PLAYING Skyler White on the television show “Breaking Bad” for the past five seasons has been one of the most rewarding creative journeys I’ve embarked on as an actor. But the role has also taken me on another kind of journey — one I never would have imagined.
My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her, has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women. As the hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person, I saw glimpses of an anger that, at first, simply bewildered me.
For those unfamiliar with the show: Skyler is the wife of Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher who, after learning he has lung cancer, begins cooking and selling methamphetamine to leave a nest egg for Skyler, their teenage son and their unborn daughter. After his prognosis improves, however, Walter continues in the drug trade — with considerable success — descending deeper and deeper into a life of crime.
When Skyler discovers what Walter has been up to, she tries to stop him, to no avail. She is outraged by the violence and destruction of the drug world, fearful for her children’s safety, disgusted by the money Walter brings in and undone by the lies and manipulation to which he subjects her.
I enjoy taking on complex, difficult characters and have always striven to capture the truth of those people, whether or not it’s popular. Vince Gilligan, the creator of “Breaking Bad,” wanted Skyler to be a woman with a backbone of steel who would stand up to whatever came her way, who wouldn’t just collapse in the corner or wring her hands in despair. He and the show’s writers made Skyler multilayered and, in her own way, morally compromised. But at the end of the day, she hasn’t been judged by the same set of standards as Walter.
As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch. But as a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or “stand by her man”? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?
But I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.
I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.
Anna Gunn left out the part where Skyler tells Walt, “I fucked Ted” (her boss). And she did.
Face it, Skyler is not a likeable character from the beginning. When Walt discovers he has lung cancer he starts “breaking bad” to insure that Skyler and the kids will be provided for if/when he dies. He commits numerous murders but he is never unfaithful to his wife.
She snoops on everything he does. The throws him out. She calls the cops on him. She cheats on him. She gives all the illegal money he earns to her boss. Then she tells him she is waiting for him to die. He buys his son a car and she makes him take it back.
She rarely shows any warmth or affection for Walt, and none after the first couple seasons. So what’s to like?
Maybe her problem is genetic, cuz her sister Marie is even more annoying than she is.