Dean Norris has turned out to be one of the more compelling characters on AMC’s Breaking Bad, playing DEA agent Hank Schrader but it was difficult for Norris to choose acting as his career.
“It was a tough decision, because I went to Harvard, and I was the first kid in my family to go to college—and my parents didn’t go to college,” he told NPR. “So on one level, you’re like, wow, here’s the lottery out of the lower middle class by getting this ticket into Harvard. And I had a choice to either go into investment banking or pursue acting, and I talked to a lot of people. I had done some plays with the American Repertory Theater there in Boston, so I had other professional actors who were making a living…and I asked them what they thought my chances were.
“And I figured these guys all made a living. They didn’t make as much money as someone on TV or film, but I said, I’m standing backstage in some tights and a codpiece, watching grown men onstage, and it was just electric. There’s 800 people out there, and there’s just something magical about being backstage, ready to go onstage, and all your colleagues are out there. And I said, man, if this is as good as it gets and I can do this the rest of my life—be a repertory actor—I’d be a happy man.”
However, Norris has been faced with some typecasting issues in his career. “Well, you know, if you stop in any doughnut shop, and you see three cops eating doughnuts, one of them is gonna look like me,” he said. “I don’t know why that is…but I guess you have a certain look, it’s kind of an authoritative law enforcement-type look, and that look is certainly the first thing that people cast you with before you get a chance to do some acting.”
Not only does Norris have the face of a cop, he also has the face of someone slightly older. “I was always playing 10 years older than I was because I was losing my hair, and I just had that kind of look,” he said. “So I was playing 35-year-olds when I was 25, always playing 45-year-olds when I was 35. And I always felt when I got into my mid-to-late 30s, that would be the time when I would be playing characters that fit who I was…I think people kind of hit their peak when they’re young, and I have no complaints because I made a really good living…I would rather be having all this stuff happening now than having had it happen at 25 and not happen again.”
Breaking Bad airs on AMC, Sundays at 10 p.m.