AMC broke serious ground with their award-winning drama series Breaking Bad. Its 2008-2013 run showcased the power of one hour segments, proving that hours upon hours of screen time can help producers and directors build some truly fascinating character arcs. Of course, it helped that they cast actors who possessed an amazing amount of range to begin with, as you will soon see below.
In case you missed it, the Breaking Bad series was about a terminally ill chemistry teacher who goes terribly wrong in the most delicious way. From the classroom to the laboratory, the unexpected twist is that this average Joe turns out to be an incredible drug dealer who can hold his own against a host of savage career criminals. As Walter White, Bryan Cranston makes up for lost time by using his chemistry skills to corrupt his hometown and everyone in his path.
Along with breaking ground, the series also broke several actors and actresses, taking them out of the background and showing the world how they would shine in the limelight. You might be surprised to learn what some of your favorite Breaking Bad stars were doing before their big break. You might also be surprised to find out that many of them have been around for years, popping up on popular sitcoms and contributing bit parts.
What’s interesting is the way these actors and actresses have transitioned in order to bring such chemistry to the screen. From sitting in Hannah Montana’s classroom to spinning game show wheels and just about everything in between, these stars are living proof that we all have to start somewhere. Read on to find your favorite characters in some of the wackiest places imaginable.
15. Hank Shrader Was On The Wrong Side Of The Law In The Firm
Dean Norris did an amazing job of convincing us that he was a good cop (albeit not very bright, but still a cop with good intentions) when he portrayed DEA agent Hank Schrader on the show. You might have missed the fact that way back when, in 1993, this very same actor did an amazing job of convincing us that he was going to murder Tom Cruise.
That’s right. Dean Norris, who looked exactly the same 20 years ago, played a bit part as a hit man in the box office smash thriller The Firm. His on-screen presence is felt for all of about half a minute but he definitely adds to the climactic nature of the film. As a character with virtually zero lines, Norris darts a menacing glance in Cruise’s direction and we then witness a thrilling subway station scene where Tom Cruise and Dean Norris engage in a silent battle of wits, strength, speed and agility. Of course, Mr. Norris certainly has a knack for donning a badge and we witness the foreshadowing of a young Hank Schrader in movies such as Police Academy 6 and Terminator 2 but The Firm shows us a shockingly different side of the actor that’s equally worthy of exploration.
14. Better Call Saul In For An Eye Exam On Saturday Night Live
We’ll admit that the turtle in this photo looks a whole lot less menacing than the one Hank Schrader found on Breaking Bad; still if you didn’t recognize the face behind those wire framed glasses, you’re not alone. This bespectacled fellow is none other than Bob Odenkirk, the dynamic actor/writer/jokester who portrayed the criminal lawyer Saul on Breaking Bad. Mr. Odenkirk has been a big, low key comedian for decades now and has even starred alongside the likes of Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Here we see him looking incredibly different but sounding exactly the same.
Other hidden Odenkirk gems include his 1997 standup showcase, his guest appearance on Roseanne and a completely unexpected/obscure role as a bookstore clerk in The Truth About Cats and Dogs. The YouTube clip of this Saturday Night Live performance starring a young Bob Odenkirk depicted above is worth checking out if only to hear the voice of Saul coming out of a turtle decades prior to the creation of the character.
13. Jane Margolis Was “Far Out” On The Gilmore Girls
From the life of the party to “’til death do us part,” Krysten Ritter continues to enchant viewers with her radiant and often quirky personality. The above pictured Gilmore Girls character she once portrayed was light hearted, giddy and cheerful, a far cry from the moody, drug addicted persona she would later take on in Breaking Bad. During her Gilmore Girls era, Ritter put on a flawless sorority worthy performance, complete with a shrill, energetic voice and offbeat expressions.
As Lucy, the art student, she uttered kitschy phrases like “that’s far out” and “I’m totally into it”, emphasis on the totally. Today, we see her in a new, compelling role, as conflicted ex-super heroine Jessica Jones in the ongoing Marvel series.
