Betsy Brandt is most known for her role of Marie Schroeder, the purple-wearing kleptomaniac sister-in-law to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White on Breaking Bad. The role not only made her a household name, it earned her three SAG Award nominations and an eventual win for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Brandt, though, had been working for 10 years before she got her big break on what many people deem one of the best series of all time.
After Breaking Bad wrapped up, Brandt played Annie Henry, Michael J. Fox’s wife, on NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show; she also nabbed recurring roles on Parenthood and Masters of Sex. At the moment, she plays Heather on CBS’s family comedy Life in Pieces.
We had the pleasure of talking to the lovely and talented Betsy Brandt about her new movie, Claire in Motion. Brandt plays Claire, whose husband mysteriously disappears. As everyone else starts to give up on finding him, Claire powers through and takes the investigation in her own hands. “Soon she discovers his troubling secrets, including an alluring yet manipulative graduate student with whom he had formed a close bond. As she digs deeper, Claire begins to lose her grip on how well she truly knew her husband and questions her own identity in the process.” The movie’s synopsis continues, “Claire in Motion twists the missing person thriller into an emotional take on uncertainty and loss.”
The movie is haunting, and Brandt’s performance is truly wonderful. She evokes the heartbreak of uncertainty beautifully. Brandt is great when she goes big, and we see a louder, more emotional Claire, but she’s breathtaking in the more nuanced, intimate scenes -- even her eye movements hint at what Claire is feeling. It really is fantastic work and one very enjoyable film. You can check out the trailer below.
Betsy Brandt talked to us about Claire in Motion, what’s coming up on Life in Pieces, what she thinks of Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul, and if she would be up for a Breaking Bad reunion. Read on to find out what she said.
PopWrapped: How would you describe your new movie, Claire in Motion?
Betsy Brandt: I wouldn’t say it’s quiet ... I usually describe it as a quiet thriller, but it’s also a great kind of a coming of age story for an adult woman. I think it’s such a journey for her, and she learns so much about her life and, then ultimately, herself. And I love that she’s open to that -- that she is open to admitting there are things she doesn’t know. And just obviously looking at her husband and who he was and who he may have been. And who she really was with him. I love the moments where she goes back and kind of replays things in her mind and sees that she may have been ... you know, you get caught up in life, and you can go on autopilot, and then I think she takes some responsibility for that.
PW: Tell us a little about your character. Do you feel you identify with her on any level?
BB: Yeah, for sure. She’s a math professor. I can’t say that I played a math professor out loud without laughing, but she loves what she does, I love what I do. So, to me, there’s not a huge difference. I tend to be ... I’m very expressive. It’s funny, my husband’s like, “You go big, you do big.” I tend to be very affectionate. if I’m angry, you know, I’m angry. And I feel like Claire is different with her feelings. The fact that she doesn’t have them. So, for me, it’s really interesting to play. I wanted you to see everything she was feeling and experiencing and realizing, but she doesn’t scream and yell about it. She does have moments where she just kind of loses it, but she really has to earn that in the film because it’s just not her nature. And that was different between us. But I loved the challenge of playing that.
PW: I liked that, even though she didn’t give up trying to find her husband, she understood her son not wanting to look for him anymore. It’s hard to find that balance sometimes. Do you feel like being a mother yourself helps you relate to roles where the character has a child?
BB: God, yeah. I mean, I think, if nothing else, you understand that weight that you bear -- that you would do anything for your kid. It’s a different kind of love than the love you have for your spouse, or your parents, or your friends, or a sibling. It’s a different kind of love from anything. And it’s not that, you know, “I never really knew what love was until I became a parent.” I mean, that’s insulting to the other people in your life. It’s just ... it’s different because you are responsible for someone. And I loved the moments also where she fell short because she’s barely keeping it together. And when her son says, “Are you going to work today?” And she’s like, “All right, I really have got to pull myself up here.” And then how surprisingly good it feels to go back to work, and I think there had to be some part of her that felt a little guilty about that but also really, really needed it. And then, ultimately, she thinks that’s okay; you know, at the end of the film, she’s not just continuing to grieve for Paul, wherever he is and whatever happened. And I think not having answers can be one of the hardest things in life. And we’re just ... we’re not used to doing that. You know when that Malaysian flight went missing ... because we need to know what happened, and so many times you just don’t know, and the entire world was so unsettled because we’re so used to having answers, and photograph, and video, and just knowing things for certain. And sometimes you just don’t know. I remember -- and I thought of this when we were shooting -- a friend of mine had some medical issues and had all these tests, and finally the Doctor said, “Can I just say, we don’t know. And that’s not easy. It’s not the worst answer because it’s not something horrible, but we don’t know.” And my friend just struggled to kind of make sense of that and really accept it. And then, for Claire, it was one step further because she had to ... how do you tell your kids? We explain a lot of things to them, especially he’s 12 [Connor, Claire’s child in the movie], so that’s part of your job as a parent. You know, I always say with my kids ... my daughter is 11, and any conversation she’s going to have about sex, or drugs, or anything, whenever the time comes to have that conversation in her life, I want to have it first with her, so that I can present it in a certain way. I think that was so much of what Claire was doing. It was trying to present either hope, or whatever it was, that she really wanted to give to Connor. And I think it was just another way of what she had to find the strength to handle.
