BREAKING BAD Director Rian Johnson Talks “Ozymandias”, Babies Crying on Cue, and Maintaining Dignity in Death, Plus Behind-the-Scenes Images

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If you haven’t seen the latest episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad, I’d suggest you queue it up on the DVR before reading any further (and then check out Allison’s episode recap once you’ve recovered).  “Ozymandias” episode director Rian Johnson (Looper) recently spoke about the various challenges the shoot imposed, such as dealing with death in a way that maintains a character’s dignity, getting a certain baby to cry and speak on cue, and how the entire 60 minutes of the episode was filled with big moments.  This will be your second spoiler warning because Johnson goes into extensive details about the shoot after the jump, where you’ll also find some behind-the-scenes images from Johnson himself.

breaking-bad-ozymandias-set-imageJohnson recently spoke to THR at length about what many are calling the best episode of the series.  This is your third spoiler warning so turn back now if you’re not caught up.  Otherwise, here we go:

On shooting the episode’s cold open, which was the last thing filmed for the series:

Because it’s a flashback, Bryan [Cranston] had to shave his goatee to do it, and they didn’t want him to wear a fake beard for the last two episodes.  So I went away for a month and I came back and we shot that teaser … It was a series wrap. It was the very last day of filming. I felt very privileged to do that. Not only is it the last day, but being out there in the desert with the RV – the first episode I directed was in season 3 so I never got to shoot in the RV. I just know that stuff as a fan, so for me it was just a total blast. For the crew, many of whom have been working on this for six years now, it was pretty amazing to see those emotions go down in that context.

On the off-screen death of beloved characters:

Moira and I talked about it with Vince, and we decided with both of these guys there should be some real dignity to the way they go out. So both in how we shot the death, but also really purposely in how we shot them after they were dead. It’s harsh enough and I didn’t want to do anything that could feel at all like we were cheapening the moments or disrespecting those two characters.

breaking-bad-ozymandias-set-imageAnd the off-screen torture of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul):

It was never in the script. It’s so brutal, the reveal of it, that I don’t think I could have stood watching that. I think the writers are really good at finding the fine line. For myself, if a TV show or a movie feels like it’s being gratuitous in the sense of playing on these emotional investments you’ve made in the characters in a cruel way just to make you cringe, it feels unfair. This is a pretty cruel episode, but I don’t think it ever brings you to the point of “they’re just messing with me.” Seeing Jesse tortured, I probably would have stood up and walked away [laughs].

On Baby Holly’s (presumable) Emmy Award-winning acting:

We got really lucky, actually. You can’t really direct a baby. We were playing at the scene, and Bryan — originally as written — it was just going to be a beat where Bryan lifts baby Holly up to eye level, and just looking at her Walt has this change of heart and realizes he can’t do it. He lifted up the baby, and the baby’s mom was three feet away behind the camera, and the baby had eye contact with the mom, and she started saying the word “mama” over and over. Bryan used it and played it perfectly. Obviously the baby was brilliant, but the credit goes to Bryan for using that and playing off of it so well. That’s the sort of thing you can never plan and you have to go with it when it happens … It was pretty electric on the day. We were all gathered around the monitor just off set and we all just looked at each other. Our eyes went wide. “Oh my God! Tell me we’re rolling.”

breaking-bad-ozymandias-set-imageOn shooting Walt’s confession to Jesse about Jane’s death:

I was kind of amazed to get that moment. The closest he’s come to that is the episode Moira co-wrote with Sam Catlin and I directed. It was the first time Moira and I worked together. Thinking about that moment in “The Fly” versus the moment in this episode, it’s kind of like the contrast between Walt and Skyler in the teaser versus where they’re at now. The scene where he almost spilled it in the superlab to Jesse — it was out of very different feelings than what led him to tell him in this episode. The fact that they’ve come so far and that contrast was a pretty powerful thing to be a firsthand witness to.

Be sure to head over to THR for the full Q&A and follow Johnson on Twitter (@rianjohnson) for more of his behind-the-scenes images.

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  • Strong Enough

    I honestly can’t distinguish one episode from another when it comes to direction in TV shows. That episode of BB felt like any other person directed it. But since it’s RIAN JOHNSON everyone goes crazy for it. Like Fly. what the fuck was so special about Fly? but because RIAN did it, its everyone favorite. bah

    • Lizard King

      The writers make the words, and the actors fill the screen, but the director is the person who makes you feel. Focusing a whole beuatiful shot on a roomba? That’s a director’s choice. Lingering on moments to bring tension? That’s the director. Bearing down the cameras on a tortured Jesse to make you feel the claustrophobia? Director. Fly was a fantastic episode because it pulled you into the mind of Walter White. You could feel his hubris and paranoia in that episode as something as small as a fly made him feel compromised in the quality he wanted and needed to bring to the product. Direction is an art, and art often comes down to the flourishes that become their M.O.

      • Strong Enough

        i know directing is important but I THINK it overblown on TV. Writing is what makes TV important not directors

    • Nick

      The directors all know how to keep it flowing. How awful and disjointed would it be if you actually could tell the deference between direction while watching. The proof is in the pudding. Rian, who was not nearly as known when he directed fly to much praise, was handed two heavy episodes to bear. Fly was a great episode, tensions high and i guess if you’re not paying attention it could seem boring but it was a plot disproving episode and it transitioned tape characters into the next chapter of the story. It could be easily argued, that with the outstanding cast and writing, that another writer could have executed just as well… It could be argued but doesn’t need to be, because we had perfection with ozymandias.

    • Nick

      The directors all know how to keep it flowing. How awful and disjointed would it be if you actually could tell the deference between direction while watching. The proof is in the pudding. Rian, who was not nearly as known when he directed fly to much praise, was handed two heavy episodes to bear. Fly was a great episode, tensions high and i guess if you’re not paying attention it could seem boring but it was a plot disproving episode and it transitioned tape characters into the next chapter of the story. It could be easily argued, that with the outstanding cast and writing, that another writer could have executed just as well… It could be argued but doesn’t need to be, because we had perfection with ozymandias.

      • Nick

        Driving* not disproving

      • Nick

        Driving* not disproving

  • Blues

    Aaron Paul should be in Rian Johnson’s next movie

  • Daniel Ronczkowski

    DUde did looper! Fav. Movie last year.

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  • Chris

    Watch Looper again and tell me that the last episode wasn’t a Rian Johnson episode. There were several moments where I knew it was his work. But this last season every episode has been my favorite for the most part. This past week is to date the best episode ever made. But that’s just my opinion.

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