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Bryan Cranston on being ready for luck

Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston, best known for his role as Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” didn't get his big break until age 40, when he was cast in the family TV sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle." Now, he'll be playing the role of Howard Beale in the upcoming Broadway production of “Network.” He shares his brief but spectacular take on an unusual career trajectory and the role of luck.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston is best known for his Emmy-winning role as Walter White in the TV series "Breaking Bad."

    But, as he explains in tonight's Brief But Spectacular episode, it took him some luck to get there.

    Starting next Saturday, Cranston will be playing the role of Howard Beale in the Broadway production of "Network," based on the famous film.

  • Bryan Cranston:

    The first thing I look for when I read a script is, does the story move me?

    What I truly love about this, and when I talk to audiences about anything I have done or any other movie or stage piece, is that the audience is always right. However you felt, however you reacted to something is always right. That's how you felt.

    And it's remarkable how you can sit next to someone and watch a movie. I could be weeping, and they're like, eh. It's like, really? They say, yes, it missed me.

    The only failure is if you move an audience to nothing, to boredom. If they are indifferent about what they just experienced, whether it's a painting or a recital or a singer or a dancer or a play, if they are, I feel nothing throughout, then we failed. Then we failed.

    Actors come to town, to New York or Los Angeles or London, and they say, you know, I'm going to give it a shot. I'm going to give it a year and see if I can become successful.

    And to those, I want to say, I can save you a year of your time. If you think that this is something that you can carve out some arbitrary amount of time to achieve certain things, this is not for you. This is a lifetime.

    When you first start out as an actor, your answer to any question is yes. Do you want to? Yes, I want to do that.

    I started out in 1979 doing background work as an extra. Angry mob. Drunken frat boy. Reckless driver. And then, when you first get that break where you actually have a name, Steve, wow, I actually have a name, I'm Steve, you feel like you have progressed to some degree.

    There's no career that has ever been achieved in entertainment — I truly believe this — without a healthy dose of luck. Someone said, OK, kid, I will read your script, or, all right, you want to audition? Come in. Do it right now.

    And then you got to be ready. Celebrity is a byproduct of what I do and what I like to do. It's not what I was after. I was a working actor. Things were fine. I was paying my bills, leading a very middle-class economic life. And then I got a lucky break at age 40 and was cast in "Malcolm in the Middle."

    At 50, I got an even bigger break when I was cast as Walter White on "Breaking Bad."

    That was my trajectory. It came when it was supposed to come. And that's the interesting thing about luck. It doesn't work on your timetable. It works on its own.

    My name is Bryan Cranston, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on being an actor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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