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What the villains of Breaking Bad are like in real life - Exclusive

Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad universe is home to some of the most memorable villains in television history: Walter White. Gustavo Fring. Uncle Jack, the neo-Nazi. Tuco Salamanca. Todd Alquist. "The Cousins." Lydia Rodarte-Quayle. Lalo Salamanca.

That last name is pretty new, but since his debut in Better Call Saul's fourth season, Lalo has made a big impact. This season, Lalo has gone head-to-head with Gus, brought the newly christened Saul Goodman into the world of the cartel, and made life very difficult for both Mike Ehrmantraut and Nacho Varga — and he's just getting started. The charming narco may always have a smile on his face, but make no mistake, he's as dangerous as they come.

On the other hand, actor Tony Dalton, who plays Lalo, is nothing like his on-screen persona (although, like Lalo, he says he's a decent cook). That's by design. "I work hard to make sure that the character is far off away from me, but also, very true to the story and true to itself," Dalton tells Looper.

Lalo is closer to Jules Winnfield, Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction — "this sort of smartass, sort of scary, but kind of carefree, kind of cool guy" — than Dalton himself, the actor claims. Lalo's oozing charisma isn't based on Dalton, but someone he knows. "I have a friend down here in Mexico who's just the most charming guy in the world, so I kind of grab a little bit of him," Dalton says.

A rogues gallery that's not so scary in person

According to Dalton, that's pretty much how it is in the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul world. On the show, "it's one bad guy over another bad guy. They're all bad guys. Even Saul is a bad guy." Once the cameras stop rolling, though? "I've been working in this business for 20 years," Dalton says, "and I've never worked with a crew that's this cool and this great."

Take Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Walter White's arch-nemesis Gus Fring, for example. While the cruel Chilean drug lord is all-business on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, he's very different in real life. "He's so generous," Dalton says. "He's very fun to be around, and he's very noble, and he's very much into yoga and he's very spiritual."

Same goes for Jonathan Banks, who plays criminal fixer Mike Ehrmantraut. "Banks and I have become good friends. He's a great guy," Dalton says. Unlike his character, Banks has a healthy sense of humor, too. "Banks comes up to me, he's like, 'Hey kid, don't get mad if I have to kill you. You know?'" Dalton says, dropping into a pitch-perfect Banks impression.

That continued for a few days, until Banks realized that Dalton had been promoted to a regular cast member. "Finally he came up to me, he goes, 'So you're a series regular, kid.' I was like, 'Yeah,'" Dalton remembers, laughing. "'Why didn't you tell me? I thought I was going to kill you!' Screwing around with me is all."

The words make the men (with a little help)

The Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul casts do have a few things in common with their characters. Because plot twists are so key to the Breaking Bad experience, they've all become pretty good at keeping secrets — even big ones, like the fact that El Camino, Netflix's Breaking Bad spin-off movie, was filmed without anyone knowing. "It's sort of like a speakeasy. It's known, but nobody really mentions it. It's just like, you can't say anything," Dalton explains.

However, the Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad troupe are mostly very different from the people they play. For that, credit Better Call Saul co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and the writing staff for creating such strong and distinct characters. "They have it so clear where they're going and what the secret is and where the characters are going, where the story is going and what the tone and the genre is," Dalton says. "They run a tight ship."

That doesn't mean that the actors can't bring their own touches to the characters, of course. For example, Lalo wasn't always supposed to be so charming. "I saw Breaking Bad and I saw Better Call Saul before I got the job, and I thought there needs to be somebody besides Bob [Odenkirk], besides Jimmy, who is also kind of smiling and carefree and a little bit mischievous in the bad guy's part," Dalton says.

Lalo is still Gilligan and Gould's creation, but the showrunners do use Dalton's performance to inform the character. "When they see something that works, they go with it," Dalton explains. "I'll start doing things and Vince will go, 'Do that. Do that more. Let's do that with your hand all the time.'" Over time, those things add up, giving Lalo more depth and helping the writers decide where to take him next.

According to Dalton, that's a pretty wild place — when he got the final scripts of Better Call Saul's latest season, the actor "started jumping up and down on my sofa, in my apartment in Albuquerque. I was like, 'This is out of control,'" — but for now, all of the villainy is solely on screen. "They're really great human beings," Dalton says of his co-stars. "It's just a great crew to be around."

Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9:00 PM on AMC.