by Matt McGuire and Sir Anthony Hopkins
Last Sunday marked a year since the first airing of Felina, the final episode of Breaking Bad. On the anniversary of Bad’s finale its worth examining the sense of awe one gets when watching something so impressive, as this feeling encapsulates how our current age of premium TV differentiates itself.
Without exploring existential philosophical questions as did The Sopranos, or even perfectly elucidating societal issues in the manner of shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad is great TV in the way Citizen Kane is great cinema: all the elements of filmed stagecraft just come together. The scripting was original and clever; unpredictable yet not gimmicky, poetic yet not pretentious. The filming was masterful, from stunningly gorgeous landscapes of the New Mexico desert to darkly beautiful portraits of drug-war violence. The acting was incredible – who could have predicted Bryan Cranston (the dentist from Seinfeld and the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle) would become one of the great actors of our generation? Apparently, Vince Gilligan could. Gilligan’s casting of Aaron Paul as Pinkman, Betsy Brandt as Marie, and Bob Odenkirk as Saul also paid rather incredible dividends, as this supporting cast deftly captured their character’s respective cluelessness, neediness, and sleaze with unmatched proficiency. Various other ingredients, from the optimal scoring to the perfectly measured drama-to-humor proportions, alchemized with the core strengths of storyline, cinematography, and performance, yielding a work about blue meth that was and is pure gold.
But don’t take my word for it – consider the reaction of Emmy/Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins, who, after watching the first episode, proceeded to binge through the entire series. Following Felina, he felt compelled to write the following email to Bryan Cranston, which is reprinted here in its entirety.
Dear Mister Cranston.
I wanted to write you this email – so I am contacting you through Jeremy Barber – I take it we are both represented by UTA . Great agency.
I’ve just finished a marathon of watching “BREAKING BAD” – from episode one of the First Season – to the last eight episodes of the Sixth Season. (I downloaded the last season on AMAZON) A total of two weeks (addictive) viewing. I have never watched anything like it. Brilliant! Your performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen – ever. I know there is so much smoke blowing and sickening bullshit in this business, and I’ve sort of lost belief in anything really.
But this work of yours is spectacular – absolutely stunning. What is extraordinary, is the sheer power of everyone in the entire production. What was it? Five or six years in the making? How the producers (yourself being one of them), the writers, directors, cinematographers…. every department – casting etc. managed to keep the discipline and control from beginning to the end is (that over used word) awesome.
From what started as a black comedy, descended into a labyrinth of blood, destruction and hell. It was like a great Jacobean, Shakespearian or Greek Tragedy.
If you ever get a chance to – would you pass on my admiration to everyone – Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Steven Michael Quezada – everyone – everyone gave master classes of performance … The list is endless.
Thank you. That kind of work/artistry is rare, and when, once in a while, it occurs, as in this epic work, it restores confidence. You and all the cast are the best actors I’ve ever seen. That may sound like a good lung full of smoke blowing. But it is not. It’s almost midnight out here in Malibu, and I felt compelled to write this email.
Congratulations and my deepest respect. You are truly a great, great actor.