While the many faces of Krysten Ritter make her a complex character both onscreen and off, art is a recurring theme in most of her roles- including her portrayal of Jane Margolis in Breaking Bad. During a now iconic scene that occurred shortly before her character’s unexpected death, she oozed about an artist’s depiction of a door, explaining to Jessie just how deep the drawing really was. Later, Jessie would replay this moment repeatedly in his mind, even going as far as to save the cigarette she had been smoking when they had the conversation.
12. Skinny Pete Is A Cowboy At Heart
You might remember Jessie Pinkman’s endearing bestie Skinny Pete as a goofy fiend with a knack for getting himself and his friends into sticky situations. What you might not know is that prior to portraying the smalltime drug peddler we grew to know and love, Skinny Pete (real name Charles Baker) was a big time voice over actor and a versatile talent able to go from dealer to cowboy without even breaking a sweat. In his time onscreen in Shroud, a western style vampire film that manages to incorporate Dracula, cowboys and royalty, he really shone. Texas is a recurring theme for this dynamic actor who attributes his seamless transition between characters to his military upbringing- a life that caused him to have to constantly adapt to new surroundings. His role as Skinny Pete was actually a one-off that materialized into a full time gig. Mr. Baker was surprised when the crew invited him back for a second stint and gave his character lines and a name.
11. Skyler Wasn’t Exactly Wife Material On Seinfeld
What is the deal with Breaking Bad stars and their “back in the day” Seinfeld guest appearances? (That is being said in my Jerry Seinfeld standup voice of course). But in all seriousness, several soon-to-be-bad stars and starlets have roots in Jerry Seinfeld’s award winning sitcom, the show that was allegedly about nothing but seemed to bring everything that mattered to the screen. This includes Anna Gunn a.k.a. Skyler, who played a short term Seinfeld girlfriend who was falsely accused of cheating.
While the plot certainly puts the very young 1993 version of Anna Gunn in a different position, from suspicious wife to cheating girlfriend, we do get a glimpse into the future when she tosses Seinfeld her famous disapproving scowl from his also famous sofa. However, the situation on the right is clearly much lighter than the situation on the left and it’s very apparent that mature Anna has a lot more on the line both in the Breaking Bad drama and in her career. Other noteworthy Anna Gunn roles you might have missed include guest appearances on popular ‘90s shows Quantum Leap, NYPD Blue and ER.
10. Gus Fring Flipped When His Jordans Got Scuffed In Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing
Giancarlo Esposito (the actor who took on the role of Breaking Bad’s Gustavo Fring) certainly excels in drama, both creating drama and diffusing drama depending upon which role you see him in. His personification of an angered but still thoughtful New York City resident 20 years ago in Spike Lee’s hard hitting movie Do The Right Thing was spot on.
When his character’s beloved and expensive sneakers are scuffed by a neighbor, we see the conflicted persona he will later bring forth during Breaking Bad. The young Giancarlo gives his neighbor a verbal lashing but refuses to let the argument escalate beyond words despite the gathering crowd (consisting of famous faces like Martin Lawrence) egging him on. In the same sense, Gustavo Fring, even when seething with rage, manages to keep his cool, cleaning up everything from dirty laundry to dead bodies. Feel free to look for this amazing actor in other vintage classics such as Desperately Seeking Susan and Malcolm X.
9. Badger Plays An Afro-Clad Frat Boy On The Gilmore Girls
Actor Matt Jones, soon to play Badger on Breaking Bad, made his way to Hollywood via Sookie’s deep frier on a Gilmore Girls Thanksgiving spectacular. While it wasn’t a recurring role, he did have a lot to be grateful for considering the fact that his acting gigs prior to his stint as Badger were few and far between. Breaking Bad certainly did wonders to advance this former commercial guest star into the Hollywood elite. Following his time on the series, he was seen on The Office, CSI: New York, How I Met Your Mother and Key & Peele. Nevertheless, this picture of Badger as a cheer chanting frat boy will forever be emblazoned in our minds as proof that where we start is often quite a detour from the place we will eventually wind up. Don’t forget to look for Badger behind the scenes as the voice of some of your favorite cartoon characters.
