‘Breaking Bad’ statues shine light on actors, Albuquerque

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Bronze statues of legendary meth chefs Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were installed Friday at an Albuquerque convention center to celebrate the TV series “Breaking Bad” and its legacy of ‘entertainment, winning plaudits in a city that played its own tough supporting role.

Local politicians, including Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, mingled with “Breaking Bad” stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and director Vince Gilligan to help unveil the artwork, donated by Gilligan and Sony Pictures.

The 2008-2013 show and its ongoing prequel “Better Call Saul” helped spark a renaissance in filmmaking in New Mexico while also tapping into Albuquerque’s real-life struggles with the drug addiction and crime.

Gilligan said he recognized that statues of “two fictional and infamous meth dealers” will not be universally appreciated in New Mexico.

“Seriously, no doubt some people will say, ‘Wow, just what our city needed.’ And I understand that,” Gillian said. “I see two of the greatest actors America has ever produced. I see them, in their character, as two larger-than-life tragic figures, cautionary tales.”

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” follows the fictional underworld journey of a high school science teacher, played by Cranston, and a former student, played by Paul, as they team up to produce and distribute meth amid a violent conflict plot twists

The show and its iconic main characters are already featured on T-shirts and airport merchandise, while Albuquerque tour guides take fans to old movie locations in a VR replica of the show which operated as a meth lab.

New Mexico has long struggled with the toll of addiction, with more than 43,000 deaths related to alcohol and drug overdoses in the past three decades. Albuquerque is also currently struggling with a homicide record.

The increase in methamphetamine and fentanyl overdose deaths surpassed heroin and prescription opioids as the leading causes of overdose deaths statewide in 2020.

Keller touted the positive economic impact of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” on Albuquerque, acknowledging the dollars and pleasure it brings to a city he jokingly called “Tamale-wood.”

“While the stories may be fictional … the jobs are real every day,” Keller said. “The city is also a character. … We see each other in many ways, good and bad”.

Republican state Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington said he admires Cranston as an actor, but the statues draw the wrong attention.

“I’m glad New Mexico has the business, but really?” Montoya said. “Are we going down the road of literally glorifying meth makers?”

He also questioned the logic of the tribute after Albuquerque in June 2020 removed a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate.

Protesters tried to tear down this bronze work of art in protest of Oñate’s brutal treatment of Native Americans approximately 500 years ago. A fight that broke out at the protest resulted in shots being fired that injured one man.

New Mexico politicians, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, have pinned their hopes on the film industry to boost economic opportunity in a state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

New Mexico’s film and television industry recently hit a new production peak, with record state spending of $855 million for the fiscal year that ended in June. Among the recent video projects attracted to the state is the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

New Mexico offers a 25% to 35% state rebate for video production that helps filmmakers big and small get their work underwritten. Incentive payments reached $148 million in 2019.

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