“It Was A Hell Of A Crap” – Dean Norris Interview

Pedestrian meets the one who shits, Dean Norris, to discuss the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, where he keeps Hank’s minerals and his chance to play an asshole on his new show, Under The Dome.

Was Hank’s shit the most important shit in the history of pop culture? (Laughs) It was a hell of a crap man, I tell ya. It was an interesting concept to spend the last ten months or so with all kinds of Twitter comments about you taking a crap on national television, I can tell you that much. It’s alright though, I’m taking a crap for Breaking Bad. What better crap can you take?

Are you glad to have been given the chance to finally play a bit of an asshole in Under The Dome after playing cops and soldiers for so long? (Laughs) It’s great. It was important from the beginning that we played him with more complexity than your standard bad guy. I can see where he’s coming from. From Big Jim’s perspective, the ends justify the means and in his own mind he’s working towards the greater good of the people. I’m having a lot of fun working on the series. 

You’ve say that Big Jim doesn’t think self-identify as evil and sees this natural disaster as an opportunity to get a kind of social foothold for his own purposes but also to serve the greater good. Do you think Walt thinks he’s evil? I think Walt thinks he’s evil, yeah. He may have tried to convince himself early on that he was doing it for good reasons. But I think he does. He’s accepted the fact that he’s doing this for power and he’s doing it for reasons that aren’t the same as the ones he started with, which was ostensibly to take care of his family. I think it’s shifted. I don’t think he’s happy with that realisation. But if you try and kill a child I don’t think you could describe yourself as anything other than evil.

What are you going to miss most about making Breaking Bad? Oh man, so much. The great, great writing you get to wake up to. You wake up to a script and you think “oh wow, I get to do that scene”. And just the phenomenal cast. The crew, everybody was phenomenal on that show. To play opposite Bryan and Aaron and Betsy Brandt it’s just been a pleasure. It was great. It was the best job we’ll possibly ever have. Certainly not counting on getting a better one.

When did you realise Hank was going to be a main player in the final story arc of the series? Because prior to that it was very much Walt and Jesse driven and he was kind of this goofy peripheral entity for large parts of the first part of the series. When did you know if would pull focus and he would be a main player? I knew it was something they had to come to terms with in the final arc of the show. Early on when Skyler finds out about it, that kind of took me by surprise because I thought they would play that arc out a little bit more and they didn’t. Once that happened I realised the final arc of the series was going to be the Hank and Walt showdown. I confirmed that with Vince but they had to find an artful way to keep him off the case. Get him shot, put him in bed for a while and keep him in the background for a bit and wait for this thing to happen. I knew it was coming, it may have been more integrated had the last season not been split into two. But once they split it in two I knew that Hank finding out would be the cliffhanger and the final episodes would be exploring the ramifications of that. So about a year and a half, two years prior to that we figured that out and knew where the story was heading.     

Everyone has a general idea of how it has to end to feel right and true to the show and I think Vince Gilligan and the team have always done that and made decisions which felt true to the show. Did they surprise you with where they ended up and how they got there? It’s amazing. They always surprise me and yet it always feels right. It’s one of the things about Breaking Bad which I think is true throughout the entire series. In terms of individual scenes and plot points you get surprised but at the same time you go “oh yeah, that felt right”. I think that’s true of the final journey here on Breaking Bad. I think they’re some of the best episodes of the entire serious, particularly because there are no other things in play. It’s a freight train going right til the end. I think it will both surprise and shock and yet, still, make people think that it was a proper and right and appropriate ending, I’ll put it that way.   

You said the final eight were some of the best episodes in the series do you think the final eight also includes your best work?
Season three I think I got to do some decent work in the middle of it. But yeah, there’s no question that the story has been built up so much and they’ve written Hank some great scenes. I get to play with everybody in the sandbox and have fun and I appreciate it. There’s no question that personally this is my best eight episodes in terms of performance.

Did the cast and crew get emotional shooting the final scenes? Oh yeah, everybody did. And everybody came around to everyone else’s final scene and said goodbye. There was a big blowup photo that everyone had signed for each person. Six years is a long time in your life. People have died and been born. People have been divorced and married. Life is happening and we kind of define it by what point in the series things occurred. It’s like an extended high school or college period. You define certain life events in the context of Breaking Bad. Also just coming to terms with the greatness of the project and the possibility that it could be the best thing that any of us will ever do. I’m hoping there’s other things and I’ll certainly keep on working but something as special as this may only come along once in your lifetime.      

Tell us something we might not know about Vince Gilligan. He’s a very cool Southern Gentleman. He’s the quintessential Southern Gentleman. He’s kind, he’s hospitable, very complimentary. Likes to sip bourbon. One of my favourite things to do is hang out and sip bourbon for the afternoon with Vince Gilligan and listen to him talk and bullshit with him. He’s funny, really funny. He likes to have a good time. I force him to have tequila shots when he comes over to my house for a party. I don’t have to force him too hard, let’s put it that way.

Is he aware of how much of a genius he is?
I’m sure on some level he is but he’s the last guy who will tell you about it. I’ve been around other showrunner types on other shows of note and they’re not shy about letting you know about it. Vince is the opposite of that.     

Do you think a Better Call Saul spinoff will happen? I really don’t know. That’s something for Bob Odenkirk and Vince to work out. As a fan, for me, it’s such an iconic show now it’s kind of like why mess around with the edges of it? Why play around with it? It’s brilliantly written to the end. It ends properly and surprisingly and satisfactorily. Everything is perfectly played out and to even contemplate touching anything about this project – to me, as a fan – I’m not all that interested in. But I’m sure if Vince Gilligan is writing it and Bob Odenkirk is in it it would be great.

Do you have any of Hank’s minerals? (Laughs) I took a couple of minerals. I also took Tuco’s grill from season two and took the axe that almost cut my head off. But yeah, I have a few of Hank’s minerals on a desk somewhere.

Thanks for your time Dean. Thanks.

Catch Dean Norris in sci-fi drama series Under The Dome airing Tuesdays at 9:30pm on Channel Ten.