Breaking Bad is the best drama on TV. Mad Men is more subtle, and Game of Thrones has more boobs and swords and stuff, but Breaking Bad has everything. One of the many great things it has is a brilliant cast of supporting characters, on both sides of the law. One of the most well-liked supporting characters on Breaking Bad is DEA Agent Steven Gomez, who begins the show as a simple object of ball-bustery for higher ranking agent and main character Hank Schrader, but evolves into a great mix of comic relief, drama, importance to the plot, and a major component of Breaking Bad‘s universe. I spoke with Steven Quezada, portrayer of Agent Gomez:
Steven Quezada: Sorry it took so long to get in touch, I’ve been busy.
Portable: Don’t worry about it, that’s good, busy is always good. Busy means work, right?
Steven Quezada: Yeah, it’s been a long journey. I’ve always had work, but it’s always been more in comedy. So I’m back out doing a little comedy now that there’s a little break from Breaking Bad, we go back to shooting in November.
P: What kind of comedy, like stand-up, sketch?
Steven Quezada: Standup, yeah. That’s what I was. I started out doing theater: I was a playwrite. I did that for awhile in the 80s, then I wrote a play called The First Chicano President, a comedy, and this guy in the audience comes up to me after, “You’re so hilarious, you should do standup!” and I go, “No way, I’m not doing standup. Do I look like an idiot?” Then after a few years of not making money in theater, where just breaking even was “successful,” I decided what the hell, I’ll give comedy a try. So I call the dude up, ask what it pays, he says 400 bucks, and I went there and did the show, and I didn’t know I was gonna be a headliner, I thought I was just an opener, but they made me a headliner.
P: Ah, big surprise!
Steven Quezada: It wasn’t a great surprise. I went and threw up “What the hell did I get into?” But the cool thing was I did alright, I did OK, I got better as I went. I had to learn a lot more, but I did standup for 20 years and never looked back, it was money, it paid the bills, I got a car and got to travel. Changed my life a bit. Then in like 2007 my daughters were getting older, and i was always on the road, so I really decided to give acting one more shot, and not be on the road so much. Did a few films, then the big day came: I walked in and auditioned for Vince Gilligan.
P: And that was in Albuquerque? He cast in Albuquerque?
Steven Quezada: Yeah they came to Albuquerque, so I came out and auditioned and I got the part. A couple of callbacks, they were looking at some guys in LA, but Vince really liked me; “This is the Gomez I imagined in my head, this is him right here. He’s perfect.” But the casting agent said, “He has too big a personality, he’s a comic. We already have someone big, we have Dean (Norris)!” I said “OK, I’m an actor, I’ll play it however you want.” So I started talking to Dean, we were both on the same page about Hank and Gomez’s relationship, from the get-go. That was the cool thing, right off the bat people were like, “You guys looked like you were partners and friends forever.”
P: That relationship changed so much from the beginning, you guys started out just giving each other shit and goofing around, but it got just as dark as everything else.
Steven Quezada: It did. I think those characters, at the beginning we were like, “Are we just the comic relief?” because the show is so brilliant, not that our stuff wasn’t, it just didn’t have the same layers and impact. But thanks to Dean’s great acting, they couldn’t resist to really put us into play.
P: Even though you did turn it into a really dramatic role, you got one of the only laughs of the super dark 4th season, when you’re at the bank door busting the lawyer, and you do that great smile.
Steven Quezada: Yeah, it’s a great moment. Didn’t have to be over the top, just a, “Hey” with a big ‘busted’ smile. On the internet they’ve made me like Darth Vader, and some people have taken my face and put it on the other two cops faces.
P: Yeah, it’s become one of those things people put funny captions on. ‘Memes’, the Internet calls them.
Steven Quezada: Yeah, I know. It’s alright. It’s all good.
P: I think the goal of many artists, or a secondary goal of many artists, is to be a part of creating that one thing that’ll be kind of an immortal thing, something that is the height of it’s medium. And you’re part of something that is kind of the pinnacle of television, you did it. Have you ever thought on that?
Steven Quezada: Yeah, I mean first you do it because you love it, second of all you also wanna pay your bills, and make a living, and support your family. I don’t need a big Hollywood house and a $100,000 car. That’s not me, I’m not that guy. I’m more about helping people and pulling kids out of gangs, and being an artist, and making people laugh. So when I read the pilot, I knew right then and there that I need to get on this, this was gonna be the life changer, I was rolling a 7 here. I just knew it. I never read a pilot 3 times before. Usually I just read it once and go to the audition. I read it three times before my audition because I loved it so much, “Man this is so crazy, this is gonna work.” We never dreamt people would say it changed television, and call it the best show ever. I don’t know if it’s that. I know its one of the best ever. When they look back at this era of television, no one is gonna be able to compare to what Breaking Bad did. That’s for sure.
P: It is very true that writing and acting on television is starting to surpass film. TV is where you go for true art and storytelling.
