Anna Gunn Confronts Haters of ‘Breaking Bad’ Character: It Got Scary and Personal
Anna Gunn addresses the hate directed at her “Breaking Bad” character in a new op-ed piece for The New York Times. On the show, Gunn plays Skyler White, wife of high school teacher turned monstrous meth kingpin Water White. In her essay for The New York Times, the actress details how the professionally rewarding experience of being on the critically acclaimed series has had a dark side — in the form of intense, misogynistic online hate that became personally threatening.
“My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her, has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women,” writes Gunn. “As the hatred of Skyler blurred into loathing for me as a person, I saw glimpses of an anger that, at first, simply bewildered me.” While she says she understood from the beginning that, as a character who often opposes the protagonist, she knew Skyler might not be a fan favorite. “But I was unprepared for the vitriolic response she inspired,” reflects the actress.
She explains, “Thousands of people have ‘liked’ the Facebook page ‘I Hate Skyler White.’ Tens of thousands have ‘liked’ a similar Facebook page with a name that cannot be printed here. When people started telling me about the ‘hate boards’ for Skyler on the Web site for AMC, the network that broadcasts the show, I knew it was probably best not to look, but I wanted to understand what was happening.” What she found alarmed her, and made her think that people’s opinion of Skyler reflected larger attitudes toward strong women. Gunn writes, “As an actress, I realize that viewers are entitled to have whatever feelings they want about the characters they watch. But as a human being, I’m concerned that so many people react to Skyler with such venom. Could it be that they can’t stand a woman who won’t suffer silently or ‘stand by her man’? That they despise her because she won’t back down or give up? Or because she is, in fact, Walter’s equal?”
Things also got very personal. “At some point on the message boards, the character of Skyler seemed to drop out of the conversation, and people transferred their negative feelings directly to me,” explains Gunn. “The already harsh online comments became outright personal attacks.” These attacks included death threats. Gunn says, “Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety), I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?” She ultimately concluded that “most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.”