Vince Gilligan, age 43, is the creator and executive producer of the third year AMC drama Breaking Bad that’s been nominated for its second consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. This year, it competes with Mad Men, Dexter, The Good Wife, Lost, and True Blood. Formerly a writer and producer on Fox’s The X-Files, Gilligan spoke with Ray Richmond for Deadline Hollywood about the show’s ratings challenges and how he suffers trying to live up to audience expectations:
Deadline Hollywood: Are you surprised that Sony and AMC keep renewing the show despite the numbers?
Vince Gilligan: Let me just say that I think both the studio and the network have been courageous in putting their money where their mouth is. It’s a testament to both of them. But you know, no matter how many Emmys we get nominated for, or win, there are certain financial truths to this business, and if you don’t make any money you can’t stay on forever. We’ve shown growth in our numbers each year. And we do very well for AMC, which is itself a growing network. If you look back to the early years of USA Network or FX when they started producing scripted originals, you’ll note a similar genesis. It’s unrealistic to expect that kind of audience from Day One.
DH: Is it at all daunting to have created a show that you now have to continually live up to?
VG: The answer is yes. But as my agent likes to say, it’s a high class problem to have – but a problem nonetheless. There’s always that neurotic fear of failing in my mind, and it really kicked me into overdrive last year after we got that first Emmy nomination for best drama series. It was tough in that writers room. Suddenly everything was second guessed, triple guessed, quadruple guessed. It affected me more than it did the writers. That’s why I’m thankful for the invention of bourbon. It helps. A little. That, and sleep. All we can do is put our heads down and keep doing good work. And we’re so ambitious. We’re trying to do stuff no one has ever seen before, which always costs money. But we’ve got a pretty good deal already in New Mexico with a 24% rebate. And besides that, it’s a great place to shoot.
DH: How would you describe Bryan Cranston’s work on this show?
VG: Well, it’s overused to the point of being a cliché, but genius is a really good word. So is courageous. Bryan inhabits Walt White in a day the writers and myself honestly didn’t see coming, even though we’d known we hired the right guy and he was one of the tip-top best actors around. We’re still surprised by what he’s brought to this role. He lives in this character so completely, with so much nuance and layers, subtlety, boldness, he embodies it all. He’s capable of doing anything, and he’s bravely helped turn this character into a real bastard.
DH: What’s behind the decision not to bring the show back for Season 4 until July of next year?
VG: It was AMC’s decision. But I think they made it for a good reason. There’s less competition during the summertime. It did initially concern me a bit as to how to keep our wonderful crew on our show, since everyone does have mortgages to pay. By virtue of necessity, they might have to go off and get other jobs to make ends meet before go back into production in January. But the very tangible upside is, I have more time with my writers in the room and will be able to spend more time on the set. It’s a tremendous luxury to have that extra writing time. We’re already plugging away on the Season 4 scripts.
DH: You’ve said you couldn’t see going past 5 seasons with this show and these characters.
VG: I’m always asking that same question of how long Breaking Bad can go, assuming we keep getting renewed. Having lived through a wonderful 7 years spent as a writer and producer on The X-Files, doing what I felt then was the work of our lives, your perspective on this stuff is always changing. You just want to be sure not to stay past your expiration date, you know? You want to leave ‘em at the party wanting more. So I guess the answer is, I can’t really put a clock on it at this point.