Bryan Cranston, one of the most versatile actors of his generation, spoke with David Edelstein (film critic New York Magazine) in a Q and A during the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival. They discussed salient points about his high-velocity career on TV, film, and stage. Always interesting and vibrant Cranston, spoke about acting considerations and the process. Notably, he attributes his success to hard work and luck. Obviously, Cranston’s passion melded with humility drives him with the knowledge that he must continually be in learning mode. This attitude pays off. For at this point he excels at whatever task he endeavors. Cranston’s quietly forged, dogged determination shines a beacon even for established actors, producers and directors.
When Cranston made a showing in films like Little Miss Sunshine (2006), he already had found a home on the small screen. Notably, his TV credits amass from appearances beginning in “One Life to Live.” As he took acting classes, he accomplished parts on various TV series. And shows like Raising Miranda (1988) and Matlock (1987, 1991) gave him longer stints. Work begets work and for longer work periods. Various films and TV series crossed his path like the TV Mini Series Macross Plus (1994) and The Louie Show (1996).
After two decades, he began to strike gold. As Dr. Tim Whatley on Seinfeld, he made an indelible mark. And as the amiable dad, Hal on Malcolm in the Middle (2006), cultural phrases sprang from his character portrayal. Thus, his hard work cemented the bricks of experience to build a fortress of a career. This fortress enabled him to weather world wide acclaim. And it allowed him to possess the grace within to receive the numerous accolades for subsequent one-of-a-kind portrayals.
Who can imagine the character of Walter White in Breaking Bad without Cranston? White, so incredibly fleshed out by Cranston, will live in our cultural memory for decades. Morphing from a “Goodbye Mr. Chips” teacher to drug empire maker “Scarface,” Cranston pulled every range of emotions from his acting toolkit. Through the show’s seasons, he won numerous awards. Cranston’s power grid solidified. The starpower gained from his four time Emmy success, enabled him to become one of the producers during the series’ fourth and fifth seasons. And he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series twice.
Ever since, Cranston has been on a roll swallowing up experiences to learn all aspects of “the business” he obviously loves. Reviewing the decades long arc of his career reveals that marvelous events come to those who “put in the time” and “make the most” of opportunity’s breakwaters. In 2014, Cranston won the Tony Award for his portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in Broadway’s All the Way. Subsequently, having created his production company Moonshot Entertainment, he reprised the role for the HBO adaptation of the same name.
During the conversation Cranston discussed how his teenage years and personality gave him the juice to create characters in a TV series he co-created and co-produces i.e. Sneaky Pete. The exceptional casting stars Giovanni Ribisi and currently moves through its second season. Cranston mentioned that as a teen he manifested a “sneakiness.” But his life took another turn away from “true crime,” and becoming an LAPD officer which he had been working toward in college. His direction switched when he took Acting Class as an elective. Nevertheless, he used the behaviors (lying, cover-ups), and that M.O. to create characters and story. As the positive reviews flow in Season 2, Sneaky Pete remains fresh, bold and smart. And as Cranston enjoys mixing up expectations, they’ve added conflicts and developments that do not allow the protagonist to breathe any relief from his own self-inflicted lying machinations.
Cranston clarified that success builds upon success. As a result his company developed various television series along with Sneaky Pete, in The Dangerous Book for Boys, and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams for Amazon. Included is the Emmy-nominated animated series SuperMansion for Sony/Crackle. The foundation of incredible effort built throughout his career remains stalwart. For indeed the vicissitudes happened upon him in Cranston’s early years, a factor he referred to during the conversation. However, all events in one’s life provide acting and storytelling grist. Though painful, they can be culled and transformed into art.
This year Cranston was nominated for a 2018 Emmy for his guest-starring role as Larry’s therapist on Curb Your Enthusiasm. And after coming off a sold-out, award-winning run in London, Cranston stars on Broadway as Howard Beale in Paddy Chayefsky’s ever timely Network by Lee Hall, adapted from the film script. I had tried to see the production in London at the National Theatre in December when I visited the UK. The production was sold out and for good cause. Cranston’s performance was spot-on. He won the 2018 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Actor. He was nominated for the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actor in a Play. Also, he won the 2018 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor.
Like many actors, Cranston does not read reviews of his work. He stated that the reviews if negative or positive could impact how he works the character through his own acting instrument. He took many acting classes over the years and left when he received continual praise. Interestingly, Cranston felt he needed to learn more. And if he plateaued in a class, the time had ripened to move on and pick up another tool for his acting kit. Being his own coach and critic, reviews provided nothing useful. Indeed, onstage, the interaction with the audience changes a performance nightly. He mentioned new ideas and a reliance on imagination which infuse the evocation of a character. Being in the moment is paramount.
Some interesting points that Cranston made concerned acting. He remarked that actors must give in to their impulses. Indeed, he said, “The more I do that and get off kilter from the norm, the better.” He added that if one “does make a mistake, one apologizes and if one’s life is clean, the mistakes will be minor.”
Edelson bounced back with the adage about the difference between greater and lesser actors. He suggested that “the greater actors are not afraid to appear foolish.” Cranston concurred. And he added that actors must take risks. He cited the quote, “You’re only as good as you dare to be bad.”
Taking chances Cranston credits to be a vital part of great acting. Inherent with good performers is the prerequisite that actors have to be willing to take chances. Not only does this refer to physical chances, but emotional ones. According to Cranston, actors put themselves in emotional jeopardy often. He explained, “When you go through a process like that, your body does not know the different between acting and real life. If I’m putting myself in a position where I’m weeping or heaving with upset, anger or fear, my body does not know I’m acting.”
And Cranston continued about the sacrifices of actors when expressing dense emotion. “Your body can be shaking. It takes a while to come down from that. It can be exhausting but also exhilarating.”
Edelson referenced that Cranston doesn’t show an image persona and one that remains private. Indeed, the public has seen actors who are schizoid. Sometimes they manifest the artificial “show biz” personality and the separate family or off screen persona. As a compliment, Edelson remarked that Cranston appears measured, relaxed, himself with no difference between public and private individual. He joked that Cranston didn’t appear to have schisms. Cranston used this praise to quip, “Oh, I got a lot of schisms.”
However, the conversation came back around to the work. Cranston reinforced that he is not one to stand around at parties schmoozing, drink in hand “yelling” above the music and din of people talking. He said he didn’t think the atmosphere seemed conducive to making a connection with anyone. He proclaimed, “I’m not good at that.” He also commented that while he has a tremendous amount of energy, he prefers saving it for those things that he wants to do.
In effect he must husband the enthusiasm and grist he does have for projects. Clearly, he has other irons in the fire that he will use to continue to work on that fortress of a career.
See Bryan Cranston on Broadway in Network before the tickets are sold out. Most likely the production and Cranston will be up for additional awards in the US, including a Tony.