The cast of Drive came to the Toronto International Film Festival for one last stop before the film opened this weekend. Bryan Cranston, who plays Driver (Ryan Gosling)’s scheming partner Shannon, turns in one of the film’s many memorable performances. During the interview, Cranston discussed making Drive, the end of his AMC TV series Breaking Bad, and his role in the Len Wiseman remake of Total Recall. Hit the jump for more.
Question: We’ve seen a lot of movies where the main character has a friend who always gets them into trouble and why don’t they just ditch that guy. What were you able to give your character so we don’t question that you and Driver?
BC: I wanted to develop some sympathy and empathy for him. I certainly had it. He’s a schemer and a carnival barker kind of snake oil salesman. He’ll do anything, just I’ve got a deal for you and come in on this, I’m going to make you rich and we’re gonna do this. He’s that kind of guy and I think we all know someone like that, right? But I didn’t want him to be a negative energy because we wanted and needed him to be friends with Bernie Rose. We wanted Bernie to like him which then created this very interesting, compelling condition of how do you kill someone you like? So it was all planned out but it was so organic because we did it all in Nicolas’s living room. He came, he said, “You’re the guys. What do you want to do? What do you want to say? You can say whatever you want to say and do whatever you want to do.” We were all like gee, we’ve never really been given that much freedom before but they’re writing, we’re all pitching, I think… say that?… We’d try it and say well, maybe not that much. Maybe go… and almost workshoping it. It was fantastic great experience.
BC: How I die. It was my idea but only because he opened it up to me. He said, “How do you think?” I go, “Well, I have this image” and I don’t know if Nicolas knew that. I said, “Do you know where the handshake came from? The handshake came from two men showing they’re holding no weapons. That’s how they came. What if two friends took hands and we took hands and then all of a sudden he quickly cuts me? It’s breaking that trust but also doing it so quickly.” Then I pitched, “What if you say it’s okay, it’s okay and help me down.” He’s sitting me in a chair and sitting me down on the floor but just comforting me, “No more pain, it’s gonna go away, that’s it, that’s the worst of it. Now you’ll just go to sleep.” I thought wow, what an interesting juxtaposition between friendliness while you’re killing someone. And that’s how that came out.
Did you get that quote from Contagion?
BC: No, I’ve known that for many years but it was in Contagion? I don’t remember.
Lawrence Fishburne says it. And the salute comes from knights raising their visor.
BC: Yeah, who goes there. Yeah, there seem to be practical reasons for all these gestures that we have.
Did you talk to stunt drivers at all for this?
BC: I have talked to stunt drivers all my life, 32 years of talking to stunt drivers. There’s a craziness to them. I hope that comes through that there’s a little bit of a willingness to be crazy in Shannon. He’s willing to try anything and do anything. The other thing was the hip. In the script he broke his hip bone in a stunt that misfired. I thought why don’t we personalize this? Why don’t we make it part of a scheme that went wrong? Then we tie in this. This is one of the examples I’m living with of what could go wrong in my world.
BC: There was a scene that was cut and I’m sorry it was. It’ll be in the extras I guess, but a scene that was cut that I pitched and I said, “Let’s get more money out of the assistant director.” I worked it where I go, “We’re going to have to get an extra two grand.” We work it down and I get him I think for $1000 more. So I tell him, “We got $500 more and of course we’ll split that.” So we know who Shannon is. It was important for Ryan’s character not to completely trust that he’s going to just hand over. That’s why Shannon’s saying, “So where’s the money now? You want me to hold it for you? I can do that for you. I’ll hold it for you, kid. It’ll be here when you get back.” So yes, to answer your question, there was that mentor/mentee relationship and yet it wasn’t completely embraced. It was from a distance. I didn’t know him that long. It’s not like we’ve known each other forever so we had this strong bond, but there was a love and a kindness there.
The schemers I know, the schemes never quite go the way the schemer plans, but they keep scheming. At least Driver has a sense that none of this ever shapes up.
BC: Yeah, but he means well. That’s why when he goes to Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) to try to make it right, he does. He wants to try to help the kid and make this right and then it all just blows up and all of a sudden he finds out where she lives and it’s, you know.
What was your take on how your character felt about himself?
BC: He has low self-esteem. He’s like a shark. He keeps moving and he keeps active. As long as he keeps active, he doesn’t have to have a pause to do any self-reflection because I think he would be prone to some depression. That’s why it’s almost like the lady doth protest too much. Someone who has abundantly positive, there’s something behind that “it’s going to be a great day no matter what! Someone just ran over my foot but you know what, it’s going to be okay because he only broke two toes. He could’ve broken all of them.” There’s something not quite right behind that and Shannon has a little bit of that. I wanted to make him skating on thin ice but he’s got it. It’s right around the corner. His ship is coming in, just trust me, it’s coming, come on. I just need to connect these, come on. So there’s a sense of desperation to him as well but I think ultimately if he really was honest about it, he would know that no one is really respecting him.
BC: I think that’s the hallmark of good writing or well thought out characterization. Bad for the sake of bad is boring to me and not believable. They come from somewhere. Their thought process is somewhere grounded somewhere. Even if it’s in some kind of fantasy or dementia, it’s grounded at least to them. That’s where he was grounded. He’s revengeful. He wants to be important and he’s been put down all his life. Like you said, you at least understand him. You may not be rooting for him but you understand and that’s just good writing. That’s Ron throwing that in really. It was all of us pitching and then Nicolas was the conductor saying, “That works and that works and that works and that works. Let’s put the pieces together.”
I’m excited you were cast in Total Recall. I’d be more excited if you were cast as Quaid.
What take on Cohaagen do you have?
BC: Again, we’re still dealing with an older man/younger man relationship and I did not want to be the desk pounding, “Kill him!!! Grrrrr!” Why? My backstory to him and what I pitched to Len Wiseman was he’s like a son to me. I love this kid and he was my most trusted soldier. Together we were going to do great things, great, important, legacy building things. He is just rebelling so I have to give him tough love, like I would my son who is acting out.
But it’s not exactly him. It’s something you implanted in him.
BC: It’s kind of that way. When I give him his memory back, we will once again embrace and all will be well. Until then, I have to just contain him, just put him in his place and contain him and protect him at all costs and don’t kill him. I do not want him dead. That’s the twist that I took to it and I think again, it gives a sense of humanizing to it that you can at least understand as opposed to root for.
BC: Well, it’s kind of like we just dropped my daughter off at college and even though 18 years ago I knew this day would come, intellectually, emotionally I wasn’t ready for it. So you can prepare all you want and I think it’s the same thing. I love the show. I love the character. The greatest role of my life and to be told we’re only doing 16 more, I felt a loss. I felt like I was just dumped.
Well, a legitimate case could be made for five seasons isn’t enough. At least six or seven would be legitimate for a series.
BC: It was in conjunction with Vince Gilligan who said he just couldn’t see extending beyond that so he’s in agreement with that number. He’s the guy, so.
It sounds like directors really value your opinion. Will you have some input with Vince for the end?
BC: It’s a little different in television. I’ve been his partner as we go along the way over now like 50 hours of storytelling. But because this journey is so unusual, I have not wanted to know what happens to my character, so I don’t ask. I read it a week before, just giving me enough time to prepare and/or raise a problem or a concern or question or whatever I may have before we go into it. But it’s as surprising to me as it is to our audience. I’m reading going, “Oh my God! Oh, wow! What?” Just being buckled in on this ride just like anybody else so it’s cool.
Is it exciting to finish so you can take all these film roles?
BC: I haven’t felt that yet because I am still in a relationship. She’s breaking up with me and I’m still denying it I think is what [I feel.]