Who lives in Walter White's house? What's the truth about Bryan Cranston's criminal past? As the final episode of Breaking Bad airs, we present 30 facts that may help you enjoy it even more.
1. Walter White is real
While nobody has yet gone ‘full Heisenberg’, Vince Gilligan’s message about the perils of meth production and distribution apparently failed to reach a handful of hard-up educators.
William Duncan, a chemistry teacher from Texas, was arrested for selling home-cooked meth within school grounds; in 2011, 74-year-old mathematics professor Irina Kristy was caught running a meth lab from her Boston home; North Carolina teacher’s assistant and meth chef Marc Hodges was arrested earlier this year after suspiciously purchasing 1,000 cases of matches; and Stephen Doran, a Boston teacher with stage 3 cancer, was found dealing meth and arrested in May.
But perhaps the most striking case of life imitating art occurred before Breaking Bad was even on television. In 2008, an Alabama earned a place on the state’s Most Wanted list thanks to his thriving meth business.
Admittedly, he was neither a teacher nor a cancer sufferer. But his name? Walter White.
2. And so is Heisenberg.
The name Walt gives to his alter ego, “Heisenberg”, is a tip of the hat to Werner Heisenberg, one of the most important physicists of the 20th century.
He won the Nobel Prize for developing the theory of quantum mechanics.
3. The cast is full of comedians.
"If you can do comedy you can do drama," Vince Gilligan said recently of his approach to casting. "It doesn’t necessarily flow the other way."
Consequently, Breaking Bad is packed with funny men – even if they’re not always given the chance to show it. Bob Odenkirk (Saul) is well known as the co-creator of US TV’s last great sketch series, Mr Show; Bill Burr (Kuby) is a stand-up comic, as are Lavell Crawford (Huell), Steven Michael Quezada (poor Gomie), and Javier Grajeda (Gus Fring’s boss at the cartel, and the man who put a severed head on a tortoise).
And before he was a struggling actor, Bryan Cranston spent several months as a floundering comedian.
4. Gus Fring ended his life as a zombie.
For the aptly titled season 4 finale, Face Off, Vince Gilligan sought help from the prosthetic-effects team behind AMC’s zombie series The Walking Dead. Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger made a model of Gustavo Fring’s exploded Evil-Dead-meets-Two-Face head, which was then digitally blended with actor Giancarlo Esposito’s real noggin. According to Gilligan, “it took months”.
5. Wendy the hooker is much healthier than she looks.
She was certainly perky when Jesse was around, but the show’s standout meth addict was never exactly a picture of good health.
However, Julia Minesci, the actress who played the role of “Wendy S” from 2008-2010, has run the Hawaii Ironman six times, the Germany Ironman once and “countless marathons”.
6. Gale’s complete karaoke video – with Thai subtitles – is on YouTube.
7. And so is the Jesse Pinkman-directed video for Twaughthammer’s "Fallacies".
8. The White family home is an actual family home.
Far from being a drug baron’s digs or even a building dreamt up by Vince Gilligan, Walter White’s house in Breaking Bad has been the real-life home of a woman called Fran since 1973.
She admits that “a lot of artistic licence” was taken with the property’s interior by the production designer and that Gilligan originally wanted to cover the pool up.
And she doesn’t mind the hundreds of cars that slow down in front of her house every month.
9. Skinny Pete practised very hard for his piano solo.
Jesse’s wastrel sidekick gave a virtuoso performance of Bach’s Solfeggietto in the music shop at the beginning of season five. Charles Baker, a decent pianist and the actor who plays Pete, practised the piece for three hours every day for a month before filming. Much to Baker’s chagrin, only the intro made the cut.
10. The DEA's ‘Mustache man’ got the part by playing golf with Dean Norris.
One extra has consistently stolen the show in Breaking Bad – the man with the enormous moustache often seen in the background at the DEA offices. Robert Sanchez, the man behind the novelty facial hair, knows actor Steven Michael Quezada (Agent Gomez) through softball and has admitted he got the part after playing golf with Quezada and Dean Norris. The retired fireman also competes in moustache competitions in his free time.
