Exploring the True Story Behind ‘Breaking Bad’: Fact or Fiction?

Emmy Award-winning American crime series, Breaking Bad, is one of those shows you can’t forget years after its final episode aired. So captivating was each episode that fans believed that true events inspired the Vince Gilligan series.

Also, just when Breaking Bad premiered, the story of a real-life Walter White, a meth cook, emerged, and the coincidence was part weird and part shocking.

So, what’s the deal? Is Breaking Bad based on a true story? Let’s unravel the inspiration behind one of the world’s greatest television series.

What Made Breaking Bad One Of The Best TV Shows?

Over the course of five seasons and sixty-two episodes, the hit TV series told the dynamic story of Walter White, who does whatever it takes to secure his family’s finances.

White is a disgruntled, overqualified, and underpaid high school chemistry teacher trying to make ends meet. After receiving a shocking cancer diagnosis, he knew his family would end up in dire financial straits if he did not do something to change the situation before his inevitable death from the terminal illness.

Alongside his former student and aide, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the mild-mannered chemistry teacher decides that cooking crystal methamphetamine is how he’d make the best of a bad situation. The show introduces us to the underground criminal world of drug dealers and mafias through Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) story. But what makes Breaking Bad even more interesting is White’s decline from a sympathetic protagonist to a greedy, angry, and dangerous meth kingpin.

Vince Gilligan’s series is also unafraid of dropping bombshell surprises, such as the death of key characters. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger with a plot turn that no one saw coming. The suspense can be good or bad, but in the end, it leaves you addicted to the show as much as Walter’s customers are addicted to his meth.

Is the Show Breaking Bad Based on a True Story?

Breaking Bad’s storyline can sometimes be complex, but the underlying concept is eerily simple and one that anyone can sympathize with: it is the story of a man trying to provide for his family.

The familiarity of Walter White’s story makes the series look like it was based on real-life events. But was it?

Well, it is not every day that you meet or even hear of a modest chemistry teacher who turns into a brutal drug kingpin. So, it seems unlikely that Breaking Bad would be based on a true story.

In an NPR interview, writer and executive producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, explained the inspiration behind the series.

“I am not sure where the idea came from, although I do remember the exact moment the idea hit me. The concept probably had something to do with the fact that I was about to turn 40 years old,” Gilligan said.

“I was thinking in terms of a possible midlife crisis. In the early seasons of Breaking Bad, we see Walter White as a man suffering from the world’s worst midlife crisis,” he added.

So, you heard it straight from the series writer’s mouth: Breaking Bad is not based on a true story. However, Vince’s personal experience of an impending midlife crisis was a catalyst in helping him develop a story of a dying man facing his own crisis.

Where Was Breaking Bad Filmed?

“Breaking Bad” was primarily filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The city provided the unique Southwestern backdrop that is a significant part of the show’s identity.

Many of the show’s most famous locations, such as Walter White’s car wash, his and his family’s houses, and the fast food restaurant Los Pollos Hermanos, are actual locations in Albuquerque.

Who Is Walter White In Real Life?

The now 67-year-old Bryan Cranston played Walter White in Breaking Bad. Cranston won multiple awards for his role in the series, including the Primetime Emmy Award For Outstanding Series and the Globe Award for Best Performace by an Actor in a Television Series.

Undoubtedly, no one could have played Walt’s role better than Cranston. But, contrary to popular belief, the series is not based on Bryan Cranston’s life experiences.

Interestingly though, by the time Breaking Bad premiered in 2008, a real Walter White had been cooking meth for ten years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

By 2009, when the series was at the peak of its success, the news that a real Walter White existed took the country and the world by storm.

The real-life Walter White and the fictional one share so many mind-blowing similarities. The Alabama-based Walter began cooking and selling crystal meth in 1998 in Tuscaloosa county.

In an interview with VICE, Walter doesn’t skip a beat when introducing himself, as though owning his past proudly.

