Jonathan Banks’ 40-something-year career has been varied to say the least, but he’s never had such a great role.
He’s gone from drama to comedy. He’s played good guys (particularly memorable was his portrayal of FBI Agent Frank McPike in Wiseguy) and felons. But the 66 year young actor has never taken on such a role as nuanced or as stirring as Mike Ehrmantraut, the dead-eyed hitman who protects other bad guys for a living in the hit show, Breaking Bad.
With the show just days away from reaching its climax we spoke to Jonathan as he pays his respect to both his character and the show.
[Warning: the odd SPOILER may be found below if you haven’t seen some of the most recent episodes]
So, how did you first get involved with Breaking Bad?
Basically they brought me in to do a job, you know? They needed someone to play a cleaner to come in and I did, and I thought that I was just going to be in it for one show and then leave. But apparently they liked what I did and I ended up staying on!
Did you expect the show to be the big hit that it is now?
Nope, I had absolutely no idea it was going to be anything like it turned out.
What did you think of your fellow actors on the show?
Well, looking back after finishing my stint it was just such an enjoyable experience. In the beginning, when I came home I said to my wife “You know, I’m working with this kid [Aaron Paul] and I think he’s going to be really great.” And indeed I was correct.
If you had to describe your character, Mike in 3 words, what would they be?
Dangerous, lost soul.
We don’t really know much about Mike’s background even though it’s slightly hinted at. Did you ever imagine what his story was?
Well, I’m still doing that actually. All the actors thought about what Mike’s back story might be. Even if I could define him, I just would not express him because I really like the way the character was left. I liked the decision to just leave all that mystery surrounding his back story.
Are you glad that Mike had a “decent” death? It was quite a serene moment.
It was a very tragic death. It was a wonderful scene, it really was.
What was it like shooting your final scene?
The day that my character, Mike died on set everyone on set wore black armbands. It was a very emotional day because I love that show so much. I love those people and I knew that something like the wonder of Breaking Bad only comes along maybe once in a life time. I was well aware of that, so that will give you an idea of the intensity of the emotion on that day.
What was your favourite episode?
As far as just ‘fun’ goes, it’s when Aaron (Jesse Pinkman) and I are riding around in the desert because we laughed all day long.
Do you watch the show yourself?
Well, since my character was killed I didn’t want to know what happened on the last 8 shows, so I am watching it as an audience member as it comes to an end.
So you don’t know how it all ends?
I do not so there’s no spoilers coming from me.
What do you think happens?
I’m not sure. I always like it when, and I don’t mean this to be coy, I truly enjoy it when the writers surprise me. I think it’s great.
I think how they’ve left it, anything could happen.
I haven’t seen the most recent episode because I was at the Emmy Awards, so I have it recorded and can’t wait to see.
An article online criticised Breaking Bad for its unrealistic time frame. It was said that too much happens in too short an amount of time. What do you think about this?
*Laughs* It’s a story, what can I tell you? There are going to be holes in it, if that is indeed a hole. I think the story is told incredibly well in a wonderful time frame. I don’t think that’s a problem at all.
Are you going to feature in the spin-off show Better Call Saul?
I have no idea, nobody has spoken to me about anything yet.
Would you be interested in being involved in the project?
Well it would depends on what it is. It would depends on how it is written and what they intend to do.
How was it going up against Aaron Paul for the Best Supporting Actor award?
I love Aaron Paul like a son. If anything, it’s humorous. Aaron couldn’t be pulling any harder for me to win it and I always wanted the best for him. So, if either one of us had won we would have been happy. Do you want to win? Sure, you want to win! But, is it a big deal if the other guy wins? No, I could have only been happy for him.
Were you surprised that neither of you picked up the award?
Well, Bobby Cannavale is a wonderful, wonderful actor and so deserving. So good for him and congratulations to him.
Did you expect Breaking Bad to win the Outstanding Drama Series award?
I don’t know if I was expecting it, but I definitely thought that it should.
Do you think Emma Gunn (Skylar White) was a worthy winner for Best Supporting Actress?
Anna is so good and so wonderful. She was so happy to have it. We had a great cast. I’ve done this professionally for 46 years and 35 in Hollywood, and this is as good as it gets. The actors, producers, the writers and the studio at AMC, all those wonderful people. We were all on the same page. We enjoyed each other and we had a great time. I will tell you this, that is a very rare commodity.
What are you going to be doing now that the show is over? Almost, anyway.
I’m doing the last season of a situation comedy called Community. I think I do 11 shows for them and that runs up to December 12th. It’s a comedy, so it’s a change of pace and it’s great fun. I have no idea what’s next. You know, I’m a journeyman character actor so I never know where the next job’s coming.
Well, that sounds exciting!
It’s also stressful at times, but yes, it’s certainly exciting.
We’d like to thank Jonathan and hope he enjoys the final episode as much as we do this very weekend when it airs on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 9/8c on AMC.