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'Under the Dome's' bad guy is 'Breaking Bad's' earnest lawman

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 7:55 p.m.

Hank Schrader wouldn't trust “Big Jim” Rennie for a second.

That's the verdict from Dean Norris, the man who plays both “Breaking Bad's” DEA agent and “Under the Dome's” conniving councilman, and it's one reason he took the role in CBS' “Dome” (10 p.m. Mondays) after five seasons as Hank.

“There's almost nothing that's similar. Hank has too many morals, it gets in the way, and Big Jim has zero, immoral, amoral, however you want to put it,” he says. “Hank (has) an obsession to do the right thing. ... And Big Jim will do anything. He'll do whatever it takes. I think he's a reptilian character.”

It's a spotlight moment for Norris, 50, a married father of five: “Dome,” based on Stephen King's novel, is the summer's only breakout hit, and AMC's award-winning “Bad” returns Aug. 11 for an eight-episode goodbye. On July 29, CBS renewed “Under the Dome” for next summer.

On the same spring day Norris finished shooting “Bad” in New Mexico, he jumped on a plane to North Carolina to work on “Dome.” “It was nice to have this other show to go to, because I would have just dwelled on the ending of ‘Breaking Bad,' ” he says. “I just drank a lot on the plane and tried to contemplate that it's all over.”

On “Bad,” Norris has enjoyed Hank's evolution from proud, boastful lawman to weakened gunshot-wound victim to man on a mission after figuring out — while sitting on a toilet — brother-in-law Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) role as a drug mastermind at the end of last year's run.

(Trivia point: Norris and Cranston first worked together on the 1998 pilot for Pamela Anderson's “V.I.P.”)

“Bad” creator Vince Gilligan says Norris was perfect for the role, bringing “the right mix of charismatic and authentic and believable and competent and yet also funny. ‘Breaking Bad' is obviously a very dark show, but we looked for opportunities to put humor into it whenever possible, and I think Dean got that from the get-go.”

From the supporting role of Hank, Norris is now one of “Dome's” leads as a politician seeking to keep order amid chaos in the domed town while concealing his role in the drug trade and trying to handle his disturbed son.

“You're going to think he's a bad guy, but in his own mind, he thinks he's the guy to take care of this town,” Norris says. “It's a study of megalomania. ... I sparked to it, because it's such a juicy role to play.”

Bill Keveney is a staff writer for USA Today.

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