11. Walt’s Lotto code isn’t a complete dead end.
The coordinates that Walt hid on a Lotto ticket (N 34, 59′, 20″, W 106, 36′, 52), which sadly proved fatal for Hank, don’t actually lead to $80 million in cash, or even a few plastic barrels.
Instead, they point straight to Q Studios in Albuquerque, where Breaking Bad (plus Hollywood films such as The Avengers) is shot.
12. Breaking Bad helps beat addiction.
An Albuquerque clinic, the Sage Neuroscience Center, is using the show’s popularity to help get New Mexicans off narcotics. (The state has the highest rate of addiction in the US.)
By sharing their stories of addiction, entrants have the chance to win one of two “Breaking Addiction” scholarships, which entitle them to 12 weeks of free rehabilitation treatment worth thousands of dollars.
13. Bryan Cranston was once wanted for murder.
In an interview for Marc Maron’s WTF podcast in 2011, the actor reminisced about the time he and his brother worked as waiters in a Florida restaurant where the chef was a tyrant named Peter Wong. “No matter how nice you may have been to him, he hated you,” said Cranston. “He screamed at you ... (with) a cleaver in his hand.”
When the chef was found murdered, the police visited the restaurant and asked if anybody had ever expressed an interest in killing Peter Wong. "Everybody talked about killing Peter Wong," came the reply. "That's all we talked about." Unfortunately, the Cranston brothers had just resigned to ride cross-country on their motorcycles. For a while, they were suspects.
14. The Salamanca Cousins even have terrifying eyelids.
Think the mute assassins who almost got Hank are tough? You have no idea. Daniel and Luis Moncado, the brothers who played the cousins, have both been in gangs and served time in jail. But Luis goes one better. He has the letters "F U" tattooed on his eyelids, etched there by placing a spoon behind each one. "Your eyelid is so thin the needle will go through and puncture your eye," he said. "You gotta put a spoon."
15. The first role Vince Gilligan wrote for Bryan Cranston was even more demented than Heisenberg.
Before creating Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan was best known for his work as a writer and producer on the sci-fi series, The X-Files. It was there that his and Bryan Cranston’s paths first crossed, on the Gilligan-written episode Drive.
Cranston plays a crazed racist roofer who must drive due west at breakneck speed, or else his head will explode. Gilligan has said he “needed a guy who could be scary and kind of loathsome but at the same time had a deep, resounding humanity.” Sound familiar?
16. Blue meth really is more expensive.
Since the first series of BB, in 2008, copycat drug producers around the US have been adding blue food dye to their crystal meth in an attempt to dupe their customers into thinking it is stronger, like Heisenberg’s product.
Possibly for that reason, the cost of blue crystal methamphetamine has been reported to be higher than that of normal, colourless “ice”.
17. ...but not necessarily better.
As many chemically minded pedants have pointed out, pure methamphetamine is not blue, but colourless.
18. Belize is actually a really nice place to visit
When Saul suggested to Walt that he send Hank “on a trip to Belize” like he had done to Mike, everyone understood the euphemism – including the Belize Tourism Board.
So keen were they to show that Belize was, in fact, a wonderful place, with “great music and friendly people”, that they extended an open invitation to the cast and crew of the series to take an all-expenses-paid holiday in the Central-American country.
19. Walt and Jesse’s cooking flashback in Ozymandias was the last Breaking Bad scene ever filmed.
Shortly afterwards, the cast and crew spent a drunken night in a local bar; Cranston ended up with a tattoo of the show’s logo on his finger, much to his wife’s disgust.
20. Seinfeld was a Breaking Bad training school.
Several BB cast members had roles on Jerry Seinfeld’s eponymous sitcom.
As stingy dentist Tom Whatley, Bryan Cranston helped popularise the term ‘regifting’; Anna Gunn played Jerry’s supposedly cheating girlfriend in one episode; Bob Odenkirk played Elaine’s sexually frustrated boyfriend; and Jessica Hecht, aka Gray Matter’s Gretchen, appeared twice in two different parts.
