Charles Baker: “Yo, I’m Skinny Pete” on “Breaking Bad”
“Yo man, I’m Skinny Pete”, said Charles Baker, and it was the beginning of his character on “Breaking Bad”, one of the most important and successful TV shows, created by Vince Gilligan.
Charles was called for an audition to portray “Skinny Stoner”, who was supposed to be in only one episode, but he stayed for many episodes and seasons. “Skinny Pete” became one of Jesse’s best friends and with Badger and Combo they made a great group selling methamphetamine.
“Skinny Pete” has had a lot of wonderful moments: when he introduces Tuco to Jesse, when he talks with Badger about movies and videogames, when he plays the piano (a surprise for everyone), among others. He was funny, a good friend and a support for Jesse, when he was facing tough times.
In a conversation with The Outsider Argentina, Charles Baker spoke about his audition, how was it like to portray Skinny Pete and his hidden talents.
How did you start acting?
That’s a tough one to answer, really. I would say I started acting when I was little, 3 or 4 years old, as a way to get attention from friends and family. I started acting in plays and musicals when I was in 7th grade, in school productions. I mostly only did musical theatre at first, but in college I did a play, without music, and got hooked immediately. I didn’t start acting on TV and film until I was about 33, when I finally decided that I wanted to try to make a living doing what I love!
How did you get the opportunity of being on “Breaking Bad”? Do you remember your audition? How was it like?
I was taking an acting class from a local casting director when Breaking Bad was first being developed. When the show started filming, she was hired to help cast the “local roles”- smaller roles with only 1-3 lines of dialogue. I was called in to audition for the role of “Skinny Stoner”. I got called back to read it again, and luckily, got the part. I was very confident going into that audition, but, at the time, I didn’t know how big of a deal it was going to be.
How did you prepare yourself to portray Skinny Pete?
My first episode was supposed to me my ONLY episode, and only for a few lines, so, I didn’t think too much about the character. When we shot that episode, the director changed my performance a little, and we played a little with the character and got what we needed.
When they asked me to come back for another episode, I realized that I didn’t plan my character out enough, so, I had to recite the lines from my first episode to remember how I talked and to get back into the character that we created on set the first time. I really didn’t get to do the type of character study for Skinny Pete that I would have liked to at first, but, at the same time, I was able to just trust the writers and the directors to guide me through each episode, and added more my character with each new episode I did. I think it gave him a little more depth, which, to me, made him more interesting.
In an interview you’ve said that you worked hard to make sure Skinny Pete stays on the show, what can you tell us about it?
I was really new to this business when Breaking Bad started, and I knew, once they brought me back, that it was going to be a great opportunity for me, so, when one of the producers jokingly told me that I was “auditioning for my next episode every time I was on set”, I became somewhat insecure about my position on the show. So, I was very careful about being as professional as I possibly could- I was always on time for work, never complained or caused problems, always knew my lines and took direction well the first time- I didn’t want to give them any reason at all to decide to write me out of the show.
Do you think Skinny Pete could have died instead of Combo? Why?
I think I could have easily been the one who was killed instead of Combo, for many reasons. Matt Jones, who played “Badger”, and I often talked about how every time they sent us a script, the first thing we would check is to see if we died. I think that killing any one of us was always an option, just for “shock value”. I kind of wanted Skinny Pete to die- near the end- just because I thought it would have “raised the stakes” as we say in this biz- made the show more dynamic, but, it turns out, they didn’t need to make it any more dynamic than it was!
How did they come up with the idea of Skinny Pete playing the piano?
I manipulated that a little, I think. I heard one of the writers say that they watch the actors off camera to pick up clues about them that they can use for their characters. So, I thought of every special skill I had that I wanted to show off on TV, and tried to find ways to subtly let the writers “catch” me doing them. While we were shooting the scenes in which Badger and I try to sell the blue stuff in a NA meeting, I found a piano in a back room of the place in which we were shooting, and, during lunch, took a chance and started playing it in hopes that the writers would notice. I was a long time after that that I got a call from a producer asking me if I would be comfortable with playing a song in a future episode. I was so excited I almost cried! I knew how much of a surprise that was going to be for the audience, so, after we figured out which song I would play, I practiced for several hours a day, every day, until we filmed it. I was hoping to play the whole song, but, unfortunately, there wasn’t enough to time for that…
Which was your favorite Skinny Pete’s moment of the show?
There are so many! It was such a great show, and I had such a fun role, it’s really hard to pick just one! The piano scene was definitely one of them, but, in all honesty, since I wasn’t originally supposed to be in more than one episode, and was just called “Skinny Stoner” at first; one of my all-time favorite moments was when I got to say the line, “YO, I’m Skinny Pete!” I felt like I was a member of the cast from then on.
How does it feel like being part of a great show such as “Breaking Bad”, with all the repercussion it has had?
It feels fantastic, of course! It was such an amazing learning experience for me, and the lead actors, Bryan and Aaron, were so nice and friendly! I was sad for it to end, but, I am so incredibly grateful for what the show has done for my career! I’ve been given a golden opportunity and I plan to not let it go to waste!
What do you miss the most about the show? Are you going to watch the spin-off “Better Call Saul”?
The catering was phenomenal! I’m going to miss that, lol. But seriously, I miss the people the most; the crew was the best, the actors were brilliant, the producers were great, it was an overall wonderful experience that only happens every now and then.
I’ll definitely be watching BETTER CALL SAUL!! I hope they’ll bring me on that show in another season, but, I don’t know anything for sure.
What can you tell us about your character on “The Blacklist”?
On The Blacklist, I play “Grey” also known as Newton Phillips. He’s “Red’s” (James Spader) right-hand man; his confidant, who later turns out to be not as trust worthy as he seems.