‘Breaking Bad’: Aaron Paul Earned $150,000 Per Episode, Way Less Than Bryan Cranston
It’s always awkward discussing salaries at work, and those conversation can become especially difficult for actors on popular TV shows. With a few notable exceptions, most actors face salary discrepancies for various reasons. Like the two lead actors in AMC’s smash hit Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston (Walter White) and Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) remain great friends even years after the series finale aired. But did their vastly different salaries ever cause an issue between them?
Jesse Pinkman wasn’t supposed to be a main ‘Breaking Bad’ character
Fans of the show can’t fathom a world without the dynamic duo of Walt and Jesse. The pair teams up to cook meth and though their relationship is imbalanced, they actually need each other. Walt is a high school chemistry teacher with the technical expertise to make a pure meth product.
However, Jesse is an experienced dealer who puts Walt in contact with the people who can move his product. Neither would become successful without the other. Still, showrunner Vince Gilligan said Jesse’s character only survived past season 1 because of the chemistry between Cranston and Paul.
“It became pretty clear early on that that would be a huge, colossal mistake to kill off Jesse,” Gilligan said during an interview. “But the idea was … I didn’t know how important Jesse was [going to be].”
Aaron Paul earned way less per episode than Bryan Cranston
Compared to some other contemporary actors, neither Cranston nor Paul had exorbitant salaries considering how popular Breaking Bad was. According to Business Insider, Cranston brought home $225,000 per episode by the end of the series.
Meanwhile, Paul earned $150,000 per episode. Their income for the final season of Breaking Bad was $3.6 million and $2.4 million respectively.
It’s a lot less than Walt and Jesse made selling their blue meth. But acting has the added benefit of being legal and way less dangerous than drug dealing in Albuquerque.
The earning potential didn’t stop with ‘Breaking Bad’
Of course, being the lead actors on a hit show has financial benefits beyond just the base salary.
While Cranston was already a familiar face in Hollywood, his work as Heisenberg helped him transition from more comedic roles like Malcolm in the Middle to more serious work, like his latest project Your Honor.
And for Paul it meant getting national name recognition that led to more job offers, including the highly anticipated made-for-TV sequel El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. The overall experience helped him grow, too. “At the beginning of my career I was not great. Even at the beginning of Breaking Bad – I was OK, I got the job,” Paul told The Guardian in a 2019 interview. “But I grew so much as an actor. Everyone saw it.”
It would take way more than unequal salaries to come between Paul and Cranston, who are still so close now. The duo launched a liquor brand together called Dos Hombres Mezcal, helping earn them even more as a team.