Looks like Hollywood is getting hip to Aurora’s local theater talent. Local actor/director/writer John Ashton is one of several metro area actors to land a spot on the AMC television drama “Breaking Bad” in the past two years. Ashton played the role of a car mechanic in an episode that’s set to air on Aug. 5. He’ll join fellow Radical Artists Agency performers Kathleen Brady, Scott Ward and Jefferson Arca as local alums of a show that’s garnered international praise.
The TV appearance is not the first for Ashton, the onetime owner of the Avenue Theatre in Denver and current head of Ashton Entertainment. Still, most of his recent work has been on local stages like the Aurora Fox, where he’ll direct a production of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” that debuts in September. We caught up with Ashton to talk about his return to television, as well as the response to his guest spot from his relatives and friends in Colorado.
Aurora Sentinel: How did you find out about the role?
John Ashton: Well, “Breaking Bad” had auditions not only in L.A. but in other nearby towns like Denver. I got it through my agent at Radical Artists Agency. I actually auditioned at first for a role that was on last night, as the head of the exterminator company. I didn’t get that, but a few weeks later they said, ‘We want John to read for this other part.’
Lo and behold, they said, ‘Yeah, we want him.’ You know, it was miraculous and wonderful.
Can you tell me a little bit about your role without giving too much away?
I am a mechanic who has the monumental task of repairing Walter White’s (played by Bryan Cranston) much-abused Pontiac Aztek. I love the car and by now, Walt is over it and moving on to bigger and better things, based on the (three) episodes of the season I’ve seen so far.
How long did it take to shoot your scene in Albuquerque?
I flew out there in the afternoon and had a great time hanging out on the set. I asked them if I could do that so I could get over my nerves … The next day, we went up on location to a garage and we shot it. We were done by early afternoon.
How was the work dynamic with Bryan Cranston?
As you might expect, he’s just a regular fellow intent about his work, but casual and personable in his social interactions. He was a big help. I was pretty nervous, not having done TV in a while, and he was very calming. He chatted with me, talked for a while, said a few funny things. It was just really good.
On the show, he signs the invoice like you do when you’re picking up your car. That was part of the scene, I say, ‘Sign here, you’re good to go.’ He signs it, ‘Walter White.’ I asked the prop guys if I could keep it, so I have one pretty clean one with ‘Walter White’ signed on it, then another one with the signature several times. I wrote a lot of my lines on that one. I had to use it a bunch of times.
You wrote your lines on the prop work order?
That was actually at his suggestion. There were three and a third pages of copy, and it was almost all me. It was all weird references to CV joints, axles and all of this kind of talk. I was pretty nervous.
He said, ‘Write it down. Write it on your clipboard there.’ It’s an old trick. I was a little bit scared about doing it in those highly professional circumstances, but he was like, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’
Were there any other actors from the show in the scene?
RJ Mitte (who plays Walter White Jr.), he’s in the scene also and he was really good. He was really helpful and friendly. He said, ‘I noticed you got all of the lines.’
Do you have a preference between doing theater work and film work?
They are both wonderful. They’re quite a bit different, each in their own way. You definitely feel more connected to an audience on stage, but you have an opportunity to be more real more intimately, more close-up on film. There’s less demonstrative behavior. As Michael Caine says, ‘It’s all in the eyes.’
Were you a fan of the show before you got the part?
I had just started being a fan of it. My nephew turned me on to it. I’d watched maybe a season and a half. I was really getting into it. I find that when I ask people if they watch ‘Breaking Bad,’ there tends to be a line of demarcation around the late 30s.
But I will say, putting that photo up on my Facebook page, I’ve gotten more comments and likes than anything I’ve ever posted on there … Except for my birthday.