'Breaking Bad' Is Back Walt White is a sick, desperate man. He's a former high school chemistry teacher with terminal lung cancer. His chemotherapy's expensive, and his family needs the money to keep going after he dies. Lucky for us, he's survived into his second season.
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'Breaking Bad' Is Back

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'Breaking Bad' Is Back

'Breaking Bad' Is Back

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Walt White is a sick, desperate man. He's a former high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque who has terminal lung cancer. His chemotherapy is expensive, and his family needs the money to keep going after he dies. So, Walt and a former student have hatched an unorthodox business plan.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Breaking Bad")

Mr. BRYAN CRANSTON (Actor): (as Walt White) Seven hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars, that's what I need. That is what I need. You and I both clear about 70 grand a week. That's only ten and a half more weeks, call it 11. Eleven more drug deals and always in a public place from now on. It's doable, definitely doable.

SIMON: That's Bryan Cranston in the role of Walt White on the critically adored show, "Breaking Bad." It's on the AMC network, and last year Mr. Cranston's performance won him an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series. Season two begins tomorrow - on Sunday, and we are joined now by Bryan Cranston from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. CRANSTON: Scott, thanks for having me.

SIMON: We need to be pretty plain about this if people didn't get it. They're dealing crystal meth, aren't they?

Mr. CRANSTON: Yes, it is, and it's a horrible, disastrous drug that is a scourge to society. By using crystal meth as the centerpiece drug for the show, it does raise the stakes. It does raise our responsibility, as well, as storytellers.

SIMON: Help us set the storyline for season two when it opens.

Mr. CRANSTON: Well, in season one, "Breaking Bad" just starts to uncover the decision that Walter White has made to become this drug dealer, to make as much money as he can for his family. In season two, we see the results of this terrible decision. And it's really about a good man who makes bad decisions. And I think that's what very relatable to the viewing audience, is that they see themselves, or someone they know, in Walter White, and they can actually embrace him for that.

In season two, everything that he has worked for - to keeping the family unit together - becomes jeopardized.

My wife, Skyler, played by Anna Gunn - terrific actress - she begins to realize that I've been lying about certain things, and forces me to own up to these things. And I don't know exactly how much she knows, so I don't reveal everything.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Breaking Bad")

Ms. ANNA GUNN (Actress): (as Skyler White) Walt, did you spend the entire night out here?

Mr. CRANSTON: (as Walt White) No, well, not all of it. I did have a touch of my stomach, you know, and I knew I was going to be up and down so I just didn't want to wake you.

Mr. CRANSTON: My brother-in-law, who's a DEA agent, is hot on the trail of this new drug kingpin in the area. So legally, the noose is tightening around my neck as well.

SIMON: Do I have this right? You were a police science major in college? You actually have a degree in police science?

Mr. CRANSTON: I do, I do. And I thought it was a very macho thing to do when I was young.

SIMON: I confess: My grandfather was a Chicago cop. And he very definitely believed that a really great policeman was a fine actor.

Mr. CRANSTON: I think there's a lot to that. In order to coerce some information out of people, I think you do have to know how to manipulate and to encourage, and take on a persona of perhaps a friend when you're not, when you're, you know, from a different capacity.

SIMON: This raises the question about your character, Walter White. Is he, in a sense, released by his illness to try something that in some part of himself has always fascinated him - by that I mean, a criminal enterprise?

Mr. CRANSTON: I think this comes out of left field for him. He's a man of science, where everything makes sense; where there's a mathematical answer to every question. And he steps out of his classroom into this world that he very hastily chose, and he realizes it's in complete chaos. He can't control it. He's got a tiger by the tail and he's dealing with these unsavory, horrible murderers and thugs and drug users, and they're unreliable and untrustworthy. And the anxiety level in him is rising to uncontrollable levels.

And I think the irony that my character found is that after 25 years of living with regret of missed opportunities and basically imploding from the weight of that and becoming invisible to himself and to society, this apparent death sentence of terminal lung cancer has opened up new opportunities for him for life.

SIMON: As the series has progressed, we learn that Walt is not exactly working with Frank Nitti in drug trafficking. Jesse, his partner, feels that they've got to be armed. Let's play that.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Breaking Bad")

Mr. AARON PAUL (Actor): (as Jesse Pinkman) OK. It's got five bullets. I finally figured out how to… Look, I just finally… I, I figured it out. I say we get a second gun, right, for you. I mean, don't we, like, double our chances, I mean, mathematically?

Mr. CRANSTON: (as Walt White) I've got a better idea.

Mr. PAUL: (as Jesse Pinkman) Thank God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRANSTON: He really is a mess. You know, he's a high school dropout, and he's a drug dealer.

SIMON: Let's stipulate that "Breaking Bad" contains some of the elements for which cable television has become most famous and celebrated - nudity and profanity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But tastefully done in each case.

Mr. CRANSTON: You know, we do have some leeway on cable, to be able to more accurately tell this story. And there's some language and some nudity. I'd like to apologize to the listeners right now, because they'll see me in my all-together in episode three, where I have to back up a particular lie. And in order to have people believe that I have temporary amnesia, I strip down completely naked and wander through a grocery store.

SIMON: So, that wasn't a body double, huh?

Mr. CRANSTON: No. That was my pasty, little butt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, you kept the language nice and manageable for us. Thanks very much.

Mr. CRANSTON: I try.

SIMON: And not to make excuses for anybody's criminal behavior, but the economy has changed substantially since "Breaking Bad" went into production.

Mr. CRANSTON: It really has. It's just coincidence that our show deals with a family that is going from paycheck to paycheck and is struggling to make ends meet - has to have a second job, is about to go in and test just how much insurance, medical insurance, does he have - realizing it can't handle a catastrophic illness, like lung cancer.

And so there's a lot of areas in which the viewers can relate to this struggling family. And it poses the question. I mean, if you had a year and a half to live, what would you do? What would you do for your family? Now, hopefully, you wouldn't make the same decisions that Walter White makes, but it might be some work as desperate.

SIMON: Mr. Cranston, thanks so much.

Mr. CRANSTON: I appreciate it. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Bryan Cranston, who stars in "Breaking Bad," the drama series on AMC, premieres its second season tomorrow, Sunday night.

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