Breaking Bad's Dean Norris: The Hunt for Heisenberg Enlists the Most Unlikely Helper
Has Breaking Bad‘s overly proud, prattling Walter made a meth of things by unwittingly prompting Hank to reopen the Heisenberg case? It would seem so — and this week, in fact, the sidelined DEA snoop enlists the unlikeliest assist in hunting down the area’s most-wanted cook.
Dean Norris, who plays Hank, spoke with TVLine about this Sunday’s episode (AMC, 10/9c), weighed in on the acclaimed drama’s announced end date, and also (somewhat ironically) opened up about getting Stoned for the History channel.
TVLINE | Hank started out this season as one damn ornery S.O.B. Was it almost hard for you to get those really mean lines out?
I have so much fun with Betsy Brandt [who plays wife Marie] in real life, and we’ve been doing this for four years now, so yeah, it was a little weird – but kind of necessary. But one of the things I love about this show is they don’t sugarcoat stuff or pull any punches. It was a fair representation of a guy who had had this big, physical life, and then had it taken away from him. He’s going through a period of being pretty angry at the world – including his wife, who’s the only one around, unfortunately, to take the brunt of it.
TVLINE | That said, he seems to be coming around. Is that because he sees Marie trying so hard, or because he’s dipping his toe back into lawman mode?
I think it’s the latter. It was despite himself he was mean to his wife; I don’t think he wanted to, or even enjoyed it. He needed someone else to share his pain with. [In a situation like his] you need some sort of focus, and he tried the minerals, but that just wasn’t cutting it. [Laughs] Over the next several episodes he’s got a new purpose, which is to go back after this “White Whale” for him, this Heisenberg.
TVLINE | Why do you think Hank first rebuffed his DEA buddy there? Because he’s feeling a bit neutered?
Exactly that. I try to play it more as we go along that he’s kind of pissed off at the DEA also — like, “Eff them. They didn’t really have my back. A pox on all your houses!” But that’s what he loves to do, figuring that stuff out. And then they threw you that little curve [last week], where good ol’ Walt with his ego and pride just couldn’t let it go!
TVLINE | Let’s talk about that dinner table speech of Walt’s. When reading the script for the first time, were you like, “What the hell is Walt doing, blathering on like that and basically reopening this closed case?”
I don’t know what Bryan [Cranston] was playing, but it’s been a theme throughout the show — going way back to the beginning, where we asked why Walt didn’t continue on with his brilliant career – that there’s a lot going on with his pride. The show is about this kind of reawakening of a man, from this neutered guy that he was in Season 1 to this badass… and now he’s getting a bit crazy! And he’s not one to hold his liquor well. I also think it’s kind of the old theory of “crime and punishment,” that he secretly wants to get caught. These serial criminals like to have the thrill of the chase.
TVLINE | Coming out of that moment, is any tiny part of Hank thinking that Walt could possibly be Heisenberg?
I think that subconsciously Hank thinks that exactly. I don’t know how much really he wants to allow himself to believe it, but as the season goes on … there’s some sort of a process there, like, “What am I going to do?” There are all kinds of things in play, including Hank being partly culpable and having this guy so close to him, that I don’t know that he wants to come right out and say it, but I think that he’s feeling it. Especially now that we’ve got the end game in sight [with next season announced as Breaking Bad's last], Vince Gilligan [the series' creator] has said outright that we’re going to deal with that issue of Hank finding out what Walt’s up to. I don’t think we’ll skirt it.
TVLINE | I’m curious: Given his limited mobility, how is Hank going to go about chasing any leads? How will he be a gumshoe detective? Will he have surrogate eyes and ears out there…?
That is part of the funny-tense thing that Breaking Bad does so well — he calls on Walt! He pretends that he needs Walt to take him to a mineral show, and then he gets Walt to actually drive him around and do some of the investigative work with him. It’s tense, obviously, because Walt is s—ting his pants the whole time, and Cranston plays “s—ting his pant”s better than anybody – but it’s also funny. We play that for a couple episodes.
TVLINE | Is the news that Season 5 will be the show’s last exciting for a cast member, as much as it is bittersweet?
It’s certainly bittersweet, but it is exciting. As Vince put it, 16 episodes is about a third of what we’ve done already, so we’ve got a third more to wrap everything up and come to a satisfying conclusion. And that’s all they wanted from Day 1, to know when it’s going to end. I think it’s going to be split into two eight-episode seasons, though, like a pair of little miniseries.
TVLINE | On Sept. 21, you’re hosting a special for the History channel, called Stoned Ages. I can make an educated guess, but what is it about exactly?
It’s a primetime special about the history of drugs throughout mankind, looking all the way back to the Greeks and the Mayans. It’s funny but also very informative, and we had a very hip producer who brought a cool feel to it. We went to Greece, Honduras, London — all different kinds of places — and interviewed a lot of interesting people. I thought it’d be a narration gig when I first got it, but I’m on-camera, the “eyes” of the audience.
TVLINE | Do we have any concept of just how trippy the drugs were for, say, the Mayans?
The Mayans used magic mushrooms — psilocybin – to commune with God, because it was part of nature for them. There are a lot of drawings of these magic mushrooms on all their stuff. There’s even evidence of a Mayan ballgame where they would use magic mushrooms to increase their ability to see the ball and stuff like that. And the Greeks, they used to fumigate before they gathered to discuss all these great concepts, and the fumigation was cannabis! Everyone would get slightly stoned and they would talk. It was real trippy.