Breaking Bad has hooked viewers since its first season, and much of that has to do with the transformation of Walter White (Bryan Cranston). After years of working as a chemistry teacher, the lead character on the AMC series takes an abrupt and jarring turn into methamphetamine production. His journey marks one of the most compelling anti-hero arcs of the 21st century. And Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White is arguably one of the best aspects of the show. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine Breaking Bad without him. But as it turns out, Cranston wasn’t AMC’s first choice to play Heisenberg.
Breaking Bad has had no shortage of acting talent, with everyone from Aaron Paul to Anna Gunn delivering top-notch performances throughout the series. Several Breaking Bad cast members have taken home Emmys for their roles. In fact, Cranston took home four awards for his role as Walter White.
This alone underscores how much Walter White’s journey in Breaking Bad has resonated with viewers. Despite being a morally gray character – veering towards the darker side of the spectrum, if we’re being honest – Cranson’s character has stayed with fans.
Although most of the talking heads at AMC still saw Bryan Cranston as his father character from Malcolm in the Middle, Gilligan knew he had a wider acting range. The Breaking Bad creator worked with the actor on The X-Files, where Cranston played a role that had slightly more in common with Walter White.
Gilligan convinced AMC executives to check out Bryan Cranston’s other performance, which featured him playing a man struggling with the side effects of radiation. That was enough to convince Gilligan of Cranston’s ability to play Walter – and apparently, it worked on the network, too. “That was a tricky part to cast on X-Files,” Gilligan told THR. “We needed somebody who could be dramatic and scary yet have an underlying humanity so when he dies, you felt sorry for him. Bryan nailed it.”
Fortunately, Cranston nailed his time as Walter White in Breaking Bad, giving viewers five seasons of suspense and drama. They should be thankful that AMC’s early choices for the role didn’t work out – and that Gilligan was persuasive in backing Cranston.