Bad to the bone

Un­like his on-screen char­ac­ter, Bryan Cranston usu­ally plays it safe, writes Ge­off Shearer

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Switched On -

BRYAN Cranston has done a bad, bad thing. The Break­ing Bad star has just con­fessed, af­ter years of grap­pling with his guilt, that he is a crim­i­nal, noth­ing more than a low-down com­mon thief . . . As a child he stole candy. What? Back up. Is that what he con­sid­ers his ‘‘break bad’’ mo­ment, the one time in his life he went off the rails?

‘‘In my child­hood, yeah, I’ve stolen a candy bar here or there and felt guilty about it. But it’s kind of a learn­ing curve for chil­dren,’’ he says philo­soph­i­cally, speak­ing on the phone from New Mex­ico, where the crit­i­cally lauded drama is filmed.

‘‘Oth­er­wise, I’ve been very for­tu­nate in the sense I knew early on that in or­der to sus­tain my life as an ac­tor I needed to get my house in or­der and be real solid. So my home life is as bor­ing as can be so that my work life can be as ex­cit­ing as can be. That’s pretty much how I’ve set it up and it’s been great.’’

All of which sounds not a bit like the roller­coaster ride his Break­ing Bad char­ac­ter, Wal­ter White, takes. As the se­ries opens, the once highly re­garded re­search chemist is ek­ing out an ex­is­tence teach­ing chem­istry to a group of un­in­ter­ested kids in a New Mex­ico high school.

When life throws Walt a curve ball, he is in­spired to make big money by cook­ing meth in his own mo­bile drug lab. But a pair of com­pet­ing dealers have other ideas, and soon he is thrust down a blood-soaked path of no re­turn.

Cranston, 53, played it for laughs as Hal, the gorm­less fa­ther of the ti­tle char­ac­ter in Malcolm in the Mid­dle, but in Break­ing Bad his take on fa­ther­hood is dark and danger­ous.

‘‘The very first page of the script has a mid­dle-aged man driv­ing reck­lessly in a Win­nebago. He’s not wear­ing pants. He’s wear­ing a res­pi­ra­tor, and tighty-whitey un­der­wear. An­other man with a res­pi­ra­tor has passed out in the passenger seat. Dead men are slid­ing back and forth in a sea of chem­i­cals . . . and that was the first page,’’ Cranston says.

‘‘I was like, ‘What the hell is go­ing on?’ It is so whacked.

‘‘From that mo­ment we re­alised Break­ing Bad was go­ing to ask more ques­tions than it an­swered. And I think that’s the charm of it — it hooks peo­ple by an­swer­ing a ques­tion then ask­ing three more. But that is what life is like; just as some­thing set­tles, three more things pop up.’’

The role has al­ready earned Cranston two Emmy awards and he’s de­light­ing in work­ing with such a strong cast. Anna Gunn from Dead­wood plays Walt’s wife, Skyler; Aaron Paul is his part­ner in crime, Jesse; and new­comer R.J. Mitte — who was born with a mild form of cere­bral palsy — plays the dis­abled Walt Jr.

‘‘Yeah, it’s (Mitte’s) first role, but he does great things. That scene in the first episode, when Walt Jr is try­ing on pants at a store, Anna just im­pro­vised, ‘Well those are nice, they look like those skater-boy pants’. And he didn’t know she was go­ing to say that. He just looks at her and says, ‘Do I look like a skater?’ I knew from that point he had good in­stincts de­spite his lack of ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ Cranston says.

‘‘Anna Gunn is a ter­rific ac­tor, and so is Aaron. It’s the same feel­ing you get when you play ten­nis with some­one who is bet­ter at it than you are. Your game will im­prove. It’s the same here.’’

That, com­bined with the in­ten­sity of the char­ac­ter, means ex­haust­ing days on set.

‘‘When I’m fin­ished for the day I have a rit­ual that helps me wash away the char­ac­ter,’’ Cranston says.

‘‘I don’t want to take Wal­ter White home with me, oh God, that’s too de­press­ing. So I go into the make-up and hair trailer and put on make-up re­mover, take a cou­ple of hot tow­els and drape them over my head and just sit there as the warmth soaks in. Then I wipe off the make-up. It feels like I’m get­ting rid of that guy.’’

Though Walt is still the ‘‘good guy’’ of the show, view­ers are con­stantly hav­ing to reeval­u­ate their ac­cep­tance for and sup­port of him. What starts as a money-mak­ing ven­ture be­comes an ad­ven­ture in moral­ity . . . and mor­tal­ity.

‘‘At first he thought it was about money; that he would die in less than two years and ‘let’s see how much money I can make for my fam­ily, then let me get the hell out of here’,’’ Cranston says.

‘‘So he had hon­ourable in­ten­tions at the start, but as the se­ries pro­gresses you’ll see he’s get­ting caught in a web of ego. He’s be­ing se­duced by the life­style.

‘‘I think men, es­pe­cially, can re­late to that. For the first time in his life Walt has some money in his pocket; he’s in­tim­i­dated an­other man. That’s never hap­pened be­fore and that’s very pow­er­ful, very se­duc­tive.’’ Break­ing Bad, M ABC2, Fri­day, 9.30pm Con­ser­va­tive dad gets him­self into a fine old meth Du­ra­tion: 1 hour

High pro­file: Break­ing Bad star Bryan Cranston and (be­low) in char­ac­ter as Wal­ter White.

Pic­ture: AP

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