David Farrier reflects on how a pivotal X-Files casting decision eventually led to Bryan Cranston’s explosive role on Breaking Bad.//
It was 1998 and I was 15 years old. It was season six of The X-Files, my favourite show in the whole wide world. It was a brilliant season – the mythology was in place, and the show’s creators were having a bit of fun. The fun would decline in seasons eight and nine… but six, hell: it was just great.
Anyway, episode two in season six, “Drive”, is very important for the future of television. It’s the one in which X-Files writer Vince Gilligan decided to hire a man called Bryan Cranston. This was over a year out from Malcolm In The Middle, so Cranston wasn’t exactly a household name (he was however Jerry Seinfeld’s dentist in Seinfeld).
ANYWAY. Vince Gilligan had this to say looking back on it all: “I wanted to do this episode with Mulder and a bad guy in a car. And this guy is going to die if they don’t stop driving the car westward. The guy’s head is going to explode because of this weird sympathetic vibrations thing that’s been set off in his head by some Navy, top secret, radiowave shit”.
Gilligan happily admits borrowing the concept from a certain Keanu Reeves film involving a bus (but extending it to an exploding head and “radiowave shit”. Mulder even says something in the episode about thinking he’s seen it all in some film). Gilligan also says it was really bloody hard to cast that particular part.
See, the character (Patrick Crump) had to be a knob – someone Mulder had to put up being stuck in a car with: Racist, hateful, dickish. But at the same time, the audience also had to feel sorry for him when his head inevitably went KA BOOM. “I wanted him to be an asshole. A creep!” declared Gilligan. And in walks Bryan Cranston. Boom, cast.
Who knew that episode would stick in Gilligan’s mind years after The X-Files had wrapped, leading him to cast exploding-head Bryan as Walter White.
It’s also quite weird Bryan Cranston ended up in a movie called Drive, too. But that’s The X-Files for you: a breeding ground of new talent, new ideas, and weird synchronicity.