Variety Interviews HUMANITAS Trustee Vince Gilligan
“Are we just supposed to pretend we’re in a smoky café in Budapest and just talking about making TV?” asked Beau Willimon, at the start of his conversation with “Breaking Bad’s” Vince Gilligan for Variety. If only! In reality, both showrunners were hard at work on set: Willimon on the next season of “House of Cards,” Gilligan on “Better Call Saul,” the highly anticipated prequel to “Breaking Bad.” Between praise for each other’s shows, they talked about the struggles to maintain their vision and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Variety: Who’s more evil, Frank Underwood or Walter White?
Gilligan: (Laughs.) That’s a tough one! I think Frank Underwood is smoother about it. They’re both pretty ruthless, but you would have to say Frank’s been much more effective using his evil. Because he’s gone all the way to the top. At the end of the day Walter White only made it to be a pretty effective regional meth king.
Willimon: What’s interesting is Walter White started out doing what he was doing for all the right reasons. If there were a more compelling reason to start cooking meth, I don’t know what it is other than you’re facing your own demise and you want to make sure your family is well-looked after. The incredible journey that he takes by the very end — he said he did it for himself because he liked it and because he was good at it. I think that Frank was kind of starting there. And his journey might be in another direction or it might not be, but we enter his life where he makes no bones about being completely self-serving — serving no master other than himself and seeking power for power’s sake. When you put yourself in these people’s shoes they don’t necessarily see themselves as evil. They see themselves as doing what they have to do.
Gilligan: That’s very well put. And you’re right. Hitler didn’t think of himself as a bad guy. Pol Pot didn’t think of himself as a bad guy. Human beings just don’t tend to. We think of ourselves as doing the right things for the right reasons. And Frank, when we first meet him, he has been somewhat betrayed. He had a promise made to him that was broken, so who’s to say that he didn’t get into politics, at least at the beginning, to truly serve the public.
Willimon: The fun thing with drama, too, is that you get to amplify the sort of predicaments we all find ourselves in on a daily basis. You don’t want to go to the Joneses’ house for dinner because you don’t like them very much? You tell a white lie to get yourself out of it. No one would think of that as a particularly bad thing. But when the stakes are high enough and it’s truly life and death or political survival or real survival, those decisions become much bigger. So the question I found myself asking all the time, and I’m sure Vince did too, was what motivates us to do the things we do and what are the circumstances that get us to cross that invisible line, instead of telling us a white lie to get us out of dinner? And then ask yourself, what does it take to get me to commit murder? How do I rationalize that? How do I convince myself that that’s the necessary or right thing to do? And that’s drama.