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کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 55

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Producer

At the beginning of the show, I was told that Jesse Pinkman would not be a series regular. He wasn’t going to live past the second or third episode. He was designed to hook me up with the drug culture and then he’d be killed. But because everyone adored Aaron Paul and loved his work, and because he and Walt were perfect foils to each other, Jesse became much more than a gateway into the drug world for Walt. Their relationship became, in many ways, the emotional core of the show.

They had nothing in common: age, values, education, style of dress. As Jesse might put it: Mr. White is this big homo in tighty-whities, yo. And Walt thought Jesse was a ridiculous imbecile. Their friction created comedy and a kinetic strange-bedfellows, opposites-attract, father-son dynamic.

When they first became partners, they shared nothing except mutual dependency. But ultimately they came to love each other in their way.

Aaron Paul was a shiny-eyed kid in his midtwenties when I first met him. He was a puppy. He was attentive and playful and honest and present and vulnerable and richly talented. Right from the pilot, it was clear that we had the makings of great on-screen chemistry. And off camera, Aaron and I got along very well. He looked up to me, and I saw something of myself in him: a youthful energy. Hopefulness. As our dynamic within the story line varied and evolved, we became even tighter outside of work. That Breaking Bad ride bonded us deeply. He’s a friend for life.

Every year, Aaron and I would rent out the Silva Lanes bowling alley in Albuquerque and host the cast and crew and their families. Food, open bar, karaoke, and of course, bowling. In 2011, amid the revelry and silliness, someone whispered into my ear: Osama bin Laden was just killed.

Navy SEALs had crept into his lair in Pakistan and taken him out—more than a decade after 9/11. The day we thought might never happen had finally come.

I was behind the counter, on the public address system, in the process of issuing the next bowling challenge. So I incorporated this news into my remarks. “Okay, there are three announcements to make: First, any kid under twelve who gets a strike wins a plush toy. Second, the Navy SEALs have killed Osama bin Laden. And third, the next adult to get three strikes in a row wins a Breaking Bad DVD box set. Good luck!”

A stunned silence. I let the news sink in and I then said: “I’m not joking . . . anyone who gets three strikes in a row wins the Breaking Bad DVDs!”

I went for the joke, my default. When the laughter faded, I went back to the PA: “And that thing about Osama bin Laden is also true. They got him.”

I’ll never forget the energy in the room at that moment. Pride, shock, vengeance, relief. People were cheering, hugging, a few cried. I’ll never forget where I was that night. It always comes back to me viscerally: the smell of beer and bowling-alley wax and the disinfectant they spray in the rented shoes, the easy feel of camaraderie among the cast and crew, the looks of raw surprise and elation on the faces in the crowd.

It should have been a happy night. But then there was Steve.

Steve had been trying to get on our crew for a while, and finally in our fourth season he was hired as a production assistant. Steve was effective and professional. He clearly knew his way around a film set, and he caught onto protocol quickly.

Until Bowling Night.

Steve got so wasted that his face went slack. He lurked around the bowling alley, approaching women and commenting on their bodies. His targets included Betsy Brandt and Lauren Parsekian, who would soon become Aaron Paul’s wife.

Aaron and I organized those nights to show appreciation for everyone’s hard work. We were a celebrated show by that point, and a few names, like Aaron and Vince and I, got the lion’s share of the accolades. But the truth was that every single person who worked on the show played a part in making Breaking Bad what it was, and that night was meant for us to say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to our community, our family. Steve’s crude behavior would have been reprehensible on any night. But on this night especially it was a disrespectful affront. It also went against everything we cared about and stood for.

I didn’t find out about Steve’s behavior until the next day. Betsy told me. “Steve will have to be fired,” I said.

“Oh,” Betsy said in her compassionate way, “is it possible to just have him work in some other area of the show and not be around me?”

“No, that is not possible,” I said. “We can’t have someone working on our show whom you have to worry about running into. He’s got to go.”

I remembered the shame I felt when I got fired from the Canoga Park Chronicle. All those newspapers I’d thrown in the Dumpster. I hadn’t even known I was stealing, and I felt humiliated by my ignorance, my failure.

And when Joe Stuart called me into his office on Loving to say, Story-wise, we’re going in a different direction. All the times people had said: We’re going another way . . . away from you. I remembered feeling crushed. I remembered the self-doubt, and how it lingered.

I had never thought much about what it would be like to be on the other side. I hadn’t needed to. Now I did. And I didn’t like it. But I told myself: This isn’t akin to Joe’s hatchet jobs on the set of Loving. This isn’t the Canoga Park Chronicle canning a kid taking shortcuts. This is serious and necessary and just. No question.

I called Aaron. Lauren had told him about Steve’s behavior, and he was livid. Of course he was livid. Still, I was taken aback. In the six years of shooting the show, I couldn’t recall seeing Aaron Paul angry one other time. He was capable of gut-wrenching menace and emotion and danger as an actor, but his true nature was gentle and kind.

I’d had no question about how to proceed before I heard Aaron’s voice, but now I felt a new urgency. We had to fire Steve immediately.

I called Stew Lyons, our experienced, pragmatic line producer. A line producer handles the business end of the production, the operations, working out the cost of trucks, confirming permits for locations, making sure the caterers are there, and so much more. Stew was ahead of me. He had already dismissed Steve earlier in the day. News travels fast. Harassment, especially sexual harassment, is not tolerated.

Stew told me that he’d urged Steve to seek professional help, not just for his future job prospects but also for himself personally. Later, we learned that Steve was an alcoholic. He’d been spinning out of control, and that night at the bowling alley had been one in a series of nights. I felt for him. I hoped he would get help. But there was no way we could let him be part of what we were trying to do. We couldn’t let anyone put at risk this thing we’d worked so hard to create.

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