Breaking Bad has never been afraid to challenge its audience, packing episodes with morally complex characters, sly callbacks, plot riddles, and jaw-dropping moments. (Need a couple thousand Band-Aids for your throat, Victor?) But what are the scenes that challenged the actors themselves? Which was the moment that was the most difficult to film? It wasn’t always easy for the actors to decide on just one, but they rose to the, well, challenge.
BRYAN CRANSTON (Walt)
While Cranston notes that he was emotionally tested by the season 2 scene in which Walt stands by while Jane (Krysten Ritter) chokes to death on her own vomit, he picks a more physically arduous moment from that season — the night scene in which Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) kidnap Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and force him to dig his own grave by the headlights of the RV. “It was like 9 degrees without the windchill factor, and it was really windy, and sand was kicking up and blowing in our faces,” recallss Cranston. “I’m supposed to hold the gun out and I’m so cold that I’m shaking, and I’m like ‘Oh my god…’ That was probably the toughest scene to do.”
AARON PAUL (Jesse)
Paul indicates that his toughest test came in an episode that hasn’t aired yet. From all of the installments that have aired, though, he points to the scene in which he woke up next to the overdosed and deceased Jane. “Emotionally that was the hardest place to go to,” says Paul. “It was not a fun day. Playing Jesse, I don’t draw upon any of my past experiences, I just try to force myself to believe what’s actually happening. That is why that scene was so rough, because I put myself in Jesse’s position and I forced myself to make myself believe that my girlfriend was there dead in front of me, desperately trying to wake her up, and all of this guilt inside saying, ‘I did this, I did this.’”
ANNA GUNN (Skyler)
Gunn doesn’t reach back far into the show’s history for her choice. It happened in the second half of this season, when Skyler admits the truth to Marie, takes a slap in the face, and gets in a physical struggle with her sister after she tries to take baby Holly. “For Skyler, the worst thing that she could have imagined was for her sister to find out,” says Gunn. “And the worst thing about it was that she could not tell her sister, who is the closest person in the world to her: ‘But listen to the story. Listen to what’s really going on.’ Because to say anything would be to implicate her self, to implicate Walt, to get them further into trouble…. She just had to sit there and take it. But then to have her sister think she was such an awful person, that she had to remove her child from the house, is every mother’s nightmare. It was just an extremely hard scene to shoot. We had to shoot with what we call the dummy baby, the rubber baby. But then occasionally for close-ups, we did put the real baby in. And just the idea of any kind of struggle going on between two sisters over a child — you don’t have to stretch very far for that to affect you. It was hard for us to maintain our composure throughout the day. And it’s just heartbreaking because those sisters are like war buddies. They were tremendously close and bonded, so for them to be torn apart like that was excruciating.”
DEAN NORRIS (Hank)
Let’s just say that Norris does not fondly recall the scenes in which a depressed Hank was stuck in bed after being nearly shot to death in season 3 and began a slow and painful road to recovery that continued into season 4. “It was tough because it affected me on a personal level,” says Norris. “You are constantly dark for 15‑hour days, being just depressed as a character and being mean to my [onscreen] wife. There were times when I snapped at Betsy [Brandt]. It wasn’t real mean, but it was something. I remember my wife saying, ‘You really need to apologize.’ [laughs] I was just constantly in this kind of pissed-off mood. That whole Season 4 for me was not pleasant. If you had to focus on one scene, it would be when she’s changing my bedpan. It was just not a pleasant place to go in your mind that you were so helpless, especially coming from a guy who was a boisterous guy and a tough guy. To have to sit there and lean over and have your wife change your bedpan — it’s weird that sometimes the fictional scenes kind of get you. [laughs] And that was one of them. It was just like, ‘Ah, this is so embarrassing and so emasculating.’ It was horrible.”
BETSY BRANDT (Marie)
Brandt is still haunted by a scene from the second half of this season, in which a frustrated and disgusted Marie blurts at Walt, “Why don’t you just kill yourself?” “We were in a restaurant, and we did my coverage, and then I said, ‘Did we get it?’” says Brandt. “And I was noticing while we’re shooting it that my chest was starting to hurt and I just felt awful. And [director of photography] Michael Slovis] said ‘Yes’ and… this is hard to talk about … and I started crying. And then I said to Bryan ‘Can I hug you? I hate looking you in the eye and saying that to you and meaning it when I say it.” And Bryan hugged me and he was very sweet, and I just said, ‘I’m ready to go do a comedy.’ And we all had margaritas at the restaurant and that was the last shot.”
BOB ODENKIRK (Saul)
For his choice, the comedian goes all the way back to our introduction to shady Saul in season 2. “I needed to learn all that Spanish for the first one I was in,” he quips. (He also points to an earlier episode in the second half of this season in which Saul is trying to counsel Walt: “Everything’s coming apart. It’s not funny anymore and Saul doesn’t have an easy solution.”)
RJ Mitte (Walt Jr.)
Mitte selects a scene from season 4 in which Walt Jr. visits Walt’s place, where he finds the MIA Walt sporting a busted-up face and tighty whities. After some lies, they have a heart-to-heart chat about his father. “Just getting to that emotional level after we sit down and start talking, and Walt’s talking about his father — that was a very emotional scene for everyone,” says Mitte. “I think the majority of people have been in those situations where sooner or later, they have that talk with their father, and I remember when my grandfather went through all, the whole wheezing and going down the end. I definitely remember that talk. I think that was the biggest and hardest moment for me as an actor.”
For more from the cast of Breaking Bad, pick up a copy of this week’s issue of EW.