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Perhaps you don’t know David Costabile by name, but you likely know him by his work. The actor has held small but pivotal roles on some of television’s most critically acclaimed shows, from playing a crooked detective on Damages to a by-the-book newspaper editor on the final season of The Wire.
Of course, Breaking Bad fans couldn’t possibly forget Costabile’s turn as Gale Boetticher, the soft-spoken, soulful scientist at the heart of the show’s third season — the very same man who met the business end of a bullet fired by one Jesse Pinkman. Costabile’s Gale was short-lived, but critical to the story of Breaking Bad, even after his death, providing Hank Schrader with the crucial clue that revealed Walter White as Heisenberg.
Outside of Breaking Bad and other small-screen endeavors, Costabile has enjoyed plenty of success in theaters, working for masters like Steven Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh, among others. Right now, Costabile can be seen in Somewhere Slow, starring opposite his longtime friend and fellow actor Jessalyn Gilsig. The film, currently in limited release in Los Angeles, sees Gilsig as a woman with catastrophic luck, off on a journey of self-discovery — a journey that takes her far, far away from her clueless husband, played by Costabile.
Costabile sat down with Spinoff Online to talk about his work in Somewhere Slow, a job that yielded some awkward moments, thanks to a sex scene. He also reminisced about his time on Breaking Bad, his thoughts on how the show ended, and what he has planned for the future.
Somewhere Slow is a small, intimate film, with a small but memorable role for you as Jessalyn Gilsig’s husband. How did you get involved with the film?
David Costabile: Jessalyn and I had been friends for a long time. She called and asked if I’d be interested in doing this. We had always wanted to work together, but I’d never had the chance. It was a great opportunity to work on a project that she had been developing and shepherding for so long. I really wanted to be a part of it, and to help in anyway that I could. I was really excited to get to work with her.
Once they told me what I would be doing, I was very excited to bring my own special brand of comic, sad weirdness to what they were doing. That was fun, too. One of the things I’d hoped to bring to the beginning of that story was a lighter touch, some sort of sense of — you know, you want to give the reality of what their relationship is, but also, on some level, it’s somewhat clear why she might not be so satisfied with her life, being married to this man. Things aren’t going very well, and he doesn’t really have a clue. That was the secondary interest for me, to be able to play in that arena.
Given that you two were friends before working on the film, what was your takeaway from working with Jessalyn on set?
It was good! What was fascinating about it is, the relationship they have is quite distant. And at the same time, they’re married, and they’ve been together for a while. Fostering a sort of sense of, “Is this working?” It came quite naturally. Also, because of what Jessalyn was doing, knowing what she knew walking into the script, walking into that, for me, was fun and joyful, to blithely engage in a relationship where one character feels it’s going quite well, and the other character thinks, “You have no clue as to what the hell you’re doing.” It was actually quite natural, the awkwardness that can happen in those situations. It was authentic and quite easy to find. You didn’t have to go searching for it very far.
You filmed this movie shortly after getting married. Did being a newlywed help at all with the character? Did it enable you to look at your relationship with Jessalyn’s character and think, “Okay, this is a potential nightmare scenario.”
I guess one of the funniest ways — well, funny, sad, awkward and strange ways — is that in the movie, we have sex. My wife was quite fine with it; she’s an actor as well, so she understood what the deal was. But it was very odd, and a bit of an out-of-body experience, when you’re pretending to do this with, well, not a stranger, but generally a stranger — it made it that much more picante.
How did the sex scene compare to some of the other work you’ve done in your career — was it more challenging than usual?
Look, nobody wants to see me having sex, do they? I mean, come on. [Laughs] There are people that you want to watch having sex. We all know our place! It was a challenge. It was challenging. I very much respect all of those incredibly good-looking people who have to have sex on camera all of the time. It was a challenge.
One of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing in my career is killing people. That is really awesome and not at all awkward in the least. I’ve had to kill friends of mine, and it’s really just tremendously cool. I was a total badass on Damages, and that was fantastic. If somebody could hand me a gun again, I would do it in a second. There’s really nothing like it.
That’s not the type of character we usually see you play!
No, the preponderance of what I get to play are these sort of ineffectual losers. When you get to kill someone, you are not a loser, nor are you ineffectual. I mean, you’re a criminal, and you’re a bad person — but when they give you those keys to the kingdom, and you have that power? It’s fantastic. Especially because I’m usually just a drone at work. I think I’ve cornered the market at playing ineffectual. I think I’m quite accomplished at it. However, I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like killing.
