BRYAN CRANSTON

From Wal­ter White to Dal­ton Trumbo, Bryan Cranston looks back on his seven key roles

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS DAN JOLIN

The for­mer Heisen­berg on his great­est roles. He is the one who rem­i­nisces.

AS ANY BREAK­ING Bad fan knows, Bryan Cranston doesn’t shy away from ex­plor­ing the darker re­cesses of the hu­man soul. For his lat­est film, Robin Swicord’s E.L. Doc­torow-adapt­ing

Wake­field, Cranston tack­les ar­guably his least like­able lead char­ac­ter yet: a fam­ily man who not only aban­dons his wife and daugh­ters, but cyn­i­cally watches them from his nearby hidey-hole. But, Cranston tells Em­pire, “It’s the ac­tor’s job to find the hu­man­ity in ev­ery char­ac­ter you play.” Some­thing he’s con­sis­tently achieved through­out his ca­reer. Here he talks us through how he does it. PA­TRICK CRUMP __ THE X-FILES, ‘DRIVE’, 1998 The Vince Gil­li­gan-writ­ten role that paved the way to Cranston’s cast­ing in Break­ing Bad: Pa­trick Crump, an anti-semitic jerk who can’t stop driv­ing for fear his head will ex­plode. “When you’re play­ing the an­tag­o­nist, you can’t play it as if you’re evil and mean, un­less you’re play­ing farce, or a child’s story. It’s Vince’s writ­ing that en­abled me to con­jure that man and bring that sense of play­ing his hu­man­ity. Ev­ery ac­tor knows that the hard­est work you ever have to do is on poorly writ­ten ma­te­rial. The eas­i­est work is when the ma­te­rial is so well writ­ten that it just seeps into your psy­che im­me­di­ately.”

HAL __ MAL­COLM IN THE MID­DLE, 2000-’06 Mal­colm’s in­ept and some­times in­fan­tile fa­ther, Hal, was Cranston’s big­gest TV role pre-wal­ter White… “Do­ing Mal­colm In The Mid­dle was a joy. Seven years, 151 episodes, the exploration of which was thor­ough and beau­ti­ful, so well-crafted, and grounded. In that show, the fam­ily loved each other. But we didn’t pound you over the head with it. We just let you know that we loved each other, and be­cause you felt that as an au­di­ence, we were able to go crazy. Be­cause they knew that, at the end of the day, they’re gonna stay to­gether. That was com­fort­ing to peo­ple.” WAL­TER WHITE __ BREAK­ING BAD, 2008-’13 The role of his life­time: the can­cer-suf­fer­ing chem­istry teacher who be­comes a crys­tal meth man­u­fac­turer to sup­port his fam­ily, but soon evolves into a no­to­ri­ous vil­lain. “The most har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence I had on

Break­ing Bad was dur­ing the scene when Jane [Krys­ten Rit­ter] was dy­ing and I saw the face of my real daugh­ter dy­ing be­fore me. And that shook me, of course. It was al­most like an out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence; your body and your emo­tional core doesn’t re­ally know the dif­fer­ence be­tween act­ing and not-act­ing. You feel the jolt of that. There are those ex­pe­ri­ences you have that are not com­pletely safe. That’s an emo­tional risk that an ac­tor needs to ac­cept.” SHAN­NON __ DRIVE, 2011 Me­chanic and man­ager for Ryan Gosling’s get­away artist in Ni­co­las Wind­ing Refn’s neo-noir, who gets a dis­turb­ing death scene at the hands of Al­bert Brooks’ gang boss. “I came up with that death scene. Orig­i­nally in the script I think Shan­non was gar­roted, and there was some­thing that bothered me about that. What we’d es­tab­lished was Al­bert Brooks’ char­ac­ter re­ally liked me. So one re­hearsal I said, ‘What if he of­fers me his hand, the sym­bol of friend­ship? We’re look­ing at each other as friends and I shake his hand and he quickly twists my hand and with an un­fore­seen knife he slices my wrist. And then im­me­di­ately starts to com­fort me.’ It’s just a hor­rific thing to see, but from Al­bert’s char­ac­ter’s stand­point it was him hon­our­ing a friend­ship.” DAL­TON TRUMBO __ TRUMBO, 2015 His per­for­mance as the black­listed Hol­ly­wood screen­writer earned Cranston a Best Ac­tor Oscar nom­i­na­tion. “Trumbo was some­one I knew about, but didn’t know that much about. So I con­tacted the peo­ple who wrote things about him, read a bi­og­ra­phy on him, saw the doc­u­men­tary about him and talked to both of his daugh­ters, who were ex­tremely help­ful. This is how you cre­ate your char­ac­ter: you gather ev­i­dence and try to de­ci­pher what it means to you. It’s al­most like do­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion on a case. And I learned that Trumbo was not only bright and pro­lific but stub­born, iras­ci­ble, fun-lov­ing. A ded­i­cated hu­man­ist and en­light­ened be­ing who truly en­joyed his word­smithing abil­ity.” LYNDON B. JOHN­SON __ ALL THE WAY, 2016 Play­ing JFK’S con­tro­ver­sial suc­ces­sor on stage won Cranston a Tony Award in 2014, and he reprised the role for Trumbo di­rec­tor Jay Roach’s HBO movie last year, in which we mem­o­rably ob­serve LBJ sitting down for a crap, mid-con­ver­sa­tion… “Oh yeah, he was not a man who was raised with any kind of high-end so­cial grace. So when he needed to go to the bath­room, he would bring peo­ple with him. And he’d drop his draw­ers and defe­cate and con­tinue talk­ing as if it was no big deal. But some peo­ple spec­u­lated that he did it to put his guests on their heels, so he could ma­nip­u­late them.” HOWARD WAKE­FIELD __ WAKE­FIELD, 2016 A hus­band and fa­ther who stages his own dis­ap­pear­ance, camp­ing out in his garage while he ob­ses­sively spies on his wife and daugh­ters. “A very chal­leng­ing char­ac­ter. I be­lieve he’s plau­si­ble to some de­gree, and ul­ti­mately re­lat­able, when you think about it. Who wouldn’t want to take a snow day for them­selves? But I’m a hus­band and a fa­ther, and my fa­ther aban­doned my fam­ily, so I looked at this and thought, ‘How can I play a per­son who aban­dons his fam­ily?’ Be­cause it hap­pens. Be­cause peo­ple do that. So, I can’t just push it aside be­cause it’s a re­pug­nant thought. I kept think­ing about it and com­ing back to the script, and re­alised that if I’m do­ing that it’s a great sign. It’s get­ting em­bed­ded in my psy­che.” WAKE­FIELD IS OUT NOW ON DVD AND DOWNLOAD

Left: Achiev­ing leg­end sta­tus as Break­ing Bad’s morally com­plex, mag­netic Wal­ter White. Above, top to bot­tom: As Wake­field’s ti­tle char­ac­ter, an­other fam­ily man with is­sues; With Ryan Gosling in Drive; As Trumbo’s con­tro­ver­sial Hol­ly­wood screen­writer; Dys­func­tional — if comedic — fam­ily life again in TV’S Mal­colm In The Mid­dle.

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