If the final episodes of the Bob Odenkirk-led Better Call Saul have you feeling nostalgic for its Albuquerque crime-saga predecessor Breaking Bad, it might be time for a rewatch. Both Saul and Breaking Bad have been hailed as some of the best television of any era, with high school chemistry teacher Walter White disappearing into the abyss of New Mexico’s meth scene as he tries to provide a financially secure future for his family after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, you can check out some of the original cast audition tapes, which are available on YouTube.
The footage features Anna Gunn, who went on to portray Skyler White, Walt’s wife; Dean Norris, who played DEA agent Hank Schrader; Betsy Brandt, who played Schrader’s wife and Skyler’s sister Marie; and Aaron Paul, who nabbed the role of White’s delinquent accomplice, Jesse Pinkman.
Noticeably absent from the compilation is Bryan Cranston, who played drug kingpin Walter White. Unlike much of the supporting cast, Cranston was a proven actor by that point, having starred in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. While he apparently didn’t have to audition, he was not AMC’s first choice for the role. They reportedly preferred Matthew Broderick or John Cusack, though Cusack later said he had never been formally approached about the show.
“No, I never was, and it was one of those things where I heard it so many times I started to think maybe it was true,” Cusack told Variety in 2020. “And I ran into the creator of Breaking Bad and I said, ‘Am I crazy or did you offer me Walter White?’ He’s like, ‘No.’”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan fought for Cranston, who had appeared as a guest on The X-Files when Gilligan was a staff writer on that series. Given Cranston’s work on Malcolm in the Middle, executives were wary of casting a sitcom performer. Gilligan obviously won that argument.