If you get to the point in your career where you’re running with a gun — I’ve yet to run with a gun. I’ve stood still with a gun and I’ve walked with a gun, but I’ve never run with a gun. Running with a gun, to me, that’s when you know you’ve really made it.
Was it tough then, being on Breaking Bad, surrounded by all of these terrible killers, and there you are as Gale, the nicest drug manufacturer on the planet?
That was actually quite fun. In that situation, it was quite easy. The notes that most other people were playing were much more brutal and severe and cruel, and the fact that Gale was this breath of fresh air was very fun for me. I think it was fun for those other people to be around someone very genuine. He didn’t have ulterior motives. He was genuinely doing what he wanted to do. There were very few characters on that show who really got to do that and be as kind as they are. That’s what made it even more powerful when you have Jesse, who also has this deeply kind streak in him, as the one who has to kill Gale.
You were a Breaking Bad fan before you were on the show. Once you were off the show, did you stick around as a viewer?
Oh, yeah. I had to. You can’t not watch that show. You can’t turn it off. And if you start to rewatch it, you just consume them all.
Oh, I know. I’m on my third time through.
I can’t believe you stopped to take the time to talk to me!
It was hard. You’re about three episodes away from death.
I don’t blame you if you hang up the phone. I’m not going to hold it against you in anyway. But I really loved [the ending]. I had given my own endings to Vince Gilligan and some of the other writers on the show, none of which were employed, which I was very upset with. I was not involved in the writer’s room, and they wouldn’t let me in. I had a whole dream ballet of Gale coming back, and it didn’t work out, unfortunately.
But I really loved it. I thought it was really satisfying. You can quibble with this and that, hope that this could’ve gone that way, but ultimately, I thought it was incredibly satisfying. We needed to be satisfied and we were satisfied by it.
What was more challenging: the sex scene in Somewhere Slow, or filming the “Major Tom” music video as Gale?
Whew! Yowza! [Laughs] Both had their particular burn. The burn of “Major Tom” was that the entire crew watched me do it. Everybody standing around — there must have been 50 people watching me. They all just stopped what they were doing to watch. It was just this single, shitty shot, with a single, crappy camera in front of a green screen. So everybody got to take a nice, 20-minute break and just watch me go for it. There was a challenge inside of that.
With the sex scene, it was limited to a very few people who were in the room, but — [Laughs] It’s still a challenge.
I know you’re a New Yorker. I’m a New Yorker as well. I saw you on the subway once upon a time, but I didn’t want to bother you. As soon as I made that decision, someone else walked up to you and said, “You’re Gale from Breaking Bad!” Does that happen a lot?
Ah! [Laughs] Yeah, I guess it happens maybe once or twice a day. Certainly when Breaking Bad had hit its tipping point, people got very excited. They couldn’t believe their eyes, that Gale could be on the subway, alive and well. The next time you see me, you should absolutely come up and introduce yourself.
Consider it done! What are you working on next?
Right now, I have to find a job, which is the life of an actor. I did a two-episode arc on Ripper Street, the BBC show. I believe the season starts to air at the end of February. I’m in the last two episodes of that show. I get to play a total ne’er-do-well criminal swashbuckling Victorian drunkard, which was really super fun.
How did that stack up against playing a guy with a gun?
It was pretty good. Getting to have the giant cowboy boots and cowboy duster — the very first scene, I’m in South Africa working on a diamond mine. I steal and swallow a giant, rough-cut diamond, and then I shit it into my hat. [Laughs] That’s how you’re introduced to the character. I have to say, that was pretty fun. That’s what Ripper Street is like. I had a big twirly mustache, I got beat up multiple times, thrown through glass windows — it was awesome fun. I got to be as crazy as I wanted to be.
From the outside looking in, this seems like a really great moment in your career. Even beyond Breaking Bad, just in the past couple of years, you’ve worked with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis on Lincoln, with Steven Soderberg on Side Effects — some really high-profile names. Does it feel that way to you, that you’ve hit a certain stride?
It absolutely does. Sometimes, you pinch yourself. I get to do such incredibly fun things with people who are of such an incredible caliber. It’s really, really awesome.
One of the things about working on Lincoln, at the end of the second day of shooting, I kind of felt almost greedy. It was so cool, and [Day-Lewis] was so much like Abraham Lincoln, that it felt like I should share the wealth, and let somebody else come in and play my part for a few days. Ultimately, I’m glad I did not do that. [Laughs] But there are some days where you just can’t believe it.
I feel like I’ve gotten so lucky and gotten to do such cool things with such cool folks. It’s really great. You definitely want that momentum to keep going, for sure.
Somewhere Slow opens in select theaters today.