It is not easy being Breaking Bad‘s Hank Schrader these days.
Your Moby Dick is in plain sight, yet all you have to harpoon him with is an inscription from a book of poems. Hell, even Walter White’s wife won’t help you land the big one. What’s a determined DEA agent to do?
This Sunday on the acclaimed drama (AMC, 9/8c), Hank – having fallen well shy of flipping Skyler — gets some alone time with Jesse Pinkman, who has been closer to “Heisenberg” than he perhaps could ever imagine. Will he be able to crack the kid? Recent TVLine Performer of the Week Dean Norris surveys for us that critical sitdown, reflects on how Hank’s face-off with Walt was almost more brutal and reveals what the series finale will not be.
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TVLINE | Between Breaking Bad and Under the Dome, Dean Norris fans are really getting the 1-2 punch these days, huh?
[Laughs] Yeah. It’s a lot of fun actually. We finished Breaking Bad way back at the end of March/first part of April, so I’m kind of enjoying it all.
TVLINE | Everybody was obviously abuzz about the garage scene from the midseason premiere. Did I hear that there was an even more intense take that you and Bryan Cranston shot?
That scene, as written, was all about the rage, so we did a rehearsal where I was just really going at it, you know — much more violent. And it just didn’t feel right. I talked with Bryan a couple nights before, about how it really was about hurt and betrayal, and it wasn’t necessarily there in the words. But having done the rehearsal where we were really violent was great because [that intensity] lingered there when it then turned into kind of a Godfather scene, with Hank grasping Walter behind the head. Like, I just wanted to understand how my “brother” could do this to me. Bryan and I realized that was a big part of what that scene was about.
TVLINE | I could tell just looking at you, that you were still running pretty hot from that rehearsal.
Yeah — and I couldn’t tell whether I wanted to continue to pummel him or just ask him why he did this to Hank. It all leads to that line, “Who are you? Really, who are you?” Even after we did the first couple takes this way, even after Hank was playing more of the hurt, you see a change when I say, “Bring Skyler and the kids here” and [Walt] gives a look that says, “That’s never going to happen.” And [originally] that “tread lightly” thing was really a threat, a hardcore threat, but the writer [on set] mentioned something to Bryan, who was directing the episode, to think about that fact that this guy, the guy who’s your surrogate brother, is looking at you and saying he doesn’t know who you’ve become. Bryan immediately took that and in the next take is what you saw on the screen, which was kind of even a tear in his eye. It was so much more interesting and still threatening — still “tread lightly” — but it was like, “I don’t want to kill you but I will if I have to, and I can’t believe that I’ve turned into this monster.”
TVLINE | I have to think that some people coming out of the mid-season finale thought it would be smoother sailing for Hank now that he has the Leaves of Grass clue. But damn, he’s still got a case to build. And I’ve got to imagine it will frustrate him to no end.
It does. We found that out in Season 3, he’s not the guy to cut corners, plant a gun or do this or that. He wants to make the case the old-fashioned way and take him down, because that’s what he believes in. He believes in justice, he believes in right and wrong.
TVLINE | Plus, he made that great, resonant point to Marie, that once he goes to the DEA with this his career is over.
He’s done, right. And that’s what starts to sink in after the rage and the betrayal from the first episode in this season. That, Holy moly, I’m culpable in some ways – [Walt] paid for my medical bills, so I’m actually using his money. There’s a lot of bad stuff that could happen to Hank if he doesn’t play his cards right.
TVLINE | Are we going to get more scenes like that, with you and Betsy Brandt, as Hank wrestles with this?
We’re going to have a little more of that, yeah. It’s certainly an issue that Hank has to deal with, how to proceed without hurting his own family.
TVLINE | What can you say about this Sunday’s sit-down with Jesse? He’s looking pretty non-communicative, almost in some sort of state of shock.
I can’t say a lot other than Hank, as you saw with him and Skyler, is grasping. He’s starting to feel desperate. He’s starting to realize that there isn’t a whole lot [to go on]. It’s going take a while for him to put this case together, but he needs somebody to be on his side. Skyler didn’t seem to go there, so we’ll see how he can play Jesse to see whether he will go there or not.
TVLINE | Is it about finding Jesse’s Achilles heel, the thing that will make him want to lash out at Walt?
That might be part of it. He certainly needs to find a way to get this kid who hates him, because he beat the crap out him, to be on his side — and that’s not going to be easy, if at all possible.
TVLINE | What kind of feeling is the series finale (airing Sept. 29) going to leave us with?
I like to use the word “satisfaction,” because I think you are going to say, “OK, it ended properly.” I don’t think you’re going to go, “Wait a minute, that was bulls–t’ or “That was cheating.” It comes to a proper ending.