Actor Bryan Cranston

Two-time Emmy winner discusses the timeline for his Breaking Bad series.



Tavis: Pleased to welcome back to this program the Right Reverend, Dr. Bryan Cranston. I’ll explain that later (laughter). The two-time Emmy winner is now back for his third season of the acclaimed drama, Breaking Bad. The show airs Sunday nights at 10 on AMC. Here now a scene from Breaking Bad.
Tavis: There’s so much to unpack in that clip and I’ll get to it in just a second. Can I just first start by saying it feels really weird talking about Breaking Bad on Good Friday.
Bryan Cranston: Doesn’t it? I know. It’s like sacrilegious, isn’t it? I know.
Tavis: (Laughter) Yeah, really, but I take the bookings as they come. So here we are, number one. Number two, I’m really honored. I’m actually honored and surprised that you would come back and see me now that you’ve got two Emmys. When I last saw you, you were Emmyless and now you got mercy on me and came back to see me anyway.
Cranston: Are you kidding? I had a great time the last time we spoke.
Tavis: Yeah, I had a great time too.
Cranston: You know, what’s great about this show is that it doesn’t feel like you have to rush through and hit the bullet points and then off and then you’re gone. It feels like you have a chance to actually have a conversation.
Tavis: We did last time as we try to do every night. Speaking of that conversation, we are still laughing around here which I can now get Bryan to explain very quickly.
I should have just queued the clip so the audience who didn’t see you the last time you were here would understand why I referred to you as the Right Reverend, Bryan Cranston. You want to explain that just right quick (laughter)? The short version?
Cranston: (Laughter) You know, one of the odd jobs that I had going through college was I became a licensed minister and I would marry people. It surprised no one larger than myself. I married people in an airplane, in the ocean. Waist-deep in the ocean, I married people.
Tavis: As a college job.
Cranston: Yeah, as a college job. I was an Elvis impersonator at one wedding that I presided. I said, “Just say nothing. Just kiss her on the lips. There we go. You’re now married. Yeah.”
Tavis: (Laughter) Thank you for indulging me. I thought I should explain why I referred to you as Reverend Cranston. Back to this clip now, so she knows now, she knows.
Cranston: Yeah. In Breaking Bad, the conceit was that if my wife found out what I was doing, that’s the end of the game. The writers courageously came to the conclusion that, if we continue with this shroud over here that she doesn’t know, we jeopardize her character because she’s a smart woman and she would eventually find out.
So they threw it out and had to work themselves out of a corner in order to continue with the story in a provocative way.
Tavis: Now for those who have not – first of all, shame on you; it’s a great show – for those who have not seen Breaking Bad, you should explain what it is that she has discovered.
Cranston: Yeah. Well, Breaking Bad started off as my character, Walter White, was a very nice man. He was a high school chemistry teacher. A little depressed from missed opportunities in his life and had to have a second job to pay his bills because he has a special needs son with CP and an accident baby is on the way. He’s dealing with it, loves his wife and family, but then he finds out he also has terminal lung cancer and he’s got about a year to two years to live, max.
Faced with that reality, he goes into a fit and realizes that he doesn’t want to leave a legacy of illness and destitute, so he uses his chemistry background to cook crystal meth, become a drug dealer, make as much money as he can for his family before he dies, and that’s it.
So it really kind of asks that question, what would you do if you had a year and a half to live? Usually, a hypothetical to my character, it’s a real question.
Tavis: I teased you when you were here last because I could tell then that the show was going to be a hit.
Cranston: You did?
Tavis: I teased you about this. I’ll remind you of this.
Cranston: I know you did.
Tavis: I could tell when you were here the last time the show was going to be a hit and I recall saying to you – I could have queued this up as well – I recall saying to you that the writers are really going to be challenged, but if anybody can deal with this, Hollywood writers can.
If you only have a year and a half to two years to live, when you start winning Emmy Awards, how they gonna stretch this thing out? So now I hear that your character has cancer that, thank God for Jesus, is in remission now. Is that it? Now you’re in remission?
Cranston: (Laughter) Well, see, now you’ve made it back. You said a hallelujah on Good Friday. Bless you, brother.
Tavis: (Laughter) Thank you.
Cranston: No. You know what? The one thing that we want to make sure is that we don’t cheat the audience here. What we set up in the conceit of the show is that he has terminal lung cancer and he’s going to be dead within a year and a half.
Now on television, of course, we can stretch the months and time. You know, Mash took ten years to tell the three-year story of the Korean conflict, so we can stretch it a little bit. But I don’t see the series lasting longer than five or six seasons, max. I really don’t.
In a way, I don’t want it to because I would rather look back and say of this group of shows that we were able to produce I’m very proud of it and, like an athlete, hang them up before it’s too late and it’s kind of sad, you know, with a footnote.
Tavis: I hear your point that you don’t want it to go too long, but do you ever give yourself the space to think about whether or not, given who you play in this series and given the fact that it may go on a few more years, that Bryan Cranston may be typecasting himself? Or does an actor not think about that while they’re working?
