While in London to promote his new movie Argo, the show's star Bryan Cranston spoke with Digital Spy and others about landing the role of a lifetime and how it's all going to turn out for Walter White...
Walt has changed so much throughout the show - is there any part of you that misses playing the old Walt?
"You know... this is the role of my life. I won't have a better role ever for the rest of my career. But instead of lamenting that or feeling bad, it was like 'I'm embracing it, I'm enjoying the ride' - especially at my age. I'm 56 years old and when we first shot the pilot, I was just turning 50, and to have that come into my life at that age is unbelievable.
"But I knew where it was going and as an actor you hope to be able to have a career that sort of mirrors your real life - you want a well-rounded experience and you don't always want it to be serious, but you don't always want to be silly. You want to experience a whole bunch of different things. But to be able to do that in one role... It's ridiculous. So it's an amazing gift and I was fortunate enough to get the role."
How has Breaking Bad changed your life?
"It's created a level of opportunity professionally that I have never experienced before. When actors first come up, you're auditioning for everything - you're trying to sniff it out like a pig with a truffle and you would do anything!
"If your agent called you and said, 'Erm, they'd like to hire you', then you're saying yes before they're finished because you need the job, you need to pay the rent. It's a nice problem to have to get out of that mindset where you're just saying yes [to everything].
"Now the level of product comes up, and what I feel like I've become pretty good at is to be able to identify well-written material. That's the cornerstone. If something is well-written, it has a chance to be good and if it's not well-written, it will not be good. It could even become popular, but it won't be good.
"So if you just attach yourself to really good writing, it will save your ass almost all the time. There's so many things that can go wrong in the execution of a project like a television show or a movie, so many little elements, any number of things, all the way to marketing - like they could market it poorly and nobody finds it and down it goes.
"But if it starts with a foundation of good writing then you're in the best shape that you can be, because that's really all you can control - saying yes to well-written material and no to poorly-written stuff."
Do you feel like TV now offers better opportunities for actors?
"What's happened is the business model of television has changed - like when I was a kid, there was a select amount of channels and they were all governed by the same networks with the same business models. It had to have a more large appeal to people and they just didn't offer very much.
"So we were attracted to independent films, because it was risky, it told us stories that would make us uncomfortable or go into different areas and not necessarily all end up in a nice little bow. Now you have a situation where the television world has expanded, there's hundreds of channels and networks and they need to be able to have their own identity. So in the States, AMC has this credo that if it can be shown on a broadcast network, then they don't even want to hear it. It's 'We want the things that you thought couldn't be done', and that is like catnip to a writer.
"It's empowering those writers to be able to do exactly what they want - the same with Vince Gilligan, he never thought Breaking Bad would be able to fly, he wrote this on spec, just on his own, because it was in him and he thought it was crazy, no one was going to do this... he still didn't believe it when we were going into production!
"Because of the nature of the show and the storytelling, it's not ever going to be a show that millions and millions of people go to. It's too different, it's too pungent for the taste of most people and that's okay with us. I think if you try and appeal to the masses, you have to end up watering it down and I think it's better to be specific and be bold."
Some people say they have now lost sympathy with Walt. As the actor playing the role, do you still have to sympathise with him?
"I don't judge him because I'm too subjective. It's just a guy trying to get along and do the right thing; we've all done that, even as children. Remember when you told a lie to your parents and then you realise you have to back up that lie and now you're in deeper? That's what Walter White's life is now.
"But interestingly enough that's historically what television watchers have been told - that we need to like and root for the lead character. It was embedded in our psyche and now it's different - all the rules are different. But I'll have older journalists who will aggressively and anxiously say. 'How are we supposed to like him?' and I say 'Are you supposed to?'
"Where's the rule that says you're supposed to follow some edict? All the rules are broken and you can go anywhere. But structurally, Vince Gilligan knew that he had to plant the hook. If we didn't plant the hook and initially sympathise with Walter White, the viewer would never feel this anxiety. So if someone tunes in at season two or three, they won't have the same sympathies as someone who started with the show and they're easy to dismiss it, because he's just a bad guy.
"But if you started with it, you knew that hook was in deep and we let the line go and go and then... we start reeling you in and the viewers are following even though they don't want to! They know Breaking Bad is going to swirl down into a morass of ugliness. We're not going to take a nice note up - we're Breaking Bad!
"It's going to be bad. But I don't ask what's happening, I don't know how it's going to end, we have eight more episodes to shoot before we're done and I have no idea how it's going to go."
Do you have your own view on what should happen to Walt?
