son for quite a long time. She was willing to have her son call her terrible names and think that she was this awful person because she was trying to protect him. To me, that's a strong person and a good person trying to do the right thing, but she makes decisions that are foolish. Having to live in a place where you've compromised your morality is a terrible place to live.
Does playing a big role in such a dark show take a mental toll on you?
There were times when we did some of those episodes that were the really heavy ones, where Walt and I did the intense stuff, it got pretty exhausting. I think the episode where I walk into the pool and then Walt and I have this scene in the bedroom, that really took it out of me. At the same time, I, as an actor, I didn't have to be there every single day like Bryan [Cranston]. I felt like I could never really complain. He had to be there every single day doing truly intense stuff. ...
Over the course of this show, you've worked with some tremendous people behind the scenes: Vince Gilligan, Michelle MacLaren and Rian Johnson all have their own vision and talent for great, dark storytelling. What has this collaborative experience been like?
It's been amazing because in television, the pace is so fast. Normally, you get very little time to rehearse. We always had this atmosphere where they gave us a lot of time to rehearse when we came in at the top of the day.
Going back to the scene between Bryan and I after I walked into the pool: Rian is such a thoughtful and careful director and he had thought of that scene as me just staying on the bed, and that Bryan would be hovering over me because he thought that would create a lot of tension.
Then he and [episode writer] Sam Catlin, they looked at it, and said 'That's good, but it would be really interesting to see what would happen if you got up and got away from Walt.' We did it again, he'd chase me, I would get back in his face and I ended up back on the bed. We felt that expressed what was going on in the scene physically the best that it could. [The directors] always put in a lot of time for us to be able to explore the scenes. I think much more so than a lot of other shows I've worked on.
Does Walter White deserve to die?
I really felt that Walt's fate should be whatever Vince wants it to be. I really felt that whatever Vince was going to come up with for Walt and for all the characters was going to be authentic, and I feel really strongly that that's what he and the writers did. They took a long time to think very carefully about each character and their story as a whole, and I really feels it ends perfectly. I don't make any kind of moral judgements on who should live and die, I'm just there as a storyteller within that piece. I have such trust and admiration for the writers and what they do. I think the audience is going to be tremendously satisfied because there's nothing that feels like a misstep, you have a sense of 'Ah, yeah, that's what should happen.'
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. "Breaking Bad" airs at 10 p.m. EST on AMC.
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