Characters of that type — complicated, compromised, nuanced, complex — are increasingly the domain of television rather than feature films, where Johnson made his name. Though his filmography is refreshingly free of dumb action movies and superhero franchises, I ask if he thinks the “tentpoling” of the film industry, and the way that thinking tends to de-emphasize strong writing, has led to so much good stuff on television these days.
“I did a movie that David Chase wrote and directed last year called Not Fade Away,” he tells me, “and to his generation, movie writers, actors, directors somewhat looked down on television. But then as movies became a little bit safer and they started making less of them, there needed to be an outlet for this, I think, original storytelling. And luckily, with so many cable stations you don’t need 20 million viewers; you can be a success with two or three million viewers. So now there are people doing very strange and unorthodox stories on all these cable networks that I think represent the best of storytelling right now — and you know, there’s still obviously some very good features, but I’m most impressed with television. And all of my feature friends, if they’re not already involved in television, they want to be.”
You can’t blame them — any given episode of Breaking Bad bests most of this year’s feature films. I ask Johnson about the upcoming final season, and what he and the rest of the creative staff hoped to achieve in these closing episodes. Creator Vince Gilligan, Johnson says, “wanted more than anything just to know when it was going to end so that he could write to that ending and not just have it peter out. I think he was aware of several shows that had long outlived their relevance and treaded water for a while, and so he just wanted to know, you know, how much life we do have and then write to it. And without revealing anything, I think he’s found a really brilliant way of finishing all of the characters, all of the stories, and all of the arcs. You can see how Breaking Bad has built from season to season, and in fact it’s sort of become a different show than the show it started.”
With that major project coming to an end, I couldn’t help but ask Johnson about returning to one of my favorites among his films. There’s been chatter for years about a Galaxy Quest sequel — a prospect that the producer finds both exciting and upsetting.
“I wish,” he says. “It’s complicated. I can’t get into it because it only gets me angry, because I’m so proud of that movie… For a while there, and someday we may actually get there, we actually talked about doing a television show which would be sort of fun because it would be a TV show looking at a movie that’s looking at a TV show, something like that. So I wish I could answer you and I wish we did have a sequel or certainly a half hour comedy based on it. So we’ll see, it’s not over.”
Rectify premieres Monday on the Sundance Channel. The final season of Breaking Bad premieres August 11.