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Skinny Pete Interview: Breaking Bad’s Charles Baker Grateful for Success

Charles Baker is ready to take is Breaking Bad success on to his next projects. Charles Baker is ready to take is Breaking Bad success on to his next projects.

 

Charles Baker is living a dream come true. He went from small-time acting in regional theater to landing a regular role on one of the most beloved TV shows of all time, Breaking Bad. But while he may have found success as “Skinny Pete,” this is just the beginning for this rising star, as Baker explains in this exclusive RosebudMag.com interview.

RosebudMag.com: How did you land the role of Skinny Pete?

Charles Baker: Originally, they were casting three roles. They had “skinny stoner,” “chubby stoner,” and “tattooed stoner.” That was the original audition.

Then they called me back a few days later and they had combined the skinny stoner and the tattooed stoner’s lines. So I read for that and luckily they liked what I did, and things snowballed and next thing I knew I was Skinny Pete.

So originally the character wasn’t going to be as prominent as he’s turned out to be?

No. Originally, I was just supposed to be in Episode 4 of the first season. I had maybe three lines, and it seemed like a blow-off kind of scene. It was to show Jesse’s frame of mind.

And a lot of people don’t know that Jesse was slated to be killed in the first season. The show was supposed to be all about Walter White. But they realized that Aaron Paul (Jesse) and Bryan Cranston (Walter) had such good chemistry together, and that Jesse’s character was so likable that they decided to keep him.

And in keeping him, they also needed to keep the universe around him, his friends and family. So that kept most of us around.

When did you learn that this was going to be a regular gig and not just a one-off?

I never really got secure in the idea that I was going to be coming back. Every episode I did was on contract. I was called in and they never said I would be in the entire series. For me there was doubt whether I was going to come back after every episode I did.

They were making it up as they go, so they didn’t know how long I’d be around either. If I hadn’t gotten the part the way I had, I never would have even been able to audition for the show. The role turned out to be way bigger than they ever thought it would be, and they probably would have gotten a bigger name to play the role if they’d known it was going to stay around so long.

They told me, “Every time you come here, every episode you do is basically your audition for the next episode. If we don’t feel like you’re able to keep up anymore, we’ll find a way to write you out.” And that kept me on my toes.

Was your acting background strong enough to draw on to continually push yourself to keep up with the pace of the show?

Yeah. I studied theater for a long time. I think a lot of working actors will agree that that’s a great foundation to have in terms of building a character and hanging on to a character for an extended period of time.

But more than anything the writing on the show makes my job so easy. I came up with the voice for Skinny Pete and they put me in a hat, and I go and deliver the words they tell me to say. It’s a great chemistry.

Do you draw on any sources from your personal life for the character?

Not so much personally. My older brothers were pretty into drugs, but they’ve been clean for several years now. There might be some of them in that, but a lot of what I draw from is a mixture of every cliché and stereotype of a druggie that I’ve ever seen on TV. I pick my moments and try to use what I can remember from those experiences.

You’re going along episode by episode, and sooner or later you realize, “Hey, I’m a regular on one of the hottest shows on TV.” Did you ever have a pinch-me moment?

The difference between what I hoped would happen, what my expectations were, and what the reality could be was always kind of a fight. The second they asked me back to be in my second episode, I was already accepting Emmys in my head. (laughs) Luckily I have that rational side of me that told me not to lose it and stay focused on the work. But every now and then I would just sit back and say, “Wow! I’m really doing this.”

And my wife and I will kind of look at each other. At our wedding ceremony, a lot people laughed at the part about for richer or poorer. We were both actors and we were pretty poor and assumed we would stay pretty poor. Here we were, working in theater doing summer stock in Texas, and now things are so different.

When did you realize the power of Breaking Bad? It’s turning into one of the greatest TV events of all time.

It’s funny, a lot of the cast and crew, we knew the whole time what we were doing. There was just this energy. A lot of us were anxious for the rest of the world to catch up. We could see it every day on set when we were shooting these shows. We’d see an episode months or weeks before it aired, and we’d just be thinking, “We can’t wait for people to see what we’ve done.”

I don’t know that anyone really expected it to become as huge as it did, but I don’t think anyone’s really surprised by it either.

You’re working with forces of nature in (series creator) Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston. What have you learned from working with the people on Breaking Bad?

One thing I’ve learned is that I’m in good company. I’ve always been so grateful to be a part of this business, much less a part of this show. But to see how humbled and honored and grateful Bryan is to have this opportunity. It’s made me really appreciate this business that much more.

Not only can the opportunity to do great things come, but you can still have that great passion for what got you into the business in the first place. And it doesn’t have to wear you down. I see that in Vince, Bryan, and Aaron Paul. Be really grateful for what you do and don’t take it for granted.

What’s next for you?

I’ve tried to line some things up. A lot of that is still up in the air. It’s hard to imagine ever being in something as powerful as this has been, and there’s a little bit of sadness that comes with knowing this kind of job is few and far between.

But I do have some great shows that hopefully I’m going to be a bigger part of. One of them is NBC’s Blacklist, which airs September 23. It stars James Spader (Boston Legal) as one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals who turns himself in for reasons unknown other than that he wants to help catch people who are worse than him. It’s a really intriguing crime/action/mystery kind of show. I play James’s driver and confidante. It’s basically the opposite kind of character from Skinny Pete. He’s articulate and smart.

And then I shot a pilot for Steven Bochco (producer of NYPD: Blue and Hillstreet Blues) with Taye Diggs (Ally McBeal, Private Practice), Kathleen Robertson (Beverly Hills 90210), and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). We’re waiting to find out if it’s going to get picked up.

Sounds like you’re making a habit of keeping good company in TV land.

I’ve been really fortunate to land some roles with some of the greats. A lot of these people were my heroes before I ever thought I’d be on television myself. It’s great to get to share the stage with them, and learn from them, and hopefully grow from those experiences.


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Skinny Pete is a piano maestro!
Last modified on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 22:08

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