Breaking Bad series creator and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie writer-director Vince Gilligan remembers late star Robert Forster, who died aged 78 on Oct. 11 — the same day El Camino released to Netflix — after a battle with brain cancer. In the movie, Forster reprises his one-time Breaking Bad role as Ed the disappearer, who plays a key role in fugitive Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) escape to Alaska. In a recent interview with EW, Gilligan says he only learned of Forster’s illness a day before his death, and remembers the industry veteran as a “brilliant actor” and “the real deal.”
“Well, I gotta tell you, I’ve never met anyone quite like him. When I met him, he gave me a present. He would give people presents,” Gilligan said. “He carried around a bag full of gift-wrapped letter openers that he would give to people that he enjoyed his time with, that he enjoyed interacting with, and I was the very fortunate recipient of one of those letter openers. And trust me when I say it’s been sitting on my nightstand since the day I met him. When I heard that news, all of us were floored, I went upstairs — I was going to bed for the night — thinking about him. I reach to turn off this light and there’s this letter opener. And it’s… it’s a very emotional thing to think about.”
For Gilligan, it’s a prized reminder of the actor who impressed in Medium Cool and Disney’s The Black Hole before his Academy Award-nominated performance as Max Cherry in the Quentin Tarantino-directed Jackie Brown.
“But a lot of people got them, not just me. I want to stress that. It was a charming thing,” added Gilligan of the gift-wrapped letter openers. “It was one of his trademarks. I said to him, ‘How many of these have you given away over the years?’ He said, ‘Oh… who knows?’ He was such a cool guy. He really was the real deal. I’ve met some cool people in my time. He was one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. And one of the most down-to-earth.”
He continued, “He was just a sweet guy. He reminded me of my dad. He always did. And he’s really not that much like my dad, except that they’re both from upstate New York. He’s just the guy you wanted to have as your dad. He was this wonderful straight-shooting guy who enjoyed people’s company and enjoyed talking to strangers, was curious about people, was curious about the world…”
Gilligan looks fondly on Forster’s last day on El Camino, filming the Alaska-set scene where Ed sends off the escaped Jesse under the assumed name “Mr. Driscoll.”
“The whole thing is sad, but it was my great good fortune to be able to work with him at all. I wish I could have spent more time with him,” Gilligan said. “And by my big regret is the last time I saw him was on the set of the movie, and it was the final scene we shot with him. It was up on Sandia Crest, which is this highway that goes along the Sandia Mountains, it overlooks Albuquerque, and that’s where we shot some of the Alaska sequence at the end of the movie in the parking lot. He basically shakes Jesse Pinkman’s hand and sends him off to a new life. That was the last scene we shot with Robert.
“And as he was about to get in the van — a teamster was going to drive him back down the mountain and get him to the airport — I said, ‘We should get together and have dinner.’ And he said, ‘I’d love that! Let’s do that.’ And I’m always going to regret that I didn’t try to make that happen. One thing led to another, you think, ‘Oh, we’ll catch up later,’ and then you find out that’s never going to happen.”
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie and all episodes of Breaking Bad are now streaming on Netflix.