According to director Vince Gilligan, the surprise cameo in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie was one of the film's trickiest technical aspects. For five seasons, the original Breaking Bad series told the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as he walked a dark path from mild-mannered science teacher to the ruthless kingpin of a drug-manufacturing empire. That story culminated in a thrilling, widely-praised finale - when the man also known as Heisenberg returned from hiding to bring down those who'd betrayed him and right some wrongs. Played by Aaron Paul, the character of Jesse Pinkman joined him (first willingly and then dragged painfully along) for the ride. Jesse's fate was previously left open-ended, but, after six years, Gilligan opted to return and close that character's own journey more definitively.
El Camino picked up in the immediate aftermath of Jesse's escape from the brutal Neo-Nazi gang that had held him hostage. Scarred mentally and physically, the film followed the character as he battled not only his PTSD but forces from both sides of the law. Despite the tense nature of Jesse's present, there were frequent flashbacks that perfectly dovetailed with the film's events and informed many of Jesse's decisions. As well as retconning the death of Todd Alquist to be even more poetic, the flashbacks of El Camino served up a string of cameos for characters that had long-since met their ends on the show. The most prominent of which was that of Walter White himself. Though many fans had conceived of numerous ways he might've survived the multiple gunshots he suffered in the show's finale, the character was declared officially dead. Regardless, he appeared toward the end of El Camino for one final exchange with his former protege.
Apparently, however, that particular cameo required an amazing amount of work to achieve. In an interview with EW, Gilligan - who also wrote the script for El Camino - revealed that they only had 36 hours to film that scene. While that may sound like a good amount of time to shoot what amounted to a short amount of screentime, Cranston was in the middle of a run on Broadway at the time of production - playing Network character Howard Beale six nights a week. As such, the crew had to move heaven and Earth to make the cameo happen and also maintain secrecy. Check out Gilligan's full statement below:
"Oh my God. I tell ya, it was appropriate that this all took place in the state of New Mexico because I don’t think there was as much secrecy surrounding a project since the Manhattan Project. Good grief! We were in the right state for it, now that I think of it. And all credit to my producers and to our crew. Our producers Charles Newirth and Melissa Bernstein, and Jenn Carroll and Mark Johnson, they all sprung into action. They booked a private jet to fly him in. From door to door, he had 36 hours. So he got flown out on a private jet, arrived in Albuquerque at the airport. They probably put a bag over his head, rushed him into the car with tinted windows and drove him to a private house they had rented. They had him surrounded with people with umbrellas. I mean, the amount of secrecy was astounding, but we shot the scene and we had to do it all in one day, so we had to knock it out quick."
The scene also apparently required a considerable amount of green screen in order to provide the mountainous surroundings. "When you see the scene and you look out the windows and there’s nothing but desert out the window, that is all digitally added in after the fact," Gilligan added. "Out the real windows of the Owl Café is a big parking lot, a strip mall and a big road, and the interstate. So we had to surround this thing with green screens, partly for privacy and partly to be able to burn in the desert locale out the window." It also apparently required next-level deception to cover for the presence of the famous bullet hole-laden R.V - with the crew pretending it was part of the local Breaking Bad tour.
Cranston has since finished work on the acclaimed Network, and will next be seen opposite Angelina Jolie and Helen Mirren in The One and Only Ivan. He's also currently filming the 10-part series Your Honor. Paul, meanwhile, will next have prominent roles in Westworld season 3 and the upcoming Apple TV+ series Truth Be Told - which recently dropped its first official trailer. Fans, however, will no doubt appreciate the extra work that went into making this particular reunion happen. Especially as, though the world of Breaking Bad will continue with Better Call Saul, this will likely be the last glimpse of these two characters together.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is available globally on Netflix.