Yeah, bitch, indeed!
Breaking Bad finally got its first ever Emmy Award nomination for casting this year, despite the show being an Emmy staple, and despite nearly every single actor getting nominated over the show's five-year run. About time!
It would seem Breaking Bad would be a lock for the casting win in its swan-song year, given that the TV landscape was forever changed by people who had faith that "the dad from Malcolm in the Middle" could become the most badass pantsless meth dealer of all time. But Breaking Bad also is at something of a disadvantage this year, as it is going up against the 800-pound gorilla that is HBO's True Detective, which had the luxury of luring big, sparkly-named movie stars with the promise of only a one-year commitment.
But while True Detective went after those blockbuster names, Breaking Bad was actually, for the entire run of the series, dead set against them. In fact, Breaking Bad had to turn down scores of "name actors"—actors like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Michael Cera—all in the name of keeping the show as real as possible.
We just chatted with Breaking Bad's Emmy-nominated casting directors, Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas—who also are behind impressive shows like The Walking Dead, Gotham, Under the Dome and Better Call Saul—about some fascinating Breaking Bad casting factoids never yet heard, their "apples and oranges" Emmy competition, what we can expect from Gotham and Better Call Saul, and of course, because we are professional journalists, what it was like bringing the dirty hotness that is Norman Reedus to the TV world. Which is clearly the most important question of all.
Oh, and guess who almost played Creepy Todd on Breaking Bad? Read on...
Why do you think Breaking Bad was never recognized for casting before?
Thomas: I just don't think it's a flashy show. It's a solid, critically adored, amazing show. It's very real and it's not flashy. We never stunt cast any roles and it didn't really garner attention in that way.
Bialy: Historically, the casting Emmy nomination is often dependent on the guest-star cast after the first season. So, because we don't have big names for our guest stars, it didn't get that kind of attention. We tried to carry out [creator] Vince Gilligan's vision, to make it as real as possible. And often great actors that we find, America doesn't really know and will believe that they are real.
You're up against True Detective, who had the benefit of signing up actors for only one season. How is the process different when you are casting a longer series? And do you think it's a fair fight?
Bialy: Well, I can tell you that we took note of the Emmy rules because big movie stars who we love will be very open to committing to a cable show that lasts one year. It is much more difficult to get actors to commit to the typical five to seven years. So I do think it's not really comparing apples to apples but apples to oranges.
What do you remember most about casting Breaking Bad?
Thomas: It was just was so authentic in every way, and we would salivate for the next script. And we didn't have the pressure from above to cast stars or names. It was really an honest process of having actors audition, and the person who best fulfilled the role and Vince's vision got the part.
Did you ever go after any big names?
Bialy: Actually, by the end, there were so many actors who had called to say they were huge fans and wanted to be on the show and we couldn't use them because they were huge names. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Cera, there were so many, young and old, by the last season, actors calling and saying, ‘I love the show and I want to be a part of it.' And to Vince and the writers' credit, they stayed true to the authenticity of the storyline because it would take you out of it. You would stop and say, wait, what is he doing in Albuquerque?
With Better Call Saul, what are the challenges in casting the spinoff of a megahit show? Does it feel like a different process than it was casting the mothership?
Bialy: The only difference is that when we were casting Breaking Bad, there wasn't the rush of the industry in trying to assist us. Everyone is trying to get on Better Call Saul.
Thomas: Also, on Breaking Bad there wasn't the secrecy that we have to adhere to now, and so there are often times that there's information that we are not at liberty to divulge. So it's a whole new world. The actors are coming in with dummy sides, they aren't even able to look at a script. So they have to walk into the casting room and trust us on how we're guiding that. Secrecy.
Let's talk Gotham. Was it intimidating to take on these iconic Batman roles? And was there a method to finding the cast? Talent and then the right look? Or vice versa?
Bialy: I was terrified because of so much pressure and preconceived notions. But Sherry Thomas didn't care. She was like, ‘No that's the challenge!' She was so excited by that.
Thomas: Honestly, it has been totally inspiring and FUN. And in finding them, it's always talent first and then we got to play with what the look was going to be. The important quality for Penguin was sort of an introverted sensibility, and you know a beekiness did help but it wasn't required.
And so how did you find your Penguin? He seems perfect.
Thomas: We found Robin Lord Taylor in New York. We had been aware of him because a few years back, he was very close, it was between him and Jesse Plemmons to play creepy Todd on Breaking Bad. And we had several conversations and Vince was really going back and forth on it. But ultimately he knew there were pieces to Jesse Plemmons that were more right. So, Robin had been on our radar and we had also put him in season four of The Walking Dead. So in our meeting, we said there's this kid Robin Lord Taylor that would be a fantastic Penguin and we put him on tape right away. And he was it.
Lastly. We must talk about the phenomenon that is The Walking Dead's Daryl, Norman Reedus. How did you find him and did you anticipate he would become so loved by fans?
Bialy: I think we are just as amazed as everyone else by the rabid fanbase. Excited and amazed at how that role exploded. Because it wasn't in the comic books. Norman himself will tell you he is a terrible auditioner. He came into the room and did not give what you would normally call a spectacular audtion the way Aaron Paul did, let's say. But there was such soulfulness in his eyes. And he understood the pain of that character. We went with it.
Thomas: And let's be real. Nobody looks better slinging a bow.