Last year, Chris Freihofer was on the “Breaking Bad” set in Albuquerque, N.M., talking to his friend and fellow actor Charlie Baker, who plays babbling, low-level methamphetamine dealer Skinny Pete on the show.
It was Freihofer's first day of filming on what was supposed to be a single-episode appearance on “Breaking Bad,” one of the most acclaimed television dramas of the past decade, and the Norman-based actor did not want to leave.
But Freihofer said Baker told him the cameras might not stop rolling for him after all on “Breaking Bad,” which returns for the first of its final eight episodes at 8 p.m. Sunday on AMC.
“I've known him for years, and he was like, ‘You never know! I was supposed to do only one episode, so you never know — you might be back!' And I was like, ‘Don't even tell me that kind of stuff.' It was such a great experience that I didn't want to be disappointed,” Freihofer said.
“Then, two weeks later, I got an email from my agent: ‘Check your availability for two more episodes.' I can't explain how excited I was, because it was such an easygoing, nice set. Everybody there was just fantastic.”
Freihofer, who has acted for more than two decades, found out later from “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan that the expansion of his character, corrupt lawyer Dan Wachsberger, was done based on what Gilligan saw from the actor's initial performance.
“We had a wrap/kickoff where he showed the premiere of Season 5 at this big party,” Freihofer said. “I was talking to Vince there, and he said they liked what I did in episode three so they wrote me into a couple more episodes.”
Those episodes included the 2012 finale, a landmark “Breaking Bad” installment in which Walter White, the high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin played by Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, protected his power by ordering a series of prison murders. The series of deaths played out like the climactic murders of rival mafia bosses in “The Godfather,” and Freihofer's character was at the center of it all.
Quick to catch up
While the series has steadily increased in popularity since its 2008 debut, Freihofer had yet to actually see a single episode before his audition, which he did via video from his Norman office.
“It was just one of those great things like ‘Mad Men' and ‘Weeds' that I hadn't seen,” Freihofer said.
After he won the role, Freihofer quickly watched the pilot episode and was knocked out, but as he was filming his first scenes, he was completely in the dark as to what had happened to Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and the other “Breaking Bad” anti-heroes involved in the cooking and distribution of an extremely pure, highly addictive strain of meth.
“I get out there and I'm doing stuff where I've got no idea what's going on with the show, but I don't want anyone to tell me because I want to catch up,” he said. “By the time I get out there to do the next two episodes, I was up through season 3.”
In more than two decades of acting, Freihofer has appeared in numerous films and television series, including “Eye of God,” “W.” and “Friday Night Lights,” a series that, like “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones,” is regularly brought up as evidence that television is going through another “golden age.”
In addition to his on-camera work, he runs Chris Freihofer Casting, regularly assembling casts for regional film productions including “Light From the Darkroom,” currently filming in Oklahoma City. He also runs Norman's The Actor Factory, an acting school that helps prepare local talent to work on such films.
Freihofer said series such as “Breaking Bad” and “Friday Night Lights,” which shot on location in Albuquerque and Austin, respectively, benefit from the tax incentives provided by New Mexico and Texas, and his appearances in those series were a direct result of those programs.
“That's why actors like me get to be a part of shows like this,” he said. “If not for the tax incentives, they'd just cast them out of L.A. and New York.”