Breaking Bad was one of the most celebrated TV series of all-time. Betsy Brandt’s character, Marie, played a pivotal role in creating pockets of humor in the mostly dark and suspenseful tale of a suburban dad turned meth kingpin. Marie was frustrating and meddlesome as she was necessary. The seasoned actress who hails from Bay City, Michigan, has since appeared in the Michael J. Fox Show, Masters of Sex and the current CBS series Life In Pieces. Years after Breaking Bad came to a close, Betsy still credits the Vince Gilligan creation as a transformational chapter in her acting career. Her latest movie, Claire in Motion, will make all of us take stock of our closest relationships.
Betsy stars as Claire Hunger, a math professor and mother of one who’s husband, Paul, has mysteriously disappeared. Three weeks into the investigation, the police hit a dead end and Claire becomes the only one who still believes there’s hope for him to turn up again. Her search for Paul reveals troubling details of Paul’s life, including a secretive relationship with a beautiful yet manipulative graduate student that she had no idea about. As these truths come out, Claire questions how well she truly knew her husband, and for that matter, herself.
We spoke with Betsy, who let us in on who Claire really is and how her time spent on Breaking Bad reshaped the course of her career.
VH1: When you received the Claire in Motion script, what was your initial impression of your character?
Betsy Brandt: I think (Claire’s) not perfect, but she’s got a lot of dignity and I think she’s very graceful in a lot of ways…even when she’s feeling like she’s fumbling. I love that she was open to, and maybe not immediately, but open to discovering things about her life and about herself. She has to come to terms with realizing that everything she thought she knew for sure, it turns out she really didn’t know for sure. And then she goes further than that. One of the reasons I loved her is that she looks at herself and what she had to do with that resulting uncertainty. And then I loved her strength. She has this really, really quiet strength and I found it really interesting that it comes out in subtle ways. And she’s not the kind of person that loses it and wears her heart on her sleeve. It was really interesting for me to play.
An interesting part of the film is that at some point during the search for her husband, Claire is finding out about this completely separate part of his life that she had no idea existed. Do you think it’s possible to ever know the person you’re in a relationship with 100% or is that unrealistic?
That’s a great question. A lot of times, we think we know someone. And we may know a lot. I’ve been married for years, and once in a while my husband, not very often, my husband will say something that just kind of shocks me. And on the other side of that coin, most times I can tell you exactly what he’s gonna do. I loved the part where she goes back and revisits that scene in her mind where he’s filming her and she sees him in a different way. She realizes how much she’s been on autopilot. I have to say, as a mom who works, as a parent in a relationship, it is so easy for things to get away from you and it takes such an effort. I don’t know if its harder or easier because of all of the technology. I just know that this year, especially this year for the holidays I just had to say ok – this is what I want to get out of the holidays with my family and I need to keep my eye on that prize instead of we need to do this, we need to do that, etc. It’s just impossible to do everything you feel you should be doing. And I love the scene where she goes back to work and how good that feels for her. It wasn’t easy for her. I love the strength she finds in herself. I don’t think I’ve ever done a role like her.
This character is so different from the role you played on Breaking Bad in so many ways, but there were scenes in Claire in Motion where the caring, loving, over-protectiveness would re-emerge and I would see similarities in both women. How would you say Claire and Marie relate to and differ from each other?
I have to say, honestly I didn’t even think about Marie during filming (Claire in Motion). She was such a different person from me, I didn’t even think about her while I was doing Claire. Claire and I are kinda the same person, so of course there’s gonna be some of the same idiosyncrasies even though I try to let go as much of myself as I can in certain roles. This is one of them and Marie was one also. People ask me about the movie, and when I say she’s a math professor, I just can’t say it without laughing. It doesn’t even sound believable when I say that because I have no f-cking idea what that is. I mean, I think numbers are cool, but it’s just not my language. Right now, I also play Heather from Life in Pieces. I guess I could say that there are some similarities in the way Heather looks at her kids and Claire looked at her son. That undeniable love for your child…that’s something I totally get. And the bumps in the road, too. Like any parent that thinks they have a perfect relationship with their child is a liar or they’re just not present. But yeah, I have to say the only thing I request of any job I do is that they don’t put me in purple.
How did being a part of the success of Breaking Bad impact your career after the show ended?
I was lucky enough to be on a show like Breaking Bad for 5 seasons, it changes how you look at other projects that come up. I told Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad creator) that may be the only way in which you’ve “wronged” me. You have made me so much pickier. And that’s probably true for all of us. You look at anything and you’re like, “Is this as good as Breaking Bad?” It took a while for me to stop comparing every project that comes my way to that. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do Life in Pieces. I just want something that’s a 180. I just wanna do something completely different. And there was a learning curve for me. I’d never done a sitcom until the Michael J. Fox Show. I’d never even guest starred in one until then. So it was definitely a learning curve, which is what I wanted. I wanted to do something new, to challenge myself. I like to shake it up. But God, I love Marie. I miss her. I’m even seeing now they’re doing a marathon (of Breaking Bad) right now on AMC. And I’m just seeing where Marie and Skylar were in the car – and the things she says! I mean, I think she’s funny. But I think, “Oh my God, who does that?”
Yeah, Marie was so over the top in so many ways.
Yeah! With her, I wanted to push it as far as I could and still be in the same show as everybody else. And then once Breaking Bad was over, I felt like a lot of people in Hollywood wanted me to play the 1/2 hour comedy version of Marie. And I’m like, I loved playing her but I don’t need to continue to play her. There are some great traits in Marie that I’d love to play again. Not saying there aren’t any similarities, but I don’t want…
You don’t want to keep revisiting that same character?
Yeah. I think that Claire and Marie, while there may be some things similar, they’re miles apart.
Would you be interested in doing a spin off of Breaking Bad, perhaps a prequel exploring Hank and Marie’s life (before Heisenberg?)
I would never say no to those guys. I’d like to work with them again. Like, who would pass on that? And that would probably also mean Dean Norris (Marie’s husband Hank) who I would also take any opportunity to work with again. I love and adore him. That’s easy to answer.
Better Call Saul the spin off from Breaking Bad got great reviews. Do you think there’s a chance for you to appear there or do you feel its kind of taken on a life of it’s own?
I think both! It’s taken on a life of it’s own, but I think there’s a chance for anybody to come back. I know they’ve talked about it, and some of it is also the logistics part of what we do. Everybody is usually working on other things too. So sometimes they want someone and you’re not available. It’s timing. Everything has to fall into place for something like that to happen. I’m a huge fan of Better Call Saul, too. So I’d be honored to come back. It’s been so fun to watch that show.
Claire in Motion hits theaters and On Demand January 13, 2017.
From Issa Rae to Donald Trump to Kanye and Kim, 2016 was full of many highs and lows.