Steven Quezada: If its done well its like a long, long movie. It’s cool to be part of that. Be part of the show that really started to turn things. The way its shot, the way Albuquerque looks, the big sky. The DP of the pilot is John Toll who did Braveheart. Then they brought in Michael Slovis. But John definitely set the tone for the whole series. The acting is film style acting, and it really looks like film on television.
P: Especially those large open shots of the desert and sky. They reminded me a lot of that Jodorowsky film El Topo.
Steven Quezada: Yeah, it’s like a modern Western. Albuquerque is the old West. Mexico is a major player in all those Old West stories. I love the fact that they shot it like that. Gives it that modern Western feel to it. But its not a Western, we’re a modern city, there’s no cowboy hats and boots and horses and all that. But Albuquerque is the old West.
P: With Hank as Sheriff and you as Deputy.
Steven Quezada: Exactly. And you’ve got a guy in a situaition that he can’t get out of, or doesn’t want to get out of, and the Sheriff and Deputy are unaware that its right under their nose. That’s what’s cool about this last season.
P: Waiting for that realization that eventually came on the toilet.
Steven Quezada: Oh man, after that my phone and email went off the hook, my friends like, “You’re gonna leave us hanging there!” and I’m like, “I’m the actor, I didn’t do this!” it was a great ending to get everyone to come back next year.
P: Do you have any idea why all the better writers and actors are drifting towards television? Years ago people would ‘move up’ to movies, but now so much great stuff is on TV.
Steven Quezada: Well, I think actors love to act. Actors love to work. With film and the recession and how much money is out there to make films, they’ve really stopped making as many. There’s less work out there. With a movie you shoot 30-50 days, compared to 6 months of work on television. Within that 6 months these guys are making good money. Bryan [Cranston] though, it’s different for him, he loves TV and the 6 months of work, 6 months off, but now he’s in every movie! Every time I see a trailer, there’s Bryan! So the opposite happened to him. But for a lot of these guys it’s 6 months of work, and now finally people are taking TV serious for acting, like Kathy Bates in Harry’s Law. That’s meaningful work. It’s good to see that. All the guys in Sons of Anarchy are great, that’s really well done. Haven’t seen Homeland though. But they swept the Emmy’s.
P: A lot of your fans got pretty upset about that.
Steven Quezada: Can’t judge that or say anything about it, I haven’t seen it. I have to wait ’til I can see it and make my own decision.
P: At the Emmys, how did you feel about the high representation of Latino actors?
Steven Quezada: It was great! In the area where I live, it’s half-Latino, so to see TV represent that is awesome. I think we wanna do more. Thats what I’m pitching NBC in a couple weeks, it’s a series I wrote with some friends, called Duke City, where I play a DEA agent who goes undercover in a gang, and by default becomes the leader of the gang. It’s really high drama, lots of conflict. Bryan loved it, he read it and said, “Oh man, this is amazing.” Got some really cool people on board. It’d be the first drama with a lead roll played by a Latino. They’ve had comedies, but no drama yet. For me, if that happens, that’ll be big. It’s hard to say that over Breaking Bad, but for me personally that would be big.
P: So would you be taking a lead writing role, or mostly acting?
Steven Quezada: I definitely would step out of a writing role if I was going to act. We already developed everything, so I’d just bring in my two great writers and a writing staff, and I could concentrate on acting. A lot of people wear too many hats and their art suffers for it. And that’s what’s cool about TV and film: it’s a collaboration of a bunch of great artists, not just one.
P: I hope we get to see that. So you’re from ABQ?
Steven Quezada: Born and raised. I went to LA for awhile, but now I’m back here, and I want to work here. I really love it here. My family is here, it’s a slower pace, I like that. My kids fell in love with it, they love being back, so hopefully this is where we can stay.
P: How do you feel about the representation of Albuquerque in Breaking Bad?
Steven Quezada: I mean, I don’t think much of it. Every city has the same stuff going on underneath the surface. I’m not gonna avoid Vegas because of CSI.
P: Earlier you mentioned keeping kids out of gangs?
Steven Quezada: I work with Youth Development Incorporated. Right now I do some programs, one called the Actors Corps, and help some kids that don’t have the opportunity to learn film acting and how to film, and write, and lighting and equipment, and I have a late night talk show that’s the #1 talk show out here, called the After After Party, and I train kids there, have them work cameras and PA, so I do a few things like that. Thats the big program I try to get funding for, and work really hard for.
P: So the show is staffed by the kids you’re helping out?
Steven Quezada: Yup, pros with kids working underneath them, if you wanna watch the show you can find it at askmilton.tv.
P: With that experience kids can get opportunities to really get into the biz?
Steven Quezada: If they want to, but it also gives them confidence. If they suck at school, teachers are mean to them, that’s how they end up in gangs. And if we give them confidence that’s not gonna happen.
P: Thanks for doing that for your community. And thanks for talking to me. And thanks for being in Breaking Bad, it’s super entertaining.
Steven Quezada: No problem.