“Hi, I am Walter White,” he starts.

“I am a meth cook and for ten years I had the best meth in Alabama,” he continues.

Like the fictional Walter, the real one worked with a partner to make what he claimed to be the purest meth north of the Mississippi.

According to White, his drug trade career was so successful he made several thousand dollars a day, an admission that bears a striking resemblance to the money-making machine the fictional White ran in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And, just like Bryan Cranston’s character, the real Walt White is a family man who works a regular job.

“I was a family man and worked every day. My partner and I started making meth part time but the demand for the stuff grew so much that I would work a normal job during the day and at night I would head straight to the lab,” he said.

He added, “I was working in the construction industry, but the money coming from meth was much more than the construction money, so I chose to go down that road.”

Is the Breaking Bad Chemistry Accurate?

“Breaking Bad” does use a lot of chemistry, but it’s important to note that it’s a work of fiction and not a chemistry textbook. The show’s creators consulted with a chemistry professor from the University of Oklahoma to ensure some degree of scientific accuracy, but they also took creative liberties for the sake of drama and plot.

In terms of the drug production depicted on the show, while the processes might be loosely based on actual methods, they’re intentionally altered and simplified. For example, the show’s iconic blue methamphetamine wouldn’t actually be blue in real life. The color was a dramatic choice for the show, and real methamphetamine is typically clear or white.

Moreover, the show intentionally avoids providing a clear or accurate recipe for making methamphetamine, as that could be dangerous and illegal. The manufacturing process is often obscured, skipped over, or deliberately made unrealistic.

So, while “Breaking Bad” does involve a lot of chemistry and some of it is reasonably accurate, it’s not meant to be a source of chemical education or instruction.

The Character of the Real Walter White Declined Like That Of The Fictional One

Like the fictional Walter, the real Walter’s character changed the more money he made, causing a strain on his family. Like Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad, Walter wanted to make more money to secure his family financially. He didn’t have cancer, but he and the fictitious Walter shared one goal: to make loads of money.

And boy, did he make money! Yet, the thousands of dollars earned from cooking and selling drugs tore Walter’s family apart.

“When you make it big like that, it’s just a different lifestyle. When I look back now, I cannot believe I could go through several thousands in a day,” White said.

White says his wife divorced him, and he lost touch with his family. Just like in Breaking Bad, Walter Jr. says he felt his father drift further and further away the more time he spent in the lab.

Like the series, Walter’s lawyer urged him to quit making and selling meth because the authorities were on to him. But, instead of stopping the trade altogether, he moved away from Tuscaloosa to another Alabama county, where he was finally arrested.

Knowing he would die from cancer anyway, the fictional Walter Cranston went all out and was unremorseful of his deeds.

Like Cranston’s character, Walter White felt little remorse for dealing drugs. At the time of the interview, he believed he had done everything he could for his family and wasn’t afraid of going to prison.

“If I end up in prison, it’s not like I would be hurting anyone but myself. My family has their own lives now; they’ve got jobs. I won’t be hurting anyone this time,” he concluded.

In 2013, Walter White was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on weapons charges and for dealing methamphetamine.

So, there you have it– despite there being a real meth cook by the name of Walter White, Breaking Bad was not based on his real-life story; the series, enthralling as it is, is all a work of fiction and there is no doubt that Vince Gilligan did a remarkable job!

Is There Going to Be a Breaking Bad Movie?

Yes, there has already been a Breaking Bad movie titled “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.”

The film serves as a sequel and epilogue to the television series Breaking Bad, continuing the story of Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. Series creator Vince Gilligan wrote, directed, and produced the movie.

El Camino was released on Netflix on October 11, 2019, followed by a limited theatrical run and an AMC television premiere on February 16, 2020. The movie features several Breaking Bad actors reprising their roles, including Jesse Plemons, Krysten Ritter, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks, and Bryan Cranston.