8. Walt Jr. Was Hanging With Hannah Montana
Before RJ Mitte snagged the coveted role of a drug lord’s conflicted son in Breaking Bad, he was tossing that same suspicious glance over a classroom desk instead of a kitchen table. He wasn’t in just any classroom, though. He was attending the same school as the famous Hannah Montana. According to the script, RJ’s role was minor. His character didn’t even have a name but clearly his face left an unforgettable mark in somebody’s imagination and pretty soon he was a big time Breaking Bad star which is a good thing, not just for his bio, but also for his mission.
As an actor who suffers from the condition of cerebral palsy, RJ Mitte, known to most as Flynn or Walt Jr., has dedicated his acting career to spreading awareness. As such, he has made countless appearances on television, in music videos, and, more recently, as a model between the pages of magazines. His ability to go from aloof jock to tumultuous teen makes him another chameleon actor whose roles run the gambit.
7. Walter White Cleaned Jerry Seinfeld’s Teeth Before Graduating To Cleaning Up Bodies
Actor Anthony Hopkins, who is best known for his chilling depiction of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, once remarked in a viral fan letter, that Bryan Cranston’s acting in Breaking Bad was some of the best he had ever seen. He then went on to rave about the cast and crew of the entire production. One of the things that really made the stars stand out each season was their ability to seamlessly transform dark comedy into edgy drama and then take that edgy drama into borderline horror territory- all the while making it come across effortlessly. That could be attributed to these celebrity’s past roles; for example, the past roles of Breaking Bad lead actor Bryan Cranston.
You may know him as Walter White, or his street name Heisenburgh, but before he was breaking down corpses with scientific compounds and slinging the highest quality of meth the silver screen has ever seen, he was cleaning Jerry Seinfeld’s teeth. As Seinfeld’s dentist, the infamous re-gifter, he incited a great many laughs and his clean cut appearance was definitely a dramatic contrast to his most famous role. Between dentistry and chemistry, Mr. Cranston has also managed to put on convincing performances as an astronaut, a colonel, and a neighbor of Doug Heffernan on the sitcom King of Queens. Talk about range!
6. Marie Schrader Played the Victim on NCIS
Actress Betsy Brandt, who played Marie Schrader on the Breaking Bad Series, had us all wrapped up in her drama and petty thievery. She did a great job portraying the sometimes manipulative kleptomaniac with a DEA agent for a husband who’s constantly seeking attention and sympathy. While there were certainly several other characters we’d gladly cry a river for, Marie Schrader always seemed to need the most sympathy. As it turns out, she’s no stranger to playing the victim after all.
In 2004, this talented actress took on the role of Barbara Swain, a seriously confused, would-be victim to serial killer Brett Evans. Here we see a still shot of her in the investigation team’s database. During the episode, we learn that Barbara made the mistake of falling in love with a cold-blooded murderer and his target was none other than Barbara herself. Other places you can find the starlet include episodes of ER, Boston Legal and The Practice.
5. Agent Steven Gomez Went From Beer Fests To Drug Busts But Guess Where He’s Headed…
When Steven Michael Quezada stepped on the scene donning a cowboy hat the size of Texas, it was clear that he was delivering a laugh fest or rather a Beerfest as the title of his 2006 movie would have it. He’s grown a lot since then but his hat has definitely gotten smaller. Taking on a much more serious role as DEA Agent Steven Gomez proved he could hustle with the big guns, as you can see from the picture above.
What many Steven Michael Quezada fans might have missed is that his next move isn’t on the big screen, but rather in the political arena. He intends to take politics by storm as the newly-elected democratic commissioner of a New Mexico county. He now joins the ranks of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood and others who have transitioned over from drama to politics.
