Skyler’s character, the wife of meth kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) on the critically acclaimed AMC series, received a tremendous amount of backlash for being a woman who “didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female,” as Gunn put it in a 2013 New York Times op-ed.
As part of Entertainment Weekly’s look back at the series, which premiered 10 years ago and ended in 2013, Gunn spoke about the “very tough” experience of dealing with and understanding the toxic elements in the fandom.
“It was very bizarre and confusing to us all,” Gunn told EW. “It was a combination of sexism, ideas about gender roles, and then honestly, it was the brilliance of the construct of the show. People did find a hero in Walt, but they wanted so much to connect with him so viscerally that to see the person who often was his antagonist — therefore the show’s antagonist in a way — they felt like she was in the way of him doing whatever he wanted to do, and that he should be allowed to do what he wanted to do.”
Gunn recalled a public appearance where the vitriol toward Skyler became shockingly apparent to her.
“It was fairly early on that a guy stood up and said, ‘Why is your character such a bitch? I mean, Walt is working and he’s doing this for his family,’” she remembered. “I think what I said at that time was, ‘Let me get this straight. He’s cooking drugs...’ I laid out everything Walt was involved in, and everything he’d done up to that point, which was already pretty intense, and then said, ‘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 bitch?’ It drew a round of applause from the audience. But there it was. I thought, ‘That’s so interesting.’”
This, unfortunately, was only a taste of what was to come. In her 2013 piece for the Times, the actress described reading a fan post that said, “Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” Gunn, who ultimately received three Emmy nominations for her portrayal as Skyler and won twice, admitted to second-guessing her work on the show due to the hate.
“There was a lot of questioning: ‘Am I doing something wrong? Am I not serving the character? Am I not serving the story?’” she told EW.
Her fellow cast members were equally baffled by the backlash.
“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,” Aaron Paul, who played Jesse Pinkman, told EW.
“It baffled me from an objective standpoint,” Cranston said.
But since the show’s conclusion and the revelation that Walt did in fact do everything for himself and not for his family, Gunn says that fan response has changed — and she believes some of it is due to societal change.
“Now that the show’s done, it’s kind of amazing how much it’s shifted,” she told EW. “In particular, women will say — I mean, it still gets me kind of emotional — ‘The journey that she went through...’ They may or may not be aware of the Skyler backlash. That’s incredibly gratifying. It’s men and women who connect with that. There’s been such a shift happening in society and in our consciousness that it’s really landing much more strongly now.”