When you have a television show as groundbreaking and zeitgeist-hitting as Breaking Bad, it is good news for the stars, as its Emmy-winning key cast members have been able to carve out new careers on the big screen. Bryan Cranston was nominated for an Oscar for Trumbo and currently stars in The Infiltrator, among many other projects. Aaron Paul has starred in Need for Speed, Eye in the Sky and Triple 9 to name three. Now it is Anna Gunn’s turn. The actress who won back-to-back Emmys as Skyler White in Breaking Bad has her first starring role in a major feature in Equity, a female-driven Wall Street story that Sony Pictures Classics releases today. She will also be seen in September opposite Tom Hanks in Clint Eastwood’s hero-pilot pic Sully.
In Equity, which was written, produced and directed by women, Gunn plays a major investment banker caught up in power grab in a world of double standards where women are concerned. Her Naomi Bishop is a flawed character, just as many men in the same situation in movies are often portrayed. This kind of complexity in a male-driven genre of recent dramas such as The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short is a real breakthrough for Gunn, who compares this kind of complicated role to the two recent TV series she has been in. “I think it’s interesting after Breaking Bad, and then sort of Deadwood — both such wonderful projects and beautifully written, but both those roles were reactors in a way to their husbands, to the behavior and the actions and of the men around them, so it was really nice to see a woman whose focal point is her work and having that be the driving force, ” she told me in a recent phone conversation about Equity, which I found to be refreshingly honest and different from the usual boys club we see portrayed onscreen.
As part of her research for Equity, Gunn visited New York before shooting commenced in Philadelphia and got to do a mock IPO and walk through Goldman Sachs. She feels Naomi is a pastiche of a lot of the women who shared their stories with her and director Meera Menon, writer Amy Fox and producers Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner (who also co-stars). She likes the fact that though it is a female-driven movie, it is not patronizing or typical of what you might expect from past Hollywood stereotyping. “I think what characters go through and what they do to each other and with each other could as well have been men playing that story out, and that was a great thing about it too,” she said. But she added that it was crucial they portray the mentor/mentee relationship between these women in that world. “It is the importance of being a woman in a male-dominated business and to know that you have somebody who has your back, and vice-versa, somebody you can count on. … And I like the fact it brought up all these questions of what it takes to get ahead and how competitive it becomes when you get high up in the ranks. It’s the whole likability factor. You are perceived to rub people the wrong way, and the women I talked to spoke a lot about walking that fine line between being tough and being in charge and confident, but not being too much that way so that you are not perceived as being abrasive or difficult, not too tough but not too soft. I don’t think men have to deal with that issue necessarily.”
Gunn also talked about the difficulty women in any business including entertainment seem to have in demanding the same financial rewards as men in comparable positions. In fact, Jennifer Lawrence recently made headlines talking about inequality of pay between male and female actors. In Equity, Naomi makes a bold statement that she likes money. “There’s nothing wrong with women saying that we can be ambitious and that we can want the same things that men have traditionally wanted, ” Gunn said. “It’s become really an important topic of conversation, and people are starting to say, ‘I’m going to demand the same things my male colleagues or compatriots get.’ There is a ways to go, but strides are being made.”
As for Sully, which opens September 9, she plays a psychologist investigating the actions of airline captain Sully Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the hero pilot who so skillfully landed his stricken passenger jet in the Hudson River, saving all aboard. She says it was a dream working for Clint Eastwood, who doesn’t use a lot of words when he directs. “There would be times when I wouldn’t even know we were rolling, and I was told about that, and suddenly I think, ‘Oh, I was just fixing my hair and what?’ But he was so generous and he was so kind, ” she said. “And I think after one take that I did, I got a compliment after a scene where I turned, and he’s behind me setting up another shot, and he looked at me and said, ‘Sensational.’ I thought I’d just reached a pinnacle in my career. Certainly that’s something I will never forget.”
Meanwhile, despite all the movie action in her career right now, Gunn is returning to TV next season in a special arc on the NBC cop series Shades of Blue, which stars Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. “I have a very juicy recurring role, a really good arc to wrap the second season for them,” she said, noting that she now is able to jump between mediums, wherever there is a good character to play. “I am always looking for more theater, and so there’s some interesting projects that have come up that I am looking at, and some other films. I feel very lucky because I am getting to do other things. Some stage, some television, some film. It’s really a good time.”
(Warning: Breaking Bad spoiler alert.) I asked Gunn if there were any plans to do a movie version of Breaking Bad down the line since so many people are still living in denial it is done. “There is an idea, and actually I thought of that the other day because of the Deadwood movie being rumored to possibly go sometime in the near future, which would be fantastic after we thought it would happen years ago and never did. So I thought about Breaking Bad: The Movie, and then I thought, ‘But Walt’s dead.’ However if anybody can think of a way to bring that about, it would be (creator) Vince Gilligan. I always thought the sequel would be Marie and Skyler on a tropical island running some sort of drink stand on a beach. After everything that happened to their families, that is where they decided to go, or something like that, ” she laughed.