Before ‘Breaking Bad’, Vince Gilligan Wrote Will Ferrell Movies and Other Comedies
“A lot of people would probably disagree with me, but I see our series as kind of a comedy,” creator Vince Gilligan said about Breaking Bad during the show’s first season. “It’s got a lot of humor to it, and that’s on purpose. Whenever we can believably add humor to the episode, I’m all for it.”
Sure, Breaking Bad has evolved a ton since its first season, when it was a drama with a high amount of dark comedy. As grim and serious as the show has become in its final episodes, it still contains a fair amount of comic relief (a lot of it from Bob Odenkirk) and that’s because Vince Gilligan is a funny writer with a strong background in comedy.
Gilligan’s very first screenwriting credit was on a comedy, a 1993 Tim Burton-esque rom-com called Wilder Napalm, about a pair of pyrokinetic brothers (Dennis Quaid, Arliss Howard) competing over a pyromaniac woman (Debra Winger). The second movie he wrote, 1998’s Home Fries starred Drew Barrymore and Luke Wilson and was also a comedy, albeit a dark one. In his time as a writer/producer at The X-Files, Gilligan even added more humor to that show, writing some of its funnier episodes. You can read more about Gilligan’s comedic impact on The X-Files and his early movies in our article, “Vince Gilligan and the Dark Comedy of Breaking Bad,” but let’s get into some of the Vince Gilligan-scripted comedies that have never seen the light of day, including two (unproduced) Will Ferrell movies he wrote.
In addition to those movies, the Breaking Bad creator has written several more comedy scripts that have gone unproduced so far. One of Vince Gilligan’s aborted Will Ferrell comedies started as a script he wrote in 1990 called Two-Face (no affiliation to the Batman character of the same name). The movie was set to star Ferrell as a racist who develops a split personality after a prank gone wrong, leading him to become half-outspoken liberal, half-raging bigot.
Ferrell wasn’t the first actor who almost starred in Two-Face. Kevin Costner and director Lawrence Kasdan were interested in making the film in the early ’90s. “Every year or so, somebody pulls it out of the file drawer and blows the dust off and thinks about acting in it,” Gilligan explained. Will Ferrell became interested in the project in 2005 and signed on after a few years of deliberation in 2008, with producers looking to start production the following year. A director was never hired, and the movie didn’t end up making it into production with Ferrell. Gilligan sums it up best: “I don‘t know that the movie will ever get made because at the end of the day, it’s a little bit tricky, because it’s a comedy with the N-word in it.”
Will Ferrell was clearly a fan of Vince Gilligan’s writing after reading the Two-Face script, so much so that Gilligan was hired to write a second project for him. Ferrell had signed on for a movie called Fly on the Wall, which was about an unhappy lawyer who saves the life of a talking fly. The fly then becomes the man’s best friend and helps him turn his life around. The original script was written by Neil Tolkin (The Emperor’s Club, Jury Duty), but Gilligan, no stranger to writing about flies, was hired on to rewrite the script in 2006. Like Two-Face, however, Fly on the Wall never made it into production.
Gilligan has also written some non-Will Ferrell unproduced comedies. One of them, called Convenience, is another comedy script he wrote in the ’90s. This one’s about teenagers who work at a convenience store who run into trouble when they meet employees from a prison-release program. In 2011, Gilligan was considering making revisiting Convenience and making it his feature directorial debut after Breaking Bad wraps up, but that may no longer be in the cards at this point.
Another of Vince Gilligan’s early ’90s scripts was a comedy about a scientist who accidentally kills God and feels really awful about it “He invented a new kind of MRI scanner and it kills people’s beliefs. You could be the most fervent fundamentalist Baptist in the world and you get scanned by this thing, and instantly you’re an atheist,” Gilligan summarizes. According to him, the movie “didn’t go over very well at [the studio]… It had some moments, but it was not going to be a big crowd-pleasing movie.”
Gilligan’s movie about a scientist killing God wasn’t made, but a subplot from the script wound up in Breaking Bad. A season five episode of the show features a scene in which a money-laundering fast food boss tests out experimental condiments, one of them being a French dressing/ranch combo called “Franch.” Gilligan says that while the lead character is dealing with the ramifications of accidentally killing God, “his former lab assistant goes on to fame and fortune by inventing something called ‘Franch’ — a salad dressing that’s half-French, half-ranch. I confess, I was cannibalizing an idea from an old script… but since it’s clearly never going to be made into a movie, I figured ‘What the hell?'”
With Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan is having far more success in drama than he ever had in straight comedy, but his post-Breaking Bad projects will most likely continue to feature a fair amount of comedy. Gilligan loves to include humor in his work, and if he can infuse subject matter as dark as Breaking Bad‘s with comedy, he can do it with anything. With Gilligan set to executive produce AMC’s Bob Odenkirk-led Breaking Bad spinoff, a one-hour comedy-drama tentatively titled Better Call Saul, we’ll be seeing the terrific sense of humor he developed, from years of writing crazy scripts about God-murdering scientists and talking flies who befriend Will Ferrell, on display really soon.