AMC’s criminal psycho-drama Breaking Bad is loved by fans and critics alike, but what do former drug dealers think of it? Do they appreciate it as much as I do, or do they find it horribly unrealistic and/or hard to watch? In an effort to answer this question, I spoke to drug dealer-turned-actor Dave Vescio about the show, and found he had a different take on it than most.
Jamie Peck: Have you seen Breaking Bad? What do you think of it?
Dave Vescio: I’ve seen episodes, yes. I know it has a huge fan base and people love it. I just tend to see storytelling a little bit different than they do.
JP: What do you mean by that?
DV: The problem I have with these kind of stories is you aren’t really showing their truth to the world. Would you want a drug dealer living next to you selling drugs to your kids?
JP: Well, no. But I don’t think the show makes dealing drugs look particularly appealing.
DV: Okay, I understand. But does the audience see it the same way as the writers? Or do they see it as, the economy is bad, maybe I could just sell drugs to make money? Yes we’re here to serve the customer, but do we have another liability as artist as well? I want my guys [the guys he plays, who are generally criminals] to go to prison. I want my guys to go to jail, because that’s what you want to happen to these people.
JP: Okay, so what kind of storytelling do you prefer?
DV: I’m more into the traditional morality storytelling. Like Law and Order. There’s the hero, there’s the victim, there’s the villain.
JP: But Walt has become the villain! And Jesse is more interesting than the traditional villain because he has so much wasted potential.
DV: I hear all of this, but I’ve done time in real life with these guys. Are we here to entertain the audience or are we here to tell morality plays? I just know for me as an artist, I can’t participate in that kind of show.
JP: Okay, speaking more generally now, why is it bad to make an audience empathize with a drug dealer?
DV: [Long paragraph about how drug dealers are bad.] …You wouldn’t want them living next to you.
JP: Fair enough. Moving on, do you think the show is a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a drug dealer?
DV: It definitely does a great job at it, but the other reality that it doesn’t show is the victims…do you see the pain that these victims are going through taking these drugs? Where are the cops who are hunting them down? Where are the drug addicts? I like shows where they show both sides.
JP: Well, there are some episodes where you see the meth addicts, as well as Jesse and Jane’s heroin addiction plot. And then there’s Hank, who is getting closer to discovering Walt. And there’s a lot of bad shit that Walt does that we are clearly supposed to think is bad…I don’t think anyone is on his side now that he’s poisoned a child! There’s no way he’s going to go un-punished for that. I’d say that BB shows the nasty reality better than a lot of shows.
DV: You know, it does. You have dealers who are always trying to take out other dealers. You have buys that go bad. I think the show is great and it does its job. The only question with these kinds of story lines is, what would happen if it got killed in the 2nd season? For me as an artist, I have an obligation to put the right message out. Why not actually show death and prison as the outcome right now?
JP: Because then there would be no show! Changing the subject, how did you get into drug dealing?
DV: I was in an infantry combat unit and for me, the combat unit was a stressful world. Our motto was ‘live hard play hard,’ and some of us played too hard and got into drugs and alcohol. I hit rock bottom and didn’t know what to do next. I’m making wrong decision after wrong decision. One thing leads to another, I need more money…the only way to get more money is to sell drugs. I got to the point where I had four runners selling drugs for me and a fifth runner who was undercover cop, but I didn’t care because I didn’t see a way out. Compared to being in the infantry, it was easy.
JP: What kind of drugs did you sell?
DV: I mostly did LSD. I gave it to my runners in bulk.
JP: What were you addicted to?
DV: My drug of choice back then was alcohol. I experimented with that world, but for me what I did do the worst of was alcohol.
JP: Were there parallels between being in the army and being a criminal?
DV: Definitely. There’s the Geneva code, but do people actually follow it? No. There are no rules. There are no cops within our realm. I think its hard for individuals to deal with life in the military. You’re asking human beings to do things they don’t wanna do, but they have to, there’s no choice. It can change you. I think that every time you experience something brand new, you can never go back to the way you were before.
JP: Do you think it’s possible to have a constructive experience on LSD? It’s not really the kind of drug people get addicted to, and I’ve read a lot about the positive potential of psychedelics, as well as dabbling in them myself to varying degrees of success.
DV: I’ll be honest, for me it was. It made me see the art world for what it was. I didn’t do it until I joined the infantry. I was probably 21 when I started dong it. For me, I never understood art. It looked like paint on a canvas. But when I started doing LSD, I said ‘now I get it.’ It ruined my life, but at the same time it saved my life. But I don’t recommend anyone to do it, at all.
Since I stopped being a villain, I’m a hero in real life…I’m always calling 911 if there’s traffic accidents, and I made a citizens’ arrest last September.
Dave Vescio will appear alongside Kate Beckinsale and Nick Nolte in the upcoming film The Trails of Cate McCall. For more on Vescio, check out his IMDB page.