Duke City’s ‘Bad’ Boy
By Adrian Gomez / Asst. Arts Editor, Reel NM on Sun, Jul 15, 2012
Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal
Five years ago, Bryan Cranston took a chance. And the gamble paid off big time.
For both Cranston and Albuquerque.
Cranston plays Walter White, an Albuquerque chemistry teacher turned meth dealer in AMC’s drama series “Breaking Bad,” a role for which he has picked up three Emmy Awards.
Over the course of four seasons, the series has become a force in popular culture worldwide. Magazines like People, Newsweek and New York Magazine have hailed it as one of the best shows on TV today. Entertainment Weekly recently named the show to its annual “Must Watch Summer List.”
“I signed on because the show was well written,” Cranston said. “But over time, the characters have grown, and it’s just become this beast of a TV show.”
In signing on with the series, Cranston put his movie career on hold to return to the small screen, where he had found success in the TV comedy, “Malcolm in the Middle.”
The show’s ratings reflect that. The fourth season saw a 24 percent increase over the third season and averaged nearly 2 million viewers. The season’s finale drew 2.9 million viewers.
The fifth season begins today. It consists of eight episodes that will air this summer. And the producers have announced that the 2013 season will be the last — bringing even more publicity to the show as fans wonder how it will end.
As the ratings have grown, so has Albuquerque’s cachet — and the cash the show brings in.
“The show embraces Albuquerque as another character,” said Ann Lerner, the film liaison for the city. “It’s thrilling to watch the beauty shots of the Albuquerque skyline, the Sandia Mountains, our amazing sky and cloudscapes and our vast open spaces.”
And it’s estimated the show brings in $1 million an episode.
As for Walter White, “It’s season five now, and Walt is really feeling it emotionally,” Cranston said. “His ego is big, and he wants to build his enterprise. And as our show creator, Vince Gilligan, always wanted to see if he could change a man from Mr. Chips to Scarface.”
While filming has ended for this summer’s season, Cranston says crews will be back in November to shoot the final eight episodes. He says writers have been busy finding a way to wrap up the show and alludes to the possibility of a movie.
“I’m sure it’s possible, and that’s really going to be up to Vince and the studio,” he said. “I honestly don’t know who’s going to survive.”
In the beginning
Cranston said the series began slowly when it premiered in 2008.
He likened the show to an underground rock band that is making good music but it takes awhile to find a mainstream audience.
“Now people have found out about us,” he said. “It’s now hip to know about ‘Breaking Bad,’ and that’s a great thing.”
Cranston said the show wasn’t originally set to film in Albuquerque. The original script was set in Riverside County, Calif.
“But what’s happened is great,” he said. “Albuquerque has become a character on the show, which we didn’t know was going to happen. We’ve been able to have a great run and give a lot of New Mexicans years of employment.”
As the show progressed, it brought awareness to the Duke City.
Lerner said filmmakers are familiar with and very impressed that “Breaking Bad” is filmed here.
“It’s well known that our city is very film friendly,” she said. “This is brilliant writing, coupled with a brilliant cast and made by an exceptional crew, of which 90 percent are New Mexicans.”
Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry said the series has had a tremendous economic impact on the city.
“With a $1 million direct spend per episode, ‘Breaking Bad’ has been a great economic development boost to our city. Having a long-running television series also creates jobs in our community, from carpenters to actors,” he said. “Albuquerque has been the backdrop for a variety of television and movie plots throughout the years — some comedy, some drama, some action. ‘Breaking Bad’ happens to be a serious drama series, but I am confident that viewers have no difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality.”
Cranston said Albuquerque brings a lot to the show.
“There’s urban life, and there’s rural life,” he said. “You don’t have to travel very far to see both. From the Sandias glowing at sunset to heading out to To’hajiilee, there’s pure magic that the city lends to the show.”
Leaving an impact
As the show readies for its finale, Cranston is grateful it has taken on a constantly growing following.
“The entire industry is so fickle,” he said. “There are times that your heart and soul are in a project, and it never gets recognized. With ‘Breaking Bad,’ we’re very lucky to be recognized and have that chance to create great art.”
Lerner agreed the series is considered “serious art” in the film world.
“This is a show that is likely to be studied for its dramatic character arc for years,” she said.
Even local businesses with no connection to the film industry have found a way to take advantage of the show’s popularity.
ABQ Trolley Co., which provides guided tours, recently received the green light to promote its “BaD Tour,” which shows many of the series’ locations. The trolley tours have sold out.
“We are such huge fans of ‘Breaking Bad’ that it was finally time for us to try out the tour,” co-owner Jesse Herron said. “For years, we’ve been asked about when we were going to do a tour, and we just had to wait.”
“The show has really become a phenomenon,” Herron he said. “There are times when we’ll mention a certain ‘Breaking Bad’ location on our regular tour, and people will go crazy for it.”
Cranston calls himself a part-time resident of Albuquerque. He purchased a house in the city and can often be seen walking around Nob Hill or at Isotopes games.
“Personally, it’s been good for me,” he said. “I was born and raised in LA, and I lived in New York for five years. It’s really hard to get away in those cities, but when I come to Albuquerque, it’s a slower pace, which I like by and large. There is a lower key to the entertainment business here, and getting across town doesn’t take much time.”
Cranston has also spearheaded celebrity softball charity games for the past two years, which have benefited YDI Inc. and Wounded Warriors.
“I’m proud that I, as well as others, have been able to get involved with the community,” he said. “This is a home for me, and I felt like I needed to be a part of it.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal