Still riding high (figuratively speaking) from Breaking Bad's double-win at the Emmys (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor), series creator Vince Gilligan is back at work, dreaming up an even darker fourth season for his very flawed protagonist, Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine dealer.
And family man, of course. This week Gilligan will be in Vancouver (where he spent some time as an X-Files writer) to speak about writing for television.
We met at the television festival in Banff and my impression was: Wow, he's so normal. Do you get that a lot?
I do in fact. There's a saying I should have memorized by now, but the general gist of it is: Letting yourself go in your fiction is perhaps a way to get it out of your system so that you can maintain some sort of current of normality.
Does your life have a current of normality?
I have to get up and go to work every day and pay the mortgage, responsibilities sort of like Walter White had when we first met him in the pilot and still has to this day.
Do you think that's part of the appeal, that we can all sort of relate to him as this kind of regular guy?
That's what interested me in Walt's character when I first conceived of it. I loved the idea of a character who is basically one of us. Most people I think would identify themselves as law-abiding productive members of society, and Walt was all of that when we first met him back in season one. He was a man who worked hard to support his family, who voted in every election and didn't litter and didn't jay walk and probably never broke any law, major or minor. And one day he came to realize through the various plot machinations that perhaps it wasn't enough for him.
Although I think the interesting thing about Walt is that even as things have gotten really dark in season three and promise to get even darker in season four, this is a man in such denial he'll continue to say to himself and to anyone who will listen: The things I've done, I've done them strictly for my family. But you have to start to wonder after a certain point watching Breaking Bad: Is Walt doing these things for some reason other than simple financial gain? Is he indeed addicted to excitement, to the power he feels being a criminal?
Do you ever reject any ideas for being too dark?
Oh absolutely. Minute by minute we're rejecting things in the writers' room. Sometimes because they don't quite fit into the jigsaw puzzle we're building, sometimes because they're just too stupid or outlandish. And yes, there have been a couple probably that were too dark even for us.
Care to reveal any of them?
I'm kind of hesitant to because maybe in six months they'll be perfect.
The season-three finale was intense. How long do we have to wait for season four?
Next summer; the launch has been pushed back by a couple of months. It was not my idea, but there are sound reasons for it, I think. Shows historically do better viewer-wise with a summer launch, I guess, than they do in the late spring.
How do you feel about that? Because you want to capitalize on your success and not leave things hanging for too long.
You're right; it's a double-edged sword and, to their credit, everybody who made that decision is aware of that, too. It's tricky because if you wait too long between seasons, there are tendencies for people to move on. Also we'll miss an Emmy cycle; we won't be eligible for the 2011 Emmys, which I wish were not the case because we did so well this time around. I'd love to have that continue.
Tell me about Emmy night this year.
Seeing Bryan Cranston win a third Emmy was just tremendous and a bit unexpected, not because I don't think he deserves it - in my mind he absolutely does - but it's so rare for that three-peat to happen. And seeing Aaron Paul win, I was just over the moon. I jumped up and started screaming, and when he got up on the stage and started giving his speech and I finally calmed down and stopped clapping, I realized my hands were just throbbing. I was pounding them together so hard when I was clapping that I felt like I needed to dip them in some ice water or something.
Vince Gilligan speaks at the Vancouver International Film Festival Film & TV Forum on Friday (viff.org/forum).