Cranston: I certainly didn’t. I mean, when you step back and look at it objectively, you can. I mean, I did seven years of Malcolm in the Middle and you are a victim of your success. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. So I knew that leaving that show, as well-written and as proud of it as I was, I needed to move on to a different arena.
I was just lucky that Breaking Bad came along. I think this character of Walter White is the best character I’ve ever had in my career. So I’m not looking beyond. I’m enjoying this moment in time and I appreciate the quality of the writing. The awards that have come is a wonderful surprise and, if it helps us stay on the air for the duration to tell our journey, then I’m all for it.
Tavis: I’d be the worst talk show host in the world – and I have been called that by some –
Cranston: – hey, stop it.
Tavis: I’d be considered the worst talk show host in the world if I did not follow up on that nugget you just gave me where your career is concerned. Why say you that Walter is the best character you’ve ever played in your career so far?
Cranston: I knew from the moment I read the pilot script of Breaking Bad that this was a dynamic, compelling character to play and I knew that I wanted to get in on it as soon as possible because, if it’s out there long, then there are going to be actors who are going to go after this hard and heavy.
The only thing that we as actors really can control is to be able to say yes or no to the material. That’s the most important element that we have in our control and, when you read a piece of material, whether it’s a children’s play or a screenplay, you want to be able to identify well-written material because if it’s well-written, it has a chance to be good. If it’s not well-written, it will not be good. It could be successful, but it will not be good. So I only want to do well-written material.
Walter White is a character that, from the start of the show, was a good, upstanding citizen. The idea that Vince Gilligan, our creator, had is to do something that’s never been done on television before and that’s, over the course of the series, to have him go through a transformation. By the end of the series, I’m going to be a murderous killer drug dealer. So it’s fascinating to think sociologically –
Tavis: – and that turns you on.
Cranston: Oh, my God! I mean, as an actor, how can you –
Tavis: – I’m going to be a murderous killer and I’m loving this (laughter).
Cranston: From nice guy to that. As he finally says, he wanted to see if he could turn Mr. Chips into Scarface, so that’s what the attempt is. First, you have to bring the audience in to understand what my character is going through and why he’s doing what he’s doing. Not to condone it, but just to accept his motives.
Tavis: You’re really articulate about this, about how our morality is not concretized.
Cranston: Yes.
Tavis: It does change, depending on the situation. I love the analogy you give about asking to punch me in the face.
Cranston: Can I?
Tavis: No.
Cranston: Okay. Now –
Tavis: – not unless you want a whupping (laughter).
Cranston: (Laughter) But if I said, Tavis, I understand you don’t want me just to punch you in the face, but if I gave you $10,000, would you let me punch you in the face?
Tavis: Higher.
Cranston: Okay, $25,000.
Tavis: A little higher.
Cranston: $40,000.
Tavis: Where you gonna hit me?
Cranston: See? Now this is my point. From a ridiculous statement, “Why would I let you punch me in the face?” to now, “Well, where exactly? Are you gonna punch me in the nose?” Because now you’re thinking about it. So everybody’s level of morality is actually malleable and not rigid.
So you look at this character who wants out, he wants out of this bad business until this drug dealer says to him, “I’ll give you $3 million dollars for just three months of your time” and then all of a sudden he gets sucked back in.
I think that’s what audiences can relate to is the real temptation that we as human beings have maybe not day to day, but throughout your lifetime. There are sprinklings of real temptation that draw you away from your moral center.
Tavis: What’s fascinating about this, I’ve been reading a lot of articles – I’m sure you and others have as well – about the moral judgment that so many Americans seriously have to make these days about what to do with their home. You know, the home is worth less than what they’re paying for.
So some folk are having to make a real tough moral judgment about whether to stick with it and try to do the right thing and honor paying your bills or whether you just walk away from this sucker because – it’s a real moral dilemma that a lot of Americans are dealing with.
Cranston: It’s also an emotional dilemma what the home represents. Success or cohesiveness that you feel you’ve broken, especially I think for men, having that sense of responsibility and being able to take care of your family. If that comes to you, that’s a real dilemma in someone’s life.
Tavis: Yeah. I take it, though, in conclusion, that you are happy with the direction this Breaking Bad series is moving in.
Cranston: I have good problems now, Tavis. I really do. I wouldn’t trade my life for – I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I have a lovely family who supports me and it’s great. We’re all healthy, knock wood, and God willing it will continue this way until it’s time for me to stop working.
Tavis: I hope so. Our heresy notwithstanding, we found a good way to close on Good Friday (laughter).
Cranston: Very good (laughter). Thank you.
Tavis: Good to have you on the program.
Cranston: Thank you so much.

Tavis: Breaking Bad, of course, on AMC.

Last modified: August 16, 2014 at 12:05 am