Anna Gunn: Breaking Bad's Secret Weapon

The actress tells all about one of TV’s baddest series.

In the second season there’s an intense scene in which Walt tries to have sex with Skyler in the kitchen. She’s not into it—she’s pregnant, and she’s giving herself a facial mask—and it turns rough. What was it like shooting that scene?
It was a very raw scene, and we both felt pretty vulnerable. Bryan was directing that episode, so it was a double whammy for him. He and I sat down and talked about what was going on with our characters at this point and then we roughly choreographed the scene. Bryan wanted some real specific shots, things like my hand against the refrigerator, the robe and panties coming down. But we didn’t actually full-on rehearse it; we did it full-out for the first time with the cameras rolling. It was an exciting way to do it because neither of us really knew what was going to happen.

Did anything go wrong? There’s that moment where you whack your face against the refrigerator. . .
Yes, I actually did whack my face on one take because we needed a shot of my face with that green mask going into the fridge and making an impression on it. We put a little piece of padding on the corner of the refrigerator so I would be protected, but I got my face in the wrong position and smacked it pretty hard, and I went down. Poor Bryan was mortified. And I said, “No, no, it’s fine.” It hurt for a second but it was no big deal.

What was your first acting role? Was it in school?
Yes, the very first one would’ve been in school. I went to the Santa Fe Preparatory School; we did one musical a year. I started probably in eighth grade, I was in a musical version of Alice in Wonderland, and it bit me right away. Then I took an acting class my freshman year of high school with a terrific teacher. I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I promptly announced it to my parents. They very nicely didn’t faint or protest.

Do you think they thought, “Oh, that’ll change in a couple of years.”
Probably. But I never let up on it, and so to their great credit if they had worries they mainly kept them to themselves.

You also played a wife in difficult circumstances on HBO’s great Western series, Deadwood. What was that set like?
It was extraordinary. I describe it sometimes as feeling like Disneyland for actors. We shot it on the Gene Autry ranch, which was called the Melody Ranch, out in Santa Clarita, which is only about a half hour away from where I live. But we were really in high chaparral desert, and I think one day it was 107 degrees out there. And we were all wearing real period stuff—we were corseted, we had layers of petticoats and woolen undergarments and then big wool dresses. Molly Parker and I were sitting in between scenes one day and we felt like we were in a puddle of sweat. The next day she came in and said, "I weighed myself and I weigh five pounds less than I did yesterday."

Ah, the upside!
Yes, exactly. It’s like we were wearing our own little saunas. The very first scene I got to film was when Martha Bullock comes to town on the stagecoach. We came around the corner and every single detail of Main Street was done. Guys were tipping their hats and saying, "Good morning, ma’am." You didn’t have to make believe—it was all there. I remember I walked around investigating the various little shops and then down Chinese Alley. It was just phenomenal.

Did you keep anything from the set when it was over?
No. I think that we all kind of expected that we were coming back for another season, and it was a shock when we were told it wasn’t getting picked up. But I have a handkerchief that I carried as Martha.

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