Arts, Culture & Media

'Breaking Bad's' Anna Gunn discusses Skyler, season 5 of award-winning series

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Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler White on AMC's Breaking Bad, signs autographs for fans. (Photo by pop culture geek via Wikimedia Commons.)

Fans of AMC’s critically acclaimed series, “Breaking Bad,” have been pondering what’s next for Walter White, since the explosive season four finale last year, when the chemistry teacher-turned-crystal meth manufacturer poisoned a child and blew up part of a nursing home to get rid of his competition.

Season 5 premieres Sunday with Walt, played by Emmy-winning actor Bryan Cranston, preparing to take over the drug empire with his partner, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul.

Along for the ride is Walt’s wife, Skyler, played by television and stage veteran actress Anna Gunn.

When the series began, Walt was the hero. He began cooking crystal meth as a way to bank money for his family, while he faced terminal lung cancer. But then, he was unexpectedly cured, but in the grips of the drug trade, and seduced by the money and the power, he couldn't give it up.

After discovering Walt’s secret life, Skyler eventually joined in, setting up a money laundering business at a local car wash. But now, Skyler is beginning to fear for her safety, as Walt goes deeper down the rabbit hole of drug cartels.

Gunn says in putting together her role, she drew inspiration from the role of Carmela Soprano, played by Edie Falco in the mob hit, the Sopranos.

"Early on, (show creator) Vince Gilligan and I had a conversation, even before we shot the pilot. I wanted a little more information about where Skyler might go, and what her development might be as a person" Gunn said. "There wasn't a lot to go on from the pilot. He just summed it up in one sentence. He said 'well, she's going to be Carmela Soprano, but in on the crime.' And that was it, I was sold."

The show, which is known for its violence, perhaps reached its peak in last season's finale when Walt blows up his boss using, essentially, a suicide bomber, and the camera pans from him looking like he survived to showing his completely disintegrated face.

"This is part of, I think, the genius of the show," Gunn said. "It can flip back and forth on a dime. You can be watching a pretty quiet, domestic scene unfold at the White's dinner table. The next thing you know you're out in the desert and something really bad is going on."

Gunn said the violence in the show, really, is an honest look at the violence of the actual drug world. It's a real problem, Gunn says, in New Mexico itself.

There are billboards, she says, around Albuquerque, where the show is set, giving people phone numbers to call if they're addicted to meth and need help to get clean.

Series creator Vince Gilligan has said all along that the series will show the progression of someone, Walt, who starts as the hero and ends as the villain.

But Skyler too is undergoing a transformation, though not exactly to a villain. Gunn said the character of Skyler, heading into the upcoming season, finds herself in a place where she can't do anything without ruining something.

"She can't leave her family. She's not going to turn Walt into the police. So, now that she's not going to walk away, she's not going to turn him in, the only thing she can do, she thinks, is make this thing work," Gunn said.

But that makes things worse, Gunn says, with Skyler undergoing a character transformation of her own. Walt, she's realized, is not the man she thought he was and in fact, is probably more dangerous than she even knows, Gunn said.

"She starts to disintegrate internally in a way that you'll really start to see in season five," Gunn said. "Things start to breakdown."

The final season will bring the transformation for Walt, Skyler and even Jesse to a close, but viewers will have to wait until next summer for the conclusion. AMC has decided to split the fifth season into two mini-seasons, showing eight episodes this summer and the last eight in the summer of 2013.