It probably goes without saying that Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV shows ever created and Walter White is one of the all-time great fictional
monsters characters ever conceived. One of the show’s biggest themes revolves around the idea of “every action has consequences” and the Walter White and Breaking Bad we love may well not have happened if it weren’t for The X-Files.
Before inspiration struck in the form of a meth lab in an RV, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was an executive producer and writer for The X-Files and he penned a number of the show’s most memorable episodes.
One of these episodes was titled ‘Drive’ and it required an actor who could pull off loathsome yet also sympathetic in order to play the anti-Semitic antagonist who was dying from an illness. Despite the role being cast, Gilligan and the casting director decided to give some unknown actor by the name of Bryan Cranston an audition for the role just to see what happens.
Keep in mind that at the time this episode was being made (1998), no one knew who the hell Bryan was so expectations he could pull off the part were low. To the surprise of everyone, he nailed it and was cast as the creepy bad guy in the ‘Drive’ episode of The X-Files.
Cut to some eight or so years later, The X-Files had ended (for the time being) and Vince was putting together what would become the pilot for Breaking Bad. His goal for the series was to turn the protagonist into the antagonist over the course of the show, as how he describes it: “turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.”
This grand plan required an actor who could convincingly make Walter White both loathsome and yet sympathetic to his increasingly horrific actions and the only person Vince though could pull that off was that Bryan Cranston chap from his X-Files days.
While Vince was convinced, the show network, AMC, were less so since everyone at that point in the story (about 2006) knew Bryan as the goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle and there’s no way he can pull off the part of a ruthless drug lord.
Vince ultimately managed to persuade the AMC suits that this Bryan Cranston chap was perfect for Walter White by showing them the ‘Drive’ episode he did on The X-Files ages ago. That was enough for them to give him the green light and the rest is TV history.
There were a lot of factors behind Breaking Bad‘s success and we may well have gotten a version of the show that was also great, though chances of that happening were lower if reports about AMC wanting John Cusack or Matthew Broderick for Walter White are to be believed.
But the particular version of Breaking Bad and Walt we ultimately got wouldn’t have happened had Bryan Cranston not showed up on Vince Gilligan’s radar all those years ago.
So here’s a toast to The X-Files for giving us one of the greatest TV characters of all time. We wanted to believe and it actually paid off big time.