Bryan Cranston on his character Breaking Bad Walter White’s emotional state.
I related to this man — I knew men like him who missed opportunities in their lives, but still became functioning, still loving to their family, still paying their bills, but there’s something that died in [their] interior. They’re putting one step in front of the other, they’re in deep depression.
In doing some of the research, I found that — in broad strokes — when people are in deep depression, there are two basic ways it manifests: Either externally or internally.
That was Walter White — he went into a shell. He didn’t care about his looks, he didn’t care about his weight, he didn’t care about his clothes. Nothing mattered to him. He was invisible to himself and the world. This ironic diagnosis of terminal cancer was his get-out-of-jail-free card. It exploded his emotions … Even if it’s just for a short period of time, those last two years of his life were full and exciting, and I don’t think he would have traded it.
This is me. I pull back from everyone into a shell. I am so introspective that my life starts to fall apart. In this state the wrong thing can provoke me into very bad responses. Feeling like I commiserated with Walt is the main reason I enjoyed the show.
More on Bryan acting as Walt in Fresh Air interview also references the shell.
CRANSTON: No, but, you know, listening to that [“I am the danger scene”] again is just a testament to the writing staff of “Breaking Bad,” led by Vince Gilligan. And in that one scene you have two opposing viewpoints that are equally valid from their point of view. Skyler is worried about her family. She makes a very pragmatic pitch: just confess, stop it now, don’t do this, you’re going to put yourself and us in danger.
But Walt by then is too far along in his journey. His ego has been opened, and he is fully realizing his sense of power, and he likes it, and he is not about to, you know, go back into the shell that he originally came out of. And he’s taking her comments as demeaning, as pejorative, that you’re not who you say you are, you’re not a powerful person, you’re a little schoolteacher, just go back to that.
And all I’m hearing is you’re not a man, you’re not this powerful, great Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. You’re just Walter White, this little man. And he’s so far beyond that at that moment, he now has to express himself with his full range of hubris, and that’s what comes out.