Breaking Bad’s Mike Ehrmentraut: ‘There Are No Happy Endings’

Jonathan Banks recalls his experiences on the set ('as good as it gets') and predicts Walter's fate

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ursula Coyote/AMC

Jonathan Banks played Mike Ehrmentraut for four seasons on Breaking Bad. Ehrmentraut was an ex-cop, private investigator, fixer and assassin who worked for both sleaze-ball lawyer Saul Goodman and drug kingpin Gustavo Fring. Serving Fring, he was a right-hand man, taking and giving bullets for him, before reluctantly moving over to Walter White’s operation. That arrangement lasted only as long as it took for Mike to end up on the wrong side of Walt’s ambition.

Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan, described Ehrmentraut as “a man who knows he’s lost a good chunk of his soul, and seems sad and world-weary about it, but he goes on nonetheless because he knows his strengths as well as his weaknesses.” Which is exactly how Banks played him. Banks — whose four-decade career includes roles in Wiseguy, Airplane and Beverly Hills Cop — made it clear that while Ehrmentraut was cold-blooded, he was still warm-hearted.

And if you haven’t watched the video of him reading cuss-filled fairy tales, you really should.

(MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage of Breaking Bad‘s Final Season)

TIME: Did you watch the show before you joined the cast?


What were your first impressions of Breaking Bad?

My first impressions were that it’s cold in New Mexico!

That coldness probably didn’t last very long!

Oh sweetie, they would have me out in 100-degree heat wearing black out there. And I would be just bitching and moaning and cursing at Vince for his air-conditioned office.

So you two had a good working relationship?

The best.

What was life like on the set?

Well, darling, I’ve done this for 46 years. I got my first paycheck at summer stock 46 years ago, so I don’t say this lightly: It was as good as it gets. The whole working experience, the quality of what it was, the joy of having of all these accolades thrown at us. It was great to go to work.

(MORE: Q+A with Breaking Bad‘s Tuco Salamanca: ‘Heisenberg Is Going to Die in the End’)

How do you feel now that it’s ending?

I feel like I can speak for most of us when I say that we’re all a little adrift. When something is that good and you enjoy it, well, it’s hard to say goodbye.

As Mike was a former cop who went to work for drug dealers, do you think he related to Walt and his downward spiral?

Yes. That’s why he gives him the “half measures” speech. Mike lost his soul a long time ago and he knows it. There’s a code or an understanding between them. Mike barely had any soul left and what was left manifests itself mostly with his granddaughter. There was compassion at some point for Walt … well, that may be too strong of a word for it.

In the end, he really hated Walt.

Well, yeah. As he became evil incarnate and he saw how dangerous Walt was becoming. At first, I think he had some sympathy for him. And Mike was proved wrong. If he had realized what Walt was capable of earlier, he’d have done things differently, and maybe he’d still be alive.

Could Mike foretell that Walt was going to kill him?

No, Mike could foretell that Mike was going to be dead at some point, especially in his line of work. But you can always be surprised.

Mike was a very devoted grandfather, was that something you related to?

Absolutely. I have several kids and a beautiful granddaughter. The granddaughter in Mike’s case was so very important because it was the last touch he had with decency. She was the last thread that he had.

(MORE: Q+A with Breaking Bad‘s Tio Salamanca: ‘My Bell Is Worth More Than Walter White’s Underwear’)

What was it like getting the scripts each week?

I became more and more aware of how good the scripts were as they kept coming. The more scripts I read, the more I realized how truly great the writers were.

Was there any time you read a script and were completely blown away?

No. For this reason: because I counted on them to give me twists and turns. I wasn’t blown away by it anymore, because I expected it. I would read the scripts and I would just think, yep, they did it again.

Why do you think Mike’s death had such an impact on Jesse?

I think Jesse saw that even though Mike wouldn’t have been able to save him, Mike didn’t want Jesse to fall deeper and deeper into the pit. Mike was Jesse’s last chance at getting out.

How did you find out you were going to be killed off?

It was months before. Vince and I were at Aaron’s engagement party and Vince was talking with Aaron’s future fathe- in-law about hors d’oeuvres and I was like, “Can we talk about my f–king future?” As a joke. And then I found out what my future was. So I knew three or four months before it happened.

What was your final day on the set like?

Well, darling, everyone wore black armbands on the crew. It was a very emotional day. I love those guys. I loved my crew. Loved them.

Do you ever think you’ll ever get a job quite like this one?

No. No. Definitely not.

(MORE: Why You’re Hooked on Breaking Bad)

You’re moving to Community next. Do you think the darkness of working on a show like Breaking Bad made you want to do a comedy next?

You know, I love it there and I love the reception I’ve gotten. The people on that show are really great. They work hard, they work long hours, it’s a lighter atmosphere. For the most part they are quite young. It’s a joy to be there. Probably if I was doing another drama right now there would be too many comparisons. I am just glad to be on Community.

How does working on such a dark show affect you personally? Do you go in and out of character easily?

I do. I can go in and out of character pretty quickly and I’m glad. I’m always happy to walk through my door and be with my wife and kids. I’m always happy to be home.

Do you think the Walt you saw during those many seasons is the same Walt we’re seeing at the end of the show?

He was on his way, definitely. I mean, as soon as he commits murder, he’s on his way. As soon as he watches a young woman die in front of him, he’s on his way.

Do you think Hank’s death changed him?

I don’t know. I’ll have to see the last show. I haven’t seen it yet and luckily no one has told me anything about it.

You avoid spoilers then?

I really do! Since I left the show, I enjoyed watching it as an audience member. Yesterday, I came in from work early and AMC was having a marathon of it. I came in, flipped it on and watched Giancarlo when he sat down with Walt for the first time. Walt meets him in the chicken place — how wonderful Giancarlo was! He was this unctuous guy serving chicken in a chicken joint sitting down with Walt. And Walt was telling him, “We are very much alike.” Giancarlo just looked at him, and his face completely changed and he said, “No Mr. White, we are nothing alike.”

(MORE: Why I Want Walter White to Survive)

So you’re a true fan of the show?

Oh, God, yes. My wife and I sat there yesterday and it’s been so long. And we sat there and we both wanted to watch it from the beginning. That is rare for me.

Do you think your speech on half-measures stuck with Walt? It seems like it did.

I don’t know. I mean, it would appear that in his aberrated way that yes, it did.

What do you think Walt deserves in the end?

What happens to any of us in the end? Sorry, darling, but there are no happy endings in the end.

So you think he’s going to die?

I would think so yes. But by whose hands, I don’t know.

How do you think the show will end?

I don’t know! I honestly don’t know. I’m looking forward to it. I’m doing Talking Bad [AMC’s post-Breaking Bad wrap show] on Sunday, so I think am going to watch the last episode today. You know, since Mike was killed I’ve wanted to watch it like an audience member. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen until I watch it. I want to be surprised.

MORE: Is Heisenberg Dead? Walter White and the Light-Switch Theory Of Morality