4. From School Kid to Psycho: Todd Alquist Kept His Cool
Jesse Plemons, the actor Breaking Bad fans will remember as Jesse Pinkman’s psychotic captor, hasn’t lost his school boy looks and charm. The picture to the right portrays a young Mr. Plemons starring alongside Little Bow Wow in the YA motion picture Like Mike. Despite the fact that there’s almost a decade gap between these two roles, Jesse Plemons manages to look almost identical in both pictures.
The innocent looking troublemaker role suits him well but he really turns the volume up in Breaking Bad when we see just how calculated and cold his character can become when given the time to fully develop. This chilling actor was a child star of sorts, landing his first major role in a Coca Cola commercial at the tender age of three. Ironically, he’s not even the only star on this list who debuted via a soda commercial. Be on the lookout for his upcoming portrayal of a sheriff in the 2017 production of American Made. No doubt it will be intriguing to see him join other characters on the list in their efforts to play both sides of the law.
3. Mike Ehrmantraut Was Born To Be Bad
You might not have recognized the now mature Jonathan Banks in his candid appearance as Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad, but this isn’t the first time he showed up guns blazing. Above, we witness Mr. Banks in an eighties stance slinging a shotgun fit for the big boys as he plays a savage criminal in Beverly Hills Cop. Jonathan has an elongated list of notable mentions that definitely paved the path for his stellar performance as an aloof killer with little respect for human life. Save a few characters, namely his granddaughter and Jesse, the Ehrmantraut that fans came to love was willing to put just about anybody’s life on the line. Now, we have grown to understand the depth of the character through the spin off show Better Call Saul. Banks fans can feel free to rifle through the crates to see countless vintage performances from him in productions like Airplane!, Gremlins and (gasp) Little House on the Prairie.
2. Hector Salamanca Was Always In “The Shadow”
If you were wondering how Mark Margolis, the actor who played crazy kingpin Tuco’s even crazier uncle, got so good at portraying a silent killer, you might want to rewatch the cinematic classic Scarface. The familiar face we see depicted above is a young Margolis riding around in the motion picture as “The Shadow,” a silent but deadly assassin. Mr. Margolis shows us time and time again that actions speak louder than words. In both roles, his characters barely spoke yet they had profound impacts and even their death scenes left lasting impressions.
This Philadelphia bred celebrity could have easily held his own on the big screen during any era, including the silent film era. That statement can only be made for a handful of present day actors. Other Margolis films of note both past and present include The Bedroom Window, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Pit and the Pendulum, Oz and, most recently, American Horror Story’s Asylum edition.
1. The Price Was Right For Jesse Pinkman
Deep down inside, all actors are fans, but Aaron Paul, the man who played the meth right out of Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, got to pledge his fandom live on national television. The year was 1999 when a then-unknown face first appeared on the show The Price is Right, gushing about his deep admiration for the show’s host, Bob Barker. Today, Mr. Paul admits he might have gone a little overboard but his bidding on the furniture still proved to be his undoing, at least during that time period.
Over the course of the years to follow, the budding celebrity would pay some serious dues, enduring bit parts in soda commercials and bouncing from one sitcom to the next before landing his defining role as a teen derelict and meth dealer with a conscience. Aaron Paul fans do have quite a few random reels to rifle through if they’d like to really get to know this actor. His roles range from minor parts on solitary episodes of vintage shows like ER, CSI:Miami, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, to sporadic appearances in short films such as Candy Paint and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. He’s currently producing and starring in the television series The Path.
As you can tell, the walk to fame is an individual experience that differs greatly. One of the things that makes a star superior, however, is their ability to change with each season. Because of this, Breaking Bad will forever be remembered as the show that provoked us to laugh, cry, and bite our fingernails for hours on end, as we watched its performers go from dark and moody to edgy, comedic and downright terrifying.