‘Breaking Bad’: Walter White Was Supposed to Have a Crisis at 40 Until Network Execs Stepped In

Even the most avid Breaking Bad fans don’t notice all the subtle references on the show. That’s because so much care goes into planning every aspect down to the colors of clothing main actors wear. One of the reasons Breaking Bad gets called the greatest drama of all time is this careful consideration for every tiny detail.

One important attribute of Walter White was almost different, and if it that happened, the whole show would have changed dramatically. Mostly because Bryan Cranston may not have gotten the part.

Walter White has a midlife crisis at 50 on ‘Breaking Bad’

Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston | Doug Hyun/AMC

Usually people think of a midlife crisis happening sometime between the ages of 40 and 50. In the case of Walter White, that situation was spurred by a cancer diagnosis and the realization that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his family after death.

The part of Walter White was originally designed for someone younger. Walt was going to have his crisis at 40, but then AMC network executives decided to change the age so Bryan Cranston could play the part, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“We pushed for him to be 50 because at 40 he’s a little too young to have this crisis,” former AMC VP of production Vlad Wolynetz said. “It was just so much more impactful to have him a little bit older.”

Cranston was 45 when Breaking Bad premiered in January 2008.

Network execs were hesitant to cast Bryan Cranston as Walter White

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It’s now impossible to imagine anyone besides Cranston playing Heisenberg. However, AMC execs were hesitant to cast him in the role at first because of his history of playing a silly sitcom dad on Malcolm in the Middle.

“We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle. We were like, ‘Really? Isn’t there anybody else?’” one exec said.

But showrunner Vince Gilligan fought hard to get him the part after being blown away by Cranston’s work on a dramatic episode of The X-Files.

“That was a tricky part to cast on X-Files,” Gilligan said. “We needed somebody who could be dramatic and scary yet have an underlying humanity so when he dies, you felt sorry for him. Bryan nailed it.”

And his performance stuck with Gilligan. Network execs pushed for younger actors Matthew Broderick and John Cusack, who both passed on the role of Walter White. That’s when they finally agreed to give Cranston a shot.

There’s a whole episode devoted to Walter White turning 51

Walt’s age on the show isn’t some side detail — it becomes a central theme on the series.

One major turning point for Walt happens during his former colleague Elliot Schwartz’s 50th birthday party, which is a lavish affair compared to Walt’s own pathetic party at home. These small moments help contribute to Walt’s desire to gain power and status after feeling cheated in life.

During season 5 episode 4, “Fifty-One,” Walt inches closer to full Heisenberg when he dons his hat and purchases a new car for himself and his son, Walt Jr. The more Walt changes into Heisenberg, the more his wife Skyler pushes him away. In “Fifty-One,” she jumps into the family pool fully clothed as a form of rebellion.

Walt could have been 40, but it makes more sense having him be 50 on the series.