/El Camino: Breaking Bad creator explains how that major character returned

El Camino: Breaking Bad creator explains how that major character returned

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Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston head a big “Breaking Bad” reunion at premiere of series spin-off movie “El Camino.” (Oct. 8)
AP Entertainment

Spoiler alert! Contains details about Netflix movie “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” now streaming. 

“Breaking Bad” sequel “El Camino” is a who’s who of fan-favorite characters, alive and dead. 

The Netflix movie, released Friday, picks up moments after the hit AMC drama’s 2013 series finale, as student-turned-meth dealer Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) escapes an Aryan Brotherhood compound where he was held captive and seeks shelter with old friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt L. Jones). He tracks down Ed (Robert Forster), an associate of smarmy lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who helps smuggle him to Alaska to start a new life, but not before Jesse robs and kills his former captors in a blazing shootout. 

More: Aaron Paul on making the top-secret ‘Breaking Bad’ movie: ‘It felt like a ‘Star Wars’ set’

Several characters who died during “Bad’s” five-season run appear in flashbacks, including crooked ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who gives Jesse the idea to relocate to Alaska, and Jesse’s heroin-addicted girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter), who reminds him that he’s in charge of his own destiny. 

But no cameo is more poignant than that of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Jesse’s ex-mentor and partner in crime, who was fatally shot in the “Bad” finale but returns in a flashback during the last 15 minutes of “El Camino.” Over lunch at a diner in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an ailing Walt attempts to connect with Jesse about his dreams for the future, gently reminding him, “You’re really lucky, you know that? You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.”

USA TODAY chats with “Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, who wrote and directed “El Camino,” about Cranston’s super-secret cameo and what inspired the emotional scene. 

Question: Was there ever a version of “El Camino” where Walt didn’t make an appearance? 

Vince Gilligan: No, not really. There’s no point in doing this if we don’t see Walter White, at least in passing. That was the one character I thought, “Man, come hell or high water, we gotta get him in there somehow,” provided Bryan Cranston would want to play the part again. Thank goodness he did. 

More: ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ reviews, from ‘mildly entertaining’ to ‘very fun’

Q: How difficult was it to keep his cameo a secret? 

Gilligan: We moved heaven and earth to try and keep it secret from the world. He was right in the middle of doing his wonderful Broadway play, “Network,” so he only had one day off. His movements are pretty well-documented by paparazzi, and especially if he flew to Albuquerque, it would be a big news event. Any time Bryan Cranston shows up in Albuquerque, people take notice and take pictures on their cellphones or whatnot, because it’s a somewhat small town. So what we had to do was fly him in on a private jet (from New York), and then when he landed at the Albuquerque airport, we put a bag over his head, put him in a tinted car and then drove him to the set that way. Once he got there, people surrounded him with umbrellas and stuff like that. It was a whirlwind trip – he was only in Albuquerque for 36 hours. 

Q: At what point in the “Breaking Bad” timeline does this flashback take place? 

Gilligan: There was an episode in Season 2 called “4 Days Out,” where Walt is pretty sure he doesn’t have long to live because he started to cough up blood, even though he’s been having treatment for cancer. He and Jesse go out and cook this giant batch of meth, but then they get stuck out (in the desert) in their RV because the battery’s dead. So they’re dehydrating to death, but finally manage to save themselves. This scene in the movie takes place between them managing to get their RV started and Jesse dropping Walt off at the airport (toward the end of the episode). 

We shot that episode 10 years ago, which was funny having to get the costumes and makeup right (for “El Camino”). Bryan was in the middle of a Broadway play and had a nice full head of hair that he couldn’t shave for us. So we had to get these amazing makeup artists to give us the world’s best bald cap, but we also had to get a little digital (effects) help to shrink Bryan’s head so it didn’t look bulbous with the bald cap on. It was a real group effort making all of these things match as closely as possible to this decade-old episode of television.

Q: There’s a lot of different ways you could’ve brought back Walt. What did you hope to convey through this particular conversation about Jesse’s future? 

Gilligan: Well, I have to give a lot of credit to my producer, Melissa Bernstein, who’s been working on “Breaking Bad” since (the beginning). I got a little inorganic in my storytelling: I just said, “I gotta have a scene with Walt, so let’s have Walt and Jesse in this diner talking about selling the giant stock of meth they have on hand. It’ll just be fun; it doesn’t really have to add up to anything.” When Melissa read it, she said, “But what’s the point?” And I said, “There’s not really a point, it’s a fun moment for the fans.” 

She said, “Can it relate back to the larger movie: to Jesse’s growth as a character and becoming a man, so to speak, throughout the course of this movie? Maybe there’s something that ties it all together.” So I went back to the drawing board, and working with her and Peter Gould, my partner on “Better Call Saul,” I added that line at the end of the scene, where Walt says, “You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.” And damned if it didn’t turn the whole scene around – suddenly it was about something.

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