"I don't! I honestly feel - and I swear to you, this is not a cop-out answer - I want it to end exactly how Vince Gilligan wants it to end. He's the captain, he's guided the story from the beginning and I empower that and I'm his mouthpiece basically. Some people ask me, 'You're eight episodes from the end, is there pressure on you to finish it?' and I go, 'Not at all, not on me - it's on him!'"
As an actor and producer on Breaking Bad, how would you describe your working relationship with Vince?
"It's been beautiful and I've been very fortunate. I don't hesitate to mention how this all came about. I think it's my duty as an older guy now to reach down and mentor the young actor, and tell them that there are components that are necessary in order to have a successful career.
"You need talent - if you feel like you don't have talent, stop now, go back home, get into the family business. But if you have talent and perseverance and patience, there's still one more component left and without it, you will not be successful... and that's luck. You have to have luck. And I had luck.
"I was doing a movie, I wrote and directed it and put all my money into it. I went out with my wife and we made a little movie and we postponed it three, four times and I was in town for three days and my agent called me and he said, 'There's a role on The X-Files - would you be interested in going?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'm broke, I need the money', and I got [the role], and the episode was written by Vince Gilligan and that's where I met him.
"If I hadn't been available, I wouldn't be sitting in this chair right now - I know that. So it's good, because it frees me up to realise that there's no point in worrying about things - things will flow and you're going to the place that you're supposed to go.
"Vince was my champion to get this role - I will forever be grateful to him because there was a sensibility like, 'You want Walter White to be played by Bryan Cranston, the guy who was in that silly Malcolm in the Middle show where he was the dad?'.
"Well, to me, that that's the best thing I can hear from fans - 'I can't believe it's the same guy' - that to me is when I feel that I have done my job as an actor, to escape into someone else and they don't know it's me... it's the best thing I can hear."
Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) were separated for a lot of season four. Were you pleased to see them come back together in season five?
"It's interesting because it's all designed, you know, whenever there is a separation and then a coming together. The coming together of Jesse and Walt again in season five... it makes me wonder [where it will lead]. But I don't think too far in advance.
"If I'm doing a movie, I want a beginning, middle and end so I can modulate the performance to know exactly where I want to end up - and I get specific, and then I accept it and go through it as an actor. But for me to know the ending [on this series] didn't help me at all. So I don't ask, I never ask - I do the twists and turns of where Walter White is going, and I'm just focused on the here and now and it's worked for me that way."
How much does the show's awards recognition matter to you?
"The truth is that we don't think too much about it. I don't think too much of it. I never dreamt about winning awards - the fact that you are in that conversation, that people are responding to your work, is in itself a remarkable thing. You're all gathered there and it's all worthy people in my own category, like Damian Lewis.
"Here's something that I found to be upsetting - that people tend to want to pit us against each other, like it's a competition and I see it why they think like that, but I don't truly see it that way. But people came up to me after Damian Lewis won the Emmy and said, 'You got robbed, man, you got robbed', and every time someone would say that it would feel like someone was accidentally stepping on my toe!
"I understand the sentiment, that they're trying to say, 'Oh, sorry that you didn't win'. But it's not enough to say that, they have to put down the other guy, and that kind of competition was uncomfortable to me. I know Damian and he's so terrific, and he certainly deserves that kind of accolade and attention. It was his year. People expect you to be sad and it's like, 'No, I'm not upset, he's terrific!' But by saying 'You got robbed', it's saying that he didn't deserve it and that's a little annoying to me."
Breaking Bad has grown increasingly dark. How important is it that the show retains some humour?
"Again, it's the captain of our ship that guides that. But you know what's really good is to keep people off kilter, so at the beginning of season four, you saw a very surprisingly violent opening and at the beginning of season five I think the audience is maybe like, 'Oooh, what's going to happen, it's going to be bad', and then it's not violent and it's kind of humorous.
"It's still honest, it didn't break from who we are, but it kept people off-guard, because the best thing you can do is be surprising. Sometimes I feel like I get to be the lead singer, but the real true talent is the one that's writing the songs and he's the one in the background, you know?"
Why do you think Breaking Bad has struggled to secure a permanent UK broadcaster on television?
"It's an underground show. It's kinda cool that a lot of people still don't know about it - it's almost like a private little club, you know? And that's alright. Like I said, it's very pungent. If you like vanilla, you're not going to like Breaking Bad - you need to like a specific flavour that is unusual, that is different, that takes risks. Most television shows don't do that because they're geared to appeal to a massive audience. It's not frustrating to me, because people will either find the show or they won't."
The fifth season of Breaking Bad will be available for Netflix members to watch instantly in the UK & Ireland from November 1. Seasons 1-4 are available at Netflix now.