WHY BETSY BRANDT IS LOVING HER NEW ROLE
Betsy Brandt doesn’t ask for much as an actor. At the moment, in her role on new US comedy Life in Pieces, she’s just glad her character Heather is happy.
To put this in context, Brandt spent six years playing Marie – a kleptomaniac, whose brother-in-law was moonlighting as a notorious crystal meth manufacturer, in the award-winning series Breaking Bad. It was a strange role for the actor who, up until then, had been specialising in theatre roles in Seattle.
“I was a late bloomer. I moved out to LA in my late 20s and I hadn’t been here that long when I got Breaking Bad,” she says. Brandt was blown away by the show from the getgo. For one thing, it was the best script for a pilot she had ever read and, after shooting one episode, she knew the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, was a genius.
“Vince and I have always talked about doing other projects together and I would honestly do anything that he asked me to,” she says.
But the show’s dark tone and subject matter definitely took its toll on her.
“There were days when in an episode Anna (Gunn, who played Skyler) and I would be fighting over her baby and I had multiple days like this where I had been crying all day and yelling at Anna and slapping her,” she says.
“I remember the day we shot an awkward guacamole scene when Marie tells Walt (Brian Cranston) he should just kill himself. I felt like such a baby, I had chest pains after that.
“To look Brian in the eye and say that and mean it again and again, that’s a long day.”
With Life in Pieces, Brandt gets to do something she didn’t really get to do in Breaking Bad – be happy.
“I thought Breaking Bad was a comedy at first, a dark comedy. Towards the end we would joke around on set and say: ‘It’s a very, very, dark, dark, dark comedy.’ But Life in Pieces is just pure fun,” she says.
The show centres on one family, with each episode broken down into pieces as four short stories are told from the perspective of different family members.
The show is proving to be a welcome change of pace for Brandt.
“I always said after Breaking Bad I didn’t want to try and chase the next Breaking Bad because there may not be one in TV, and there may not be one for me, but I also just like to mix it up as an actor.
“You have these muscles and I feel like if you don’t use them they’re not as ready to work, and I really like to laugh. As much as I loved playing Marie and I miss her and all the characters, I really love playing a character who is happy.
“Heather’s happy. She loves her husband, she loves her kids, she likes to have a good time, she’s happy.”
The show is a huge success in the US, with a weekly average of 10.5 million viewers.
Its premise is based on its creator Justin Adler’s own family, and Brandt has found some parallels between it and her life, too.
“I read the script and fell in love with it. Mostly I said to my husband: ‘Honey, oh my God, we are living this right now.”
On screen Brandt is a soonto-be empty-nester and while her own children are not quite at college-going age yet, they’re growing up faster than she’d like them to.
“My 11-year-old daughter in real life has just found out that Santa is not real and the whole wall of belief came crashing down, everything.
“I watched her piece everything together and it broke my heart, it broke my husband’s heart,” she says.
While her Santa cover might be blown, one thing Brandt just can’t let go of is her lucky streak. She has already started talking to the show’s writers about season two after its phenomenal first season.
It seems someone has finally found her happy place. Life in Pieces, Network Ten, Tuesday at 8pm
Betsy Brandt (sixth from left) with the rest of the Life in Pieces cast.