‘Breaking Bad’: Hank Schrader’s Character Totally Changed After Vince Gilligan Met Dean Norris

Hank Schrader was a fan favorite character on Breaking Bad. As Dean Norris played him, how could you not love Hank? Even though Hank was the DEA Agent closest to Heisenberg, he was goofy and endearing enough to not be a threat. And, when Hank was in danger, you wanted him to prevail. A lot of that was due to Norris, according to Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan.

Breaking Bad DEA Agent Hank Schrader sits at his desk
Dean Norris | Ursula Coyote/AMC

Gilligan was on a Television Critics Association panel in 2013 for the final season of Breaking Bad. He said Hank was the character who changed the most based on getting to know Norris.

Hank Schrader before Dean Norris on ‘Breaking Bad’

Gilligan recalled his original concept for Hank Schrader. Breaking Bad needed someone in law enforcement, and Hank could also reinforce some of Walter White (Bryan Cranston)’s shortcomings.

Dean Norris sits in a booth
Dean Norris | Ursula Coyote/AMC

He was the character, logistically speaking, when I was writing the pilot, who served a kind of a limited function.  He was, on the face of it, everything that Walter White was not: a hail-fellow-well-met kind of a frat boy who takes over in that very first episode, Walter White’s 50th birthday party. [Hank] seems to be loved by Walt’s own son, Walter, Jr., more than Walt himself.  I hate to admit it  in a limited sense, he was a bit of a mechanical construct in that first episode before I ever met the man who was going to play that part.”

Vince Gilligan, Television Critics Association panel, 7/26/13

Hank Schrader took after Dean Norris

Norris played the role dutifully in the pilot. Hank is Walter’s brother-in-law so he remained involved with every episode. Gilligan said he began incorporating some of Norris’s real life attributes into Breaking Bad.

Vince Gilligan with arm around Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt
L-R: Vince Gilligan, Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris | Jesse Grant/WireImage

“Lo and behold, I get to know this man we were lucky enough to hire,” Gilligan said. “He is a very complex and wonderful individual, who is much more than a hail-fellow-well-met. Any of you folks who have been lucky enough to meet him know that, when you’d see him, he’s like, ‘Hey, how ya doing? Hey, hey, buddy.’ And, he is kind of like Hank in that sense, but then you get to talk to him, and you can talk poetry, you can talk literature. He went to Harvard, and he’s an interesting and deep fellow, who just by knowing him enriched my ability to write him.”

‘Breaking Bad’ grew with everybody in the cast

Gilligan cited Norris as only one example. He said the nature of making Breaking Bad was that every character evolved with the actors who played them. 


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“That’s a good example right there,” Gilligan said. “TV is this great, organic, living, breathing thing. It’s what I love so much about it. If you roll with it as a showrunner, if you let the folks in front of the camera and the folks behind the camera add all of their personality and their intellect and their artistry and their talent to the show at hand, provided everyone’s pulling the rope in the same direction, wonderful things derive from that. It’s a blessing to get to work in so collaborative of a medium, I feel.”