The life of Bryan: The incredibly charming Mr Cranston
From tackling Walt White’s adversaries to taking on an iconic Japanese monster, Bryan Cranston talks to Stephen Milton about his changing career
It’s strange to encounter Bryan Cranston without an expression of pressurised, fizzing anxiety. From the wheezing panic of Hal Wilkerson, harassed patriarch in Malcom in The Middle to the bubbling, charmingly monstrous timbre of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, his best known performances come armed with a familiar countenance of stress.
Even in his latest film, Godzilla, he spends the vast majority of the action, scrambling and shrieking and frantically flailing, nailing his brand of signature hyperactivity with seasoned expertise.
Today, in a brightly lit lounge on the first floor of London’s Corinthia Hotel, he smiles and muses with a demeanour of humoured reflection. Insider scans his tanned forehead for any faint sign of a throbbing vein but, nothing. It’s almost disappointing.
“It’s got to be Night of the Lepus,” Cranston offers of his monster movie of choice, muffled under cowed, crackling sniggers.
“You’ve got to rent this film. Its bunny rabbits, giant bunny rabbits and it’s the most hysterical thing you’ve ever seen. They take these bunny rabbits and build little miniature buildings and the rabbits are just hopping along, knocking down a little fence and there are these cries of AHHHHHHHH!!! NOOOOOOOO!!!
“It’s hilarious. And they get some food colouring and put it on their fur and around their mouths like they’ve eaten some people.”
The actor smacks his thigh in jostled mirth, exploding with laughter. “It’s just, it’s too hilarious. You’ve got to check it out.”
Seems appropriate to talk monsters and furry behemoths and all that’s in between while he promotes Godzilla, Hollywood’s most recent $160million fanfare to the Japanese icon.
Whether it matches the kitsch class of the Lepus’ remains to be seen, though there’s the obvious, necessary element of schlock and ostentatious mockery needed for such enduring status.
Why Cranston chose Gareth Edwards’ apocalyptic disasterfest as his first starring effort after the unyielding majesty of Breaking Bad though, is something to explore.
“We were about two years from the end of Breaking Bad and I thought, ‘Well the next thing I do has to be something of extremely high quality as far as the writing is concerned.
“When the offer came through to do Godzilla, I thought, ‘No no no, I shouldn’t do that.’ But then my agent persuaded me to take a look at the script.”
After the success of his highly commended, made on a shoe-string debut Monsters, Edwards was awarded with a couple truckloads of cash by Warner Bros and set about assembling a transnational cast that includes Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Juliette Binoche to tell the story of a gigantic reptile of Japanese contemporary lore, raining destruction down on the skyscraper cities of the Pacific Rim.
Cranston is Joe Brody, a nuclear technician, broken and estranged from his son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) after the death of his wife during a mysterious atomic meltdown.
He struggles to repair their relationship while maniacally expressing to those who won’t listen, the cause of the catastrophic explosion and the likely existence of giant creatures beyond our comprehension.
All terrifically fun and fantastical, it’s a more human approach to the legendary franchise which succeeds and falters in that order.
For Cranston, it’s offered a trajectory deviation from six years of stained yellow lab suits and the fumes of Breaking Bad’s iconography.
“The characters and relationships and how they’re involved with one another, alone they’re fantastic. And then you have this monster movie, it felt like the perfect combination.”
“I didn’t have to worry about the comparison with Breaking Bad, it’s a completely different.
“Those who might think I would choose something cerebral might be surprised, but I like to surprise people. It sounded like the place I should divert to, a big monster movie… And have fun.”
Slight and handsome in a smart navy suit, a thatch of dark, nearly ginger hair eschewing the memory of White’s accidental narcotic kingpin, Cranston’s enjoying the professional transformation that comes with a smash hit show.
The scripts are pouring in and several are already in production; Trumbo, a biopic of the eponymous Dalton, a Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted during the witch hunts of the early 1950’s; dark marital drama Holland, Michigan opposite Naomi Watts and vocal duties in Kung Fu Panda 3, alongside Jack Black and Angelina Jolie.
Right now he’s flying in on a brief break from his Broadway run playing Lyndon B Johnson in All The
Way, a new play by the Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan focusing on his first tumultuous year as US president when he took office by default after JFK’s assassination. It’s fair to say that even on the promotional trail, perhaps the least fun part of any actor’s job, Cranston appears grateful and appreciative of his latent superstardom. And so very pragmatic.
“My biggest goal from when I was 22 years old was to be a working actor, and that still remains to this day. My most prized accomplishment is to say that since I turned 25, I have never had another job. I’m very proud of that,” he says of his some twenty years of background and support on shows from Baywatch to Murder She Wrote and Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
“I was willing to be at any level of income as long as I could say I was a working actor.
“But when you first start out as an actor, your agent calls you and says, ‘They’d like you to do...’, and you say yes before hearing what the project is because you need the job.
“When you first start out, you have a lot of product on there that you’re not proud about but it leads you to a point where you can have more control of your own destiny.
“And Breaking Bad, there really was no way of telling it was going to mushroom cloud the way it did.”
Revered and in high demand, does the actor, married to actress Robin Deardon, mother of their 21-year-old daughter, Taylor, see the pros, and/or cons of finding fame at a later stage, unlike his co-star Taylor-Johnson who has spoken of his teenage struggles?
“I remember someone telling me that there was a Chinese proverb that was translated into, ‘May you find fame and fortune at a very young age’… but it was intended to be a curse.
“We’ve seen examples of that, rock stars and sport stars at eighteen, nineteen years old, catapulted into this stratosphere of attention, money and fame yet they don’t have the life experience or maturity to deal with that. So they lose it and that’s a bigger tragedy than someone who has never had it.
“I’ve hopefully learned that this is a gift, so protect it. Cherish it. And remember, its ephemeral. It’s not forever. I know that.”
Raised in LA’s San Fernando Valley as the son of working actors — his father Joe’s role in The Beginning of the End, a disaster epic involving giant grasshoppers, offered the star further incentive to accept his own part in Godzilla, “We got to see him die every time it was on TV,” he laughs — Cranston, 58, had long cultivated a practical attitude to fleets and follies of fame thanks to early years growing up around financial instability.
“It probably came from that time. To be humble, be grateful and if anything happens beyond that, let that be the tap on the shoulder of ‘Oh, you’ve been nominated,’ or ‘Oh, we want you to be in this movie,’ then everything is a lovely surprise and you don’t develop a sense of entitlement. So that’s how I choose to live.”
Having graduated from meth producer to nuclear physicist, is there still an unavoidable sniffiness towards the small screen now?
“I realised the ubiquity of television has played its course out for me, for a while. I have sort of a self-moratorium for doing a series for the next three years. I would do a short series if it was a few episodes of something that was interesting but nothing that would go six, seven years.”
So nothing could tempt him back to the early days of Better Call Saul, Gillgan’s forthcoming prequel series focusing on Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman? Aaron Paul’s reportedly in serious talks to revive Jesse Pinkman as is Bob Odenkirk who played Goodman; might Bryan be arm-twisted also?
“Who knows with these things,” he counters, smiling broadly, arms and open palms cast wide.
But is he perturbed at the swift delivery of this spin-off, mere months after the end of Breaking Bad?
“Because it’s a prequel, and it’s with the Saul character, I actually think the timing’s right. People finished Breaking Bad wanting more and that’s exactly how you want to leave a series. You want to leave it and have people saying, ‘I miss it’.”
- Godzilla is in cinemas today