Hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out the Breaking Bad sequel (of sorts) and story-capper El Camino, but if you haven’t and are interested in doing so, you should probably avoid this semi-spoilery interview with creator/writer/director Vince Gilligan. The Emmy Award-winner could have left well enough alone with the near-perfect drama series that is Breaking Bad, especially since he already succeeded (so far) with the ongoing prequel series Better Call Saul … so why mess with success?
Gilligan answered that question and more. In a chatty chat with EW, Gilligan revealed how the original idea for El Camino came about and how it took different shapes over the years since Breaking Bad‘s 2013 finale. He also talked about a wide range of other related topics, like guest stars and cameos, the secrecy surrounding certain scenes, and just how he came to focus in on certain characters in this sequel story; look for those tidbits either at EW or in future write-ups here. Gilligan also teased a possible return to more El Camino tales in the future, but that’s likely a long way off.
For now, here’s what he had to say about the evolution of El Camino and the fate of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul):
I found myself wondering at idle moments, “How exactly did he get away? Because that’s no easy feat! And what if he didn’t get away? What if he got busted right around the next corner?” I even played with telling that story in a movie. Luckily, smarter brains prevailed, and the people that I love and trust, starting with my girlfriend Holly said, “You cannot have Jesse Pinkman get busted at the end of this thing. You cannot go that route.” And I said, “Okay. All right, honey.” [Laughs] And I’m glad I listened to her and I listened to [Breaking Bad executive producer/Better Call Saul co-creator] Peter Gould and the Better Call Saul writers. But basically, over the years it started to percolate in my brain…
Here’s how that story would have started out:
I didn’t get super far down the road, but it was probably going to be a young woman who needed some help. He was hiding out by the Canadian border, and this woman was working at a motel as a housekeeper or something. [He] goes into the process of saving her, knowing full well that he’s going to suffer for it, he’s going to get caught for it, but he does it anyway. And the last scene would be maybe him in a jail cell but at peace for the first time since the movie began. I think there was going to be this component where he couldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t get a single night sleep for a week or so upon escaping. The police are looking for him and he’s too haunted and he’s too adrenaline-charged. And at the end of the thing, he’s in a jail cell, and ironically he can fall asleep like a baby. And I thought, “Ah, that’d be kind of cool.”
I pitched some version of that to my girlfriend Holly, and I also separately pitched that to Peter Gould and the writers and everybody looked at me like I was absolutely insane: ‘You can’t have Jesse back in a cell at the end of the movie! People will tar and feather you!’ I’m glad I listened to them. I think there is a version of that movie that if perfectly executed would work, but I don’t know that I was the guy to pull it off. I’m glad I wound up doing it the way I did it.
So while Gilligan dabbled with the idea of a movie first, it soon shrank in size and scope, before returning to a movie form once more:
I thought that that could possibly culminate in a 63rd episode, so to speak. So the early code name for this project, at least in my mind, was 63. And [when] it started off, I thought, “63. It’s not a literal thing. Maybe it’s a five-minute or 10-minute little mini-sode of Jesse getting away. Or maybe it is. Maybe it’s 48 minutes long or an hourlong.”
But then a couple things happened. We realized it wasn’t really cost effective to go to all the trouble of making something that’s only 10 minutes long. Why not just do it as a movie? And also one of my oldest friends in the world, Tom Schnauz, who’s one of our executive producers on Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. He said to me, “I don’t think you should think of it as 63. You want to get that thought out of your head.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because the 62 episodes of Breaking Bad are” — and this is him talking — “they were as perfect as we could make them. They were as complete as we could make them. Let’s not tempt fate. Let’s not tell the world that there was anything missing from that. Breaking Bad really was Walter White’s story. This is something else. This is Jesse Pinkman’s story and it didn’t really belong necessarily in Breaking Bad. So let’s not tell people that it did.” And I think he was exactly right. That’s when I started thinking of it as El Camino instead.
So what about a possible sequel, years later?
[Laughs] Ah, that’s a good question. I don’t have any plans right now to do anything more with the Breaking Bad universe except for helping Peter Gould and the writers finish up Better Call Saul. Having said that, I have surprised myself in the past, clearly. But I’m starting to think — I used this expression a lot in 2013 — I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I hope I haven’t at this point. It’s a tempting thing to overstay your welcome when you’re having a good time at the party. Suddenly you look around and you’re the last person there with the lampshade on your head and the hosts are waiting for you to get the hell out. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m really starting to think, “God, I better see if I got anything else in me here. I’d better see if I can come up with another story.” So no matter what, the next thing I intend to do is something completely different. But you never know, 20 years from now, if I’m still working, and everyone still wants it, it’d be interesting to see what Alaska still looks like 10 years later, 15 years later.
Keep an eye out for news on El Camino: Northern Exposure in 10 to 20 years.