“Did I ever want to become an actor? I wanted to be a clown, a painter, a standup comic. What keeps me going is that I believe somewhere in my head I have something that I have to get out of there.”
Breaking Bad has had its countless supporting actors fill the ranks of drug enforcement agents, Mexican cartel psychopaths, and tweakers in its five seasons of crank-laden high opera. But only Larry Hankin, the veteran actor who played Old Joe, will forever be etched into modern memory as the junkyard proprietor whose chutzpah bested Hank Schrader and saved Walt and Jesse’s asses — not once but twice.
Django Unchained As Old Joe, the junkyard owner on AMC’s Breaking Bad. And, he did it in five minutes of collective screen time, in two episodes during seasons 3 and 5.
Of course, Hankin has made a career out of leaving a lasting impression on audiences, and anyone else lucky enough to have crossed his path.
Tall, lanky, hip, delightfully buffoonish at times, yet serious, Hankin’s perfect comic timing has made him a go-to guy for casting directors for decades. His IMDB page reads like a dense index of TV’s greatest hits — including Laverne& Shirley, Eight Is Enough, and Family Ties and he’s appeared in films like Escape from Alcatraz, Billy Madison, Armed and Dangerous, Amazon Women on the Moon, and Home Alone, to name a few.
Hankin is the quintessential “that guy,” instantly recognizable as Mr. Heckles on Friends or ‘the Other Kramer,’ who stole the raisins, on the pilot episode of Seinfeld. But Hankin’s off-screen history is arguably more interesting than any filmography and his pedigree alone should place him on a registry of national treasures (if one exists).
An early member of famed improvisational company The Second City, he headed to San Francisco to help form The Committee, the politically driven second satirical theatre that flourished from 1963-1973 and spawned successful careers for many of its members.
“I’ve been part of a lot of amazing things,” said Hankin, whose showbiz career began at ground zero of the ‘60s counter-culture, as one of its principal players.
“[Larry] was absolutely brilliant and was one of the most gifted improvisers I’ve ever known, said The Committee’s founder and veteran Hollywood film and television director Alan Myerson. “Hilariously funny, idiosyncratic, and unlike anybody else, he was and is Larry Hankin.”
Larry Hankin, the nice Jewish boy and occasional summer life-guard from Far Rockaway, New York entered Syracuse University in the hunky-dory somnambulance of 1950s America when Eisenhower was in the White House and students were less inclined to occupy administration buildings than they were to please their parents.
“At school, he was just a tall, funny guy,” said screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who first met Hankin as a student at Syracuse University in the fall of 1957.
“He was an Industrial Arts major and I was in the theater arts department and dual major in journalism. We found ourselves on the creative side of college in the drama department doing plays. When some of our fellow students opened a summer stock theater in Plattsburgh, New York, Larry and I went up there as actors.
After graduation, Hankin and Gottlieb gravitated to Greenwich Village just in time for the big folk music scare and found an apartment at 70 Carmine Street for 50 bucks a month. By day, Hankin washed dishes, but he honed his performance chops nightly in coffee houses, reciting off-beat monologues for would-be hipsters and folksingers that included Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and Noel Stookey (Peter, Paul, And Mary).
Steven Karras, Contributor
Steve Karras graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Madison and has worked ever since as a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker. In 2009 he completed a ten-year initiative to conduct over 2000 hours of interviews with WWII veterans and was the genesis of two completed projects: a feature length documentary film, About Face, and a non-fiction book of oral histories entitled, The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II (Zenith Press, 2010). Steve is also a songwriter/musician and lives on Chicago’s north shore with his daughter.