Actress Betsy Brandt finds herself poised somewhere between agony and ecstasy. While that may be a slight overstatement, Brandt has just finished filming the last episodes of AMC’s ground-swelling “Breaking Bad,” which will begin airing Aug. 11.
A wholesome Midwestern mother of two, Brandt plays Marie, the off-kilter, pilfering sister-in-law in the long-running hit.
“I’m so proud of that show,” she sighs, plopping onto a garden chair on the patio of a hotel here. “I still can’t believe it’s over. There’s some part of me that thinks, ‘Oh, we’ll do one more.’ Even though I think that’s really not likely.”
While she’s mourning the passing of that show, she’s packing up her family for a move to New York, where she’ll play Michael J. Fox’s wife on his NBC series premiering this fall.
It’s a wonder that ever happened. Brandt was filming “Breaking Bad” in New Mexico when she made a videotaped audition for NBC. Her husband, who works for a software firm, was manning the camera and her 4-year-old son kept running into the room while they were filming. But the network liked something about it and asked for a second one.
When she came to L.A. for the Golden Globes they asked her to meet with Fox. “I met him and he was just great. He said, ‘You know, I felt like we had this chemistry, something happened the first time we read together.’ I said, ‘I felt that, but I just figured that’s just how good you made everybody feel.’ He really is that great. Everything that you’ve heard about him — double the wonderful,” she grins.
When she realized that she would still be working on “Breaking Bad” when the pilot for the Michael J. Fox show was shot, she panicked.
Once again, fortune intervened. “Luckily they were both Sony shows and I was so happy that Dawn Steinberg [casting supervisor] at Sony thought of me. I need to give her a kidney or have another baby and name it Dawn Steinberg, because she got me in for ‘Breaking Bad’ and for this,” she says.
Brandt grew up in Michigan, where her dad was an electrician for Dow Chemical and her mom a teacher. She remembers when she was a little girl watching a TV movie with her Aunt Josephine when something happened.
“I can still picture the movie like I’m watching a video. These kids who were about my age went to a gas station, got some snacks and the parents drove away and left them, and I remember watching that. And I just had a shell-shocked look on my face and my Aunt Josephine said, ‘You go ahead and cry right with them. You just sit down and cry with them.’ And I did. And I still remember that connection to other people,” she says.
“There’s something inexplicable and something human about [acting] that I like. I don’t bungee jump or anything, but I like to put myself out there and be vulnerable. That’s my crazy. I’m not into insane, wildly courageous sports, but I can do this and survive.”
She was always creative, playing the saxophone and piano, and her passion for music never waned. In fact, her husband gave her an accordion for her birthday last year.
“It was something I really wanted. I don’t know how to do the chords, so I’m just playing the melody. I can play ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ pretty proficiently. And I also just like to play by ear and figure out the melody.”
Although Brandt has appeared on almost every major TV series, she was 27 before she decided to try her luck in Los Angeles. “It was the worst-laid plan,” she rolls her eyes. “Just dumb, dumb, dumb. If I thought of it now I’d say, ‘Don’t move to L.A. You’re almost 30 and you’ve done nothing. That’s crazy.’”
When they first arrived, her husband had a job he didn’t like and she was hostessing at a sushi restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. “I grew up with such a work ethic, and to feel like you can’t do anything was just a terrible feeling. I found some notebooks of mine the other day and it listed theaters all over the country to see if there was a part for me. You just have to decide you’re going to do it,” she says.
“That doesn’t mean it will happen. My identity was also wrapped up in me working and I hadn’t really been ME. So I’m thankful for that.”
Still, she recognizes that tomorrow might not be as bright as today, skipping from one hit TV show to a promising other. “As an actor, when it’s up you think it’s going to stay there or keep going up, and that’s not even realistic,” she says.
“Everybody — even huge movie stars — have downs. That’s just how it is. The work ebbs and flows. My manager and I were saying let’s remember that in 2013 we were soooo busy. So whenever it is that we’re not, maybe it’ll come back again. Maybe it won’t. But you’ve gotta love the ride.”