21. Walt’s electrical wire trick (sort of) works.
It turns out that burning through plastic restraints while tied to a radiator isn’t the only thing live wires are good for.
According to reports from Queensland, the technique popularised by Breaking Bad has been used by Australian inmates to light illicit cigarettes in their cells, causing the loss of some 425 television sets.
22. A 100-year-old cowboy almost starred in Season 3.
One of many discarded Breaking Bad plot lines – among them, Walt opens a pharmacy, Marie and Skyler go on a road trip – involved constant flashbacks to a cowboy in frontier times, which would somehow relate to the main story and star its own self-contained cast.
Sadly, the writers couldn’t make it work.
23. Warren Buffett would gladly do business with Walter White.
The billionaire investor and Breaking Bad fan (above, with Aaron Paul) recently described Walter as a “good businessman”, going on to say that the druglord “would be my guy if I ever have to go toe-to-toe with anyone."
24. Jesse Plemons, aka baby-faced psychopath Todd, has a lovely singing voice.
25. Lydia was almost married to Nicholas Brody.
In the original pilot for Homeland, Jessica Brody – pining wife of kidnapped Marine-turned-terrorist Nicholas – was played by Scottish actress Laura Fraser.
When the producers had second thoughts, the pilot was reshot with the – in the words of co-creator Alex Gansa – “more vibrant, more sexual” Morena Baccarin. Fraser, meanwhile, went on to play Breaking Bad’s squeamish, Louboutin-wearing drug-runner Lydia Rodarte-Quayle.
26. There was no need for Walt to rob that train.
Methylamine, the chemical that incited the other Great Train Robbery of our time and led to the killing of Drew Sharp, isn’t really that hard to make. In fact, some chemists have suggested that it could be synthesised in a kitchen sink without too much difficulty. But that would have made terrible television.
27. Thanks to his father, Bryan Cranston will never run out of work.
A recent New Yorker profile of Cranston revealed that his estranged father Joe – a one-time actor/director/screenwriter whose career failed to ignite – has written “several” film scripts specifically for his son to star in, including an action caper called G.R.A.B. But it wouldn't neccessarily be the worst thing Cranston has ever made. That would be The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers:
28. The science is flawed for a reason.
Because of the fear that some of the series’ millions of viewers may try and use the action as a step-by-step guide to making methamphetamine, the real-life DEA advised Vince Gilligan and his team of writers on what science to include, and what to omit. “If you just simply followed the one synthesis as it's presented,” says the show’s science adviser Donna Nelson, “you wouldn't come out with methamphetamine.”
29. New Mexico is proud of Heisenberg.
Breaking Bad was originally meant to be shot in California but the location was ultimately changed to Albuquerque, NM.
That change of setting has certainly been a boon for the New Mexico tourism industry. Local businesses have taken advantage of the hit show’s worldwide popularity and cashed in by producing all manner of Breaking Bad-related products. These include: blue-meth candy, blue-meth doughnuts, locally brewed Heisenberg “dark” beer, custom-made Heisenberg Pez dispensers, as well as more traditional trolley and Segway tours.
30. There will never be a bigger Breaking Bad super-fan than Kevin Cordasco.
Last year, Vince Gilligan was contacted by the parents of 16-year-old Kevin Cordasco, who was terminally ill with an aggressive form of cancer and adored the show more than most.
“There was something about the Walter White character,” explained his father. “The way he took control of his illness, and his life, that really resonated with Kevin.” Gilligan and the cast visited Kevin at home and in hospital, and during one of these visits he was asked by Gilligan what he felt was missing from the show.
“He said, ‘You know what, I want to know more about Gretchen and Elliott,' Gilligan said recently.
“I want to know more about Walt’s backstory with them. I want to know what happened.’” This is how Walter’s former Gray Matter business partners ended up with a pivotal role in the final series.
Gilligan even offered to tell him how the show would end; Kevin declined, saying he’d rather find out along with the rest of the world. Kevin Cordasco died soon after, and the ninth episode of season five is dedicated to him.