Anna Gunn on Skyler's 'Desperate Hope' as 'Breaking Bad' Nears the End

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  • Anna Gunn
    Anna Gunn

Things are looking pretty good for Skyler White as we enter the final eight episodes of "Breaking Bad." Well, relatively speaking. After all, her drug kingpin husband Walt is finally getting out of the business, they're sitting on a very large pile of cash, and it looks like they might just get out of this whole crazy mess with their family (and lives) intact.

"I think she has this feeling like, 'Is it possible that we can get away with this, and perhaps time will take care of this whole thing?'" says Anna Gunn, who plays Skyler on AMC's Emmy-winning drama. "It's that kind of desperate hope, even though you know underneath it that it's probably not possible for it to be okay. She so desperately wishes that none of this had ever happened. It's that sort of denial thing, like, 'We'll have a barbecue and we'll just try to be a happy, normal family again.' And that is such a deep desire in her that I think she's just happy to fool herself for a little while."

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But of course, Skyler can't fool herself for much longer. At that fateful barbecue that capped the first half of Season 5, her DEA brother-in-law Hank stumbled upon a huge clue while relieving himself in the Whites' bathroom, and Walter and Skyler's whole house of cards looks like it's about to come crashing down. Hard.

With the homestretch of "Breaking Bad" kicking off this Sunday, Gunn sat down with Yahoo! TV to talk about how she felt on her last day of shooting, what Skyler is really afraid of in these final episodes, and why some "BB" fans still see Skyler as the enemy. Plus, the Emmy nominee gives us an inside perspective on a highlight from last season: Skyler's eerie plunge into the family pool in "Fifty-One."

"Breaking Bad" is shot in New Mexico, where the series is set, and that gave Gunn a home-court advantage; she's actually a native of the state. "I'm from Santa Fe, so I felt like I was bringing everyone to my home state. We formed a tight-knit family out there. There were a lot of poker games. I don't play poker, but I was there for a lot of poker games. [Laughs]"

And she dealt with some seriously mixed emotions on her final day of shooting. "I had to fight a lot to not be a sobbing mess the whole day," Gunn admits. "I remember a big group hug between me and [co-star] Aaron [Paul] and [co-star] Bryan [Cranston] and [creator] Vince [Gilligan]. And then when I was driving home, I realized I had this huge smile after this day of being all teary and sentimental. And it was because I realized that we'd been so lucky to have this experience. So at the end of it, I really just felt this enormous gratitude and joy for six amazing years."

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Skyler is not likely to feel gratitude and joy about the events of these final eight episodes, however — especially since she'll have to face her sister Marie (Betsy Brandt) after Walter's secret life is revealed. "I think that's what Skyler is most fearful about," Gunn says. "Certainly she's fearful about dangerous things coming to her door. But I think she's almost more fearful of being found out by the people she loves. There's nobody in the world she's closer to her than her sister. As much as they do that little bickering thing, they are incredibly close. And even the idea that her sister might find out what she's been doing is something that I think makes Skyler so terrified and sick to her stomach."

In Season 5's "Fifty-One," we saw Skyler pushed to her absolute emotional limits. Held captive by a power-mad Walt and desperate to escape with her children, she finally snapped and walked into the family pool in the middle of Walt's birthday cookout. The scene was beautifully haunting, and likely cinched Gunn her second straight Emmy nomination for best supporting actress in a drama.

Go behind the scenes of Skyler's breakdown in this "Breaking Bad" making-of clip:

"Sam Catlin, who wrote that episode, and Rian Johnson, who directed it, we talked through those moments, beat by beat," Gunn remembers. "And I said, 'So when do you think she gets the idea to go in the pool?' I really wanted to know exactly what was going on with her, mentally. She had been in that sort of paralyzed state of depression. And finally you see this Skyler, who thought she could control things, and finally she was just being held hostage in her own house."

"But the wheels were still turning in her head. 'How can I get out of this? How can I get the kids out of the house? How can I outsmart him?' But she couldn't think of anything. And then when she's looking at the pool, it's like a light bulb moment, and she thinks, 'I know what I can do.' And that's why they shot it in that way, where you can see it come over her face. I loved doing it."

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Not everyone loves Skyler as a character, though. In fact, there's a vocal minority of "Breaking Bad" fans who flat-out hate Skyler, and Gunn can't help but get defensive when she hears that: "I always feel protective of my characters." But she has a theory about that fan hatred. "Walt is an anti-hero, but he is the protagonist of the show. And you are let in to every single reason for him doing the things he does: his emotions, every thing he's feeling along the way. But you're given very little insight to what Skyler really feels. And I think that's by design. Because if you were to really understand emotionally what's she going through and start to sympathize with that, I think the balance of the show would be lost."

Plus, she adds, "I think it says something about gender roles. What is a wife supposed to be? Is she supposed to be soft and sweet and just say, 'Okay, you go cook your meth! I'll make a pot roast!' [Laughs] Vince very specifically wanted her to be the kind of person who said, 'No. You have a family and children. It's not okay to do these things.' And that makes people angry. When a character doesn't allow the person that everybody's rooting for to just get away with things, she becomes the biggest antagonist in a way."

Gunn will be playing a pretty big antihero herself next: She just went to the Sundance filmmakers' lab to workshop a new movie where she'll star as housewife-turned-pro-life crusader Shelley Shannon. (Shannon is currently in federal prison for shooting an abortion doctor.) "It's a very incendiary subject, obviously, but it's not a film about pro-life or pro-choice. It's about this particular person and how she starts here and ends up here, and why it happens… it's actually a little like a female Walter White." Sounds like it might be Gunn's turn to wear the Heisenberg hat once "Breaking Bad" signs off for good.

The final eight episodes of "Breaking Bad" premiere Sunday, 8/11 at 9 PM on AMC.