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Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn Had An Epic Response To A Harsh Fan Comment About Skyler

In the years since it first premiered on AMC, "Breaking Bad" has become not only one of the most revered and influential TV series of all time, but a veritable pop culture phenomenon that continues to inspire memes, homages, and impassioned discussions nearly a decade after its conclusion. Fittingly for a show that featured so many unique characters and made such an effort to honor their specific narratives within the wider framework of Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) story, the fandom of "Breaking Bad" is highly diverse and varied. 

There is, unfortunately, a persistent archetype of "fan" who has become particularly associated with "Breaking Bad," not necessarily due to being more numerous or representative of the show's aims, but due to sheer volume. These fans are the sexist, chauvinistic, Walter-idolizing male viewers who loathe Skyler White (Anna Gunn) for having the temerity to disagree with her husband's actions. The anti-Skyler contingent got so loud and virulent over the years that their skewed reading of the show became a separate object of sociocultural analysis unto itself, with critics and fans asking themselves how self-professed "Breaking Bad" aficionados could miss the show's point so thoroughly. Indeed, due to the noise made by this contingent of fans, Skyler even became known as one of the most hated characters on "Breaking Bad." Anna Gunn herself has stories about coming across that level of hostility for Skyler in real life — and knowing just how to shut it down unceremoniously.

Anna Gunn questioned a fan's problem with Skyler during a Q&A

In 2018, Entertainment Weekly organized a reunion of the cast and crew of "Breaking Bad" to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its premiere, including a series of talks about the show and its legacy. At one point during one of those talks, the subject of fan hatred for Skyler came up, prompting Anna Gunn to recall the first time she learned of fan backlash against her character, via an audience question posed during a Q&A panel.

"It was fairly early on [in the show's run] that a guy stood up and said, 'Why is your character such a b****? I mean, Walt is working and he's doing this for his family.' He was so clearly firmly with Walt and thought Skyler was just this awful, nagging person," Gunn said. "That was one of the first moments where it came right to me and it was shocking. I think we were all kind of shocked."

Gunn recalled then proceeding to lay out all of Walt's criminal actions up to that point, and the degree to which they endangered his family, concluding by turning the question back at the fan. "'She's trying to keep the children safe. And because she's telling him to stop doing that, you have a problem with her? That makes her a b****?' It drew a round of applause from the audience. But there it was. I thought, 'That's so interesting.'"

The rest of the show's cast were baffled by the backlash

Anna Gunn naturally has a particular connection to Skyler as the actress who played her, but she wasn't the only one who was shocked by some fans' responses to the character. During the same Entertainment Weekly interview, other members of the "Breaking Bad" cast and crew chimed in to express their own bafflement.

"We didn't see this happening," Bryan Cranston confessed, adding that, when the concrete elements of Walter's most evil actions and Skyler's perspective on them were taken into account, the fact that she was the one being chastised by fans was baffling. 

Aaron Paul, who played Jesse Pinkman, noted the sympathy he felt for Gunn during that process. "I really felt for Anna, because she's just such a beautiful human inside and out, and she played Skyler in such a fierce way, and people just dragged her character the most," the actor said.

Series creator Vince Gilligan, meanwhile, was thrown for a loop by the backlash after bracing himself for the possibility that Walter, not Skyler, would be the one the audience might have trouble sympathizing with. "Suddenly, lo and behold, we're hearing this animus toward Skyler White," Gilligan said. "To this day, it confounds me. Anna Gunn gave such a brilliant performance. We never tried for sympathy or lack of sympathy, we let the chips fall where they may. I would change that if I had a magic wand."

The whole process was ultimately productive for Anna Gunn

Anna Gunn dearly cherished her time working on "Breaking Bad." She described the experience to Entertainment Weekly as having been "transformative and incredible," a rare opportunity that she and all the show's actors made a point of making the best of.

Even so, playing a character who was the subject of such ardent fan hate took a toll on her. "It shook me," Gunn confessed. "As an actor, my job is not to always play characters who make everybody happy. That's not interesting. In fact, characters that are more difficult in a way are more interesting. But when you are on a show that has become that big and people are identifying you so much with somebody that they dislike, you can't help but feel like you get folded into it."

After events like the encounter with the Q&A hater began to reveal the extent of the backlash, Gunn recalled feeling confused about whether she was doing her job right as an actor. If so many fans were unable to empathize with Skyler, was she fulfilling her goal of doing right by Skyler's story? Ultimately, however, she found the whole process to be productive — something she had to go through and learn from. Committing to Skyler through thick and thin taught her, among other things, that "people will always have their opinions — and it can be for varied reasons, and that's fine."

In 2013, Gunn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times

There are many possible ways to explain the backlash against Skyler White. She was, after all, a sort of structural antagonist, the main and most powerful deterrent to protagonist Walter White getting everything he wanted. But, given the proportion that things took, the anti-Skyler wave also became representative of something deeper and more insidious in the "Breaking Bad" fanbase.

Anna Gunn herself argued as much in a 2013 The New York Times op-ed, in which she wrote about the phenomenon as a mirror to society's attitudes towards women. "As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch," Gunn wrote. "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?"

After describing the point at which the Skyler hate bled into hostility and even threats of violence against Gunn herself, she recalled realizing "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."