Why Does 'Breaking Bad' Owe 'The X-Files' a Debt of Gratitude?

Bryan Cranston's role in the cult TV series caught the eye of Vince Gilligan...and the rest is history. 

The saying goes, "There are no small parts," but for actors, it can feel that way. Many actors work as hard as possible in bit roles to try to get noticed, and only a few of them break out. And only one of them broke bad. 

I'm talking about Bryan Cranston, who bounced around commercials and Hollywood for a few decades before becoming an iconic character on TV. And I'm not talking about Hal from Malcolm in the Middle. I'm talking about Walter White, the saddest drug kingpin since Scarface. 

But how did he land that role? What did the producers and Vince Gilligan see in him? 

Today I want to look into the past and talk about how writers and directors can support actors like Cranston and other people playing bit roles by writing them strong performances. 

Check out this video from Creative Principles and let's talk after the jump. 

Why Does Breaking Bad Owe The X-Files a Debt of Gratitude? 

The sixth season of The X-Files solidified the show's staying power and dramatically changed the way we viewed TV. This hit drama caused a ton of conspiracy theories and really ushered in the elevated genre TV we talk about now. Now, we could do an entire post on how important The X-Files became, but I just want to focus omn the one thing the show did better than many other ones. 

Which is to write amazing small parts. 

Every episode dealt with drama, trauma, and strange happenings. Mulder and Scully were afforded the chance to travel all over and meet many interesting people. We saw guest stars like Tobin Bell, Seth Green, Felicity Huffman, and Bradley Whitford...among many others

Including...Bryan Cranston. 

The second episode of season six was called "Drive" and featured Bryan Cranston as Patrick Crump, a man tormented by radio waves, the pain of which can only be relieved by driving westward at high speed.

Cranston played this character with nuance and bravado. 

Vince Gilligan, a writer on The X-Files noticed the actor, who stood out. 

Gilligan remembered Cranston from a small role he played in a 1998 episode of The X-Files. Of course, the actor went on to land bigger shows and play bigger roles, but when it came time to cast Breaking Bad, he had the perfect Walter White in mind. The guy he knew would give it his all, even in small parts. Someone who could show darkness and a softer side. 

This is a cool story, but what can we creators learn from it? 

Aside from always keeping our eyes open for the next big thing, we should be trying to write those roles, too. We need to really dial into the motivations of the characters in these scenes and boost the drama around them. Write full people with a back story and make sure they arc within the allotted time. 

This is easier said than done, but take a page out of The X-File's playbook. 

Who are some of your favorite guest stars on The X-Files

Let us know in the comments. 

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2 Comments

Interesting topic.

June 23, 2020 at 11:12AM

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Breaking Bad (English Breaking Bad) is an American television crime drama broadcast from January 20, 2008 to September 29, 2013 via the AMC cable channel. Over the course of five seasons, consisting of 62 episodes, the story of Walter White, a school teacher who was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, is shown. Together with his former apprentice Jesse Pinkman, he begins to manufacture and sell meth to ensure his family’s financial future. The production and shooting of the series was conducted in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

June 23, 2020 at 11:20AM

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You voted '+1'.
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