PW: Speaking of strength, we’ve seen lately a surge on strong female characters who take matters into their own hands like Claire. Do you feel screenwriting is changing in that sense?
BB: You know, I’m just happy that we see a lot of [films where] women are the main subject. Women can be the main character. Whether it’s something like Claire, whether it’s Hidden Figures -- which I just saw, which was fantastic -- or Bridesmaids. What I want for the industry and for everybody is that it’s not like, “Oh, that’s a funny woman movie.” It’s not a girl movie; it’s just a movie. And that lead character just happens to be a female. I feel like, when we get there, I’ll be happy.
PW: We’re getting there, I think.
BB: I think so, too. Everything just takes longer than you think. And sometimes you go back a step and you go forward a couple, and it’s not a straight up trajectory. But that makes me really happy. And one of the reasons why I really [liked] Claire in Motion is that she’s strong, but it’s not an obvious kind of strength. It’s really intricate and often it’s very subtle. And I love that.
PW: You’ve worked with big ensembles on TV especially, but this movie is almost entirely focused on Claire, your character; as an actress how did you feel almost carrying the movie by yourself?
BB: Oh my God, it sounds so overwhelming when you say it like that! [Laughs] I have a really amazing gift that, when I’m working on something, I think about that. I think about the scene. I think about what I’m doing. Which I think is one of the aspects that allow me to just really love what I do. I will get lost in it. I’ve been on TV shows where there’s a lot of hype around the show before it even starts, but I really just think about that scene and that moment and just making that moment as honest as I can and doing what I need to do and experience, in whatever moment it is that we’re working on.
PW: And speaking about your TV roles, you were Marie Schrader (Breaking Bad) for six years. Was it hard to turn that character switch off and become Annie Henry (The Michael J. Fox Show) or Heather (Life in Pieces)?
BB: You know, it’s been some time since I played Marie. I think once -- in The Michael J. Fox Show, we used to do this talking heads thing where it’s just you or two characters talking to the camera, and it was just me, and I did it, and I was, “Wait, wait, wait. Wrong character, wrong character.” But that was three years ago now, and I love Marie, I miss her. But I am happy to be playing something different. It’s one of the reasons I [ask] for no purple. It’s just a different person to me. I love her, but it’s a different person.
PW: Anything that you can tell us about what’s coming up on Life in Pieces?
BB: Oh my God, I have to say we had such a blast last season, but it’s even more fun this season. We have some really, really great episodes coming up. We have a flashback episode, and it’s really, really fun -- even if it was a lot of work, but it was a ton of fun to do. I’ve just been really lucky. I did six years on Breaking Bad with a cast, a crew and an entire team that I just loved and adored. And I have to say the fact that the cast is so huge on Life In Pieces and that we all really like each other and feel like a family, it’s a rarity. So I’m knocking on wood, but I said from the pilot, “I could do this show for a good long time.” I love, love, love the cast. They’re so talented and also just a ton of fun, and very kind. It’s just a privilege to work on a show like that.
PW: It translates on screen that you guys get along well.
BB: I think so. I feel like it takes that to really work. You know, Breaking Bad was a totally different animal, it was a different show, and I feel like you have to have that, and I don’t really know how it happens, but I think, if one thing or one person doesn’t fit, it just really doesn’t work. And we’re just in our second season, and I feel like it takes a while for shows to catch on. But the response that I’ve gotten from fans on Life in Pieces is so positive and really, really lovely.
PW: Any new projects you want to tell us about?
BB: Yeah, I have a movie that I think is going to end up being on television called Fanatic. I’m not sure where it’s going to be, but I’m happy to talk about it again with you some other time when we know where and when it’s going to be. But it was really fun and something I’d never done before, and I was like, “Okay, let’s try this, why not?” And now I’m looking at some plays and some movies to do during hiatus. I finish in March on Life in Pieces for Season 2. So, you know, always hustling. It’s part of being an actor, always looking for the next job.
PW: Also, I have to ask: in a time full of TV reboots and reunions, any chance of a Breaking Bad one?
BB: I don’t know. I mean, listen, if they wanted to do it, I would happily do it. We still see each other, it’s just never as much as you would like to, and it’s never going to be as much as we did when we were working together. God, I love that show, and I love that group of people. I would happily do that. But Vince [Gilligan] has got this whole new thing with Better Call Saul, which I love watching. And I’m not going to lie, it was hard for me at first, I’m like, “I feel like it’s a family party I’m watching on TV, and I’m not there.” But it’s taken on its own life. You can tell it’s the same mastermind behind Breaking Bad, but it’s definitely its own thing. And it’s just good television. I’m on the edge of my seat. Last season, I thought that was such a great season finale. It’s such a really, really well done show. I love those actors. And I love Jonathan Banks and Bob Odenkirk together. I just cannot get enough of the two of them together. I love the dynamic between them. I love the dynamic with their characters. I just really, really love watching the two of them together. And they’re also such great guys.
PW: Well, thank you so much for talking to us this morning, and congratulations on the movie. I really, really enjoyed it.
BB: That means so much to me! I’m so glad that you did. I’m ridiculously proud of it. It’s a different character than anything I’ve ever played, and it was a challenge, but also just really fulfilling and a lot of fun to do.
You can catch Betsy Brandt’s impressive performance on her new movie Claire in Motion in theatres and On Demand today.