With Breaking Bad season three hitting DVD and Blu-ray next week and season four starting next month, I was able to get on the phone with Bryan Cranston earlier today to talk about the amazing series. As most of you know, the show’s about a brilliant high school chemistry teacher that finds out he’s dying. To help provide for his family after he’s gone and also to pay for medical treatment, he gets into cooking crystal meth. The past three seasons has seen Cranston’s character slowly become another person, and it’s been an amazing ride. Trust me, this is a show you should be watching and Cranston’s work is amazing. That’s probably why he won a few Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
During our conversation, Cranston talked about his take on the first three seasons and what’s coming up on season four. He also talked about the level of difficulty in starting up again after a year between seasons, his preference between knowing the entire season’s storyline in advance or sticking to one script at a time, and the possibility of Breaking Bad mini episodes (he says no). Cranston went on to discuss other film projects like The Lincoln Lawyer, director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Rock of Ages, Larry Crowne, and Len Wiseman’s Total Recall. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
As most of you know, Total Recall just started filming, and while Cranston hasn’t yet been in front of the cameras, he did tell me how his Cohaagen compare to the “original” Cohaagen (from Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall). He said:
“I took a different path as you will see. My path was that the Hauser character – the man I knew before his memory was erased – I am so fond of. He is a protégé of mine and I love this kid. To me, to find him and to capture him was about trying to restrain an unruly teenager of mine. I have no intention of causing him any long term damage, but he needs to be punished. He is acting out. I have to find him and give him some tough love. So that was my whole point. It is that I love him and I want to protect him at all costs, but he is just testing me. He is being challenging like a teenager would be. That is my whole approach to it as opposed to the “I want him dead!” kind of feeling. I want him alive and when it gets to a point where that might not be possible it breaks my heart.”
Collider: Are you up in Toronto right now (where Total Recall is filming)?
Bryan Cranston: No, I am in Albuquerque. We have about 10 more days of shooting of Season 4.
Interesting. I thought you might be up in Toronto already.
BC: I was there this weekend for some camera tests, wardrobe, make up, and those sort of things. You know, just to acquaint, meet up, talk about the character a little bit, and do some of that work. Then I came back here. So we are all ready to go. It’s going to be fun to go up there and shoot Total Recall. Len Wiseman is a great guy and I met Colin Farrell. He is just a charming guy. I watched a scene that he was shooting that day and it was like, “Boy, the camera loves that man.”
Yes it does, but the camera also treats you very well. I don’t think that you are doing too bad right now.
BC: [laughs] No, life is good.
I was researching you earlier today while getting ready or this interview and do you sort of feel like with what is going on right now that you’ve won some sort of lottery?
BC: I think if you believe in past lives, I must have been an extremely deprived being. I must have been mistreated, beaten, and forced into indentured servitude because this life has just been phenomenal. I don’t know and I don’t know why. I think, and I mean this sincerely, I was raised humbly. We were a lower middle income family and a household that was scrimping by at times. We were watching the dollar, stretching the dollar, and coupons. It was all those things. That was my life as a kid and because of that most kids from that real blue collar upbringing can’t develop a sense of entitlement. There is just no way because you are living from day to day. So I take that blue collar work into my life as an adult. All of these things come to me like these opportunities, financial securities, and artistic awards. I’m thinking, “Wow!” Every time it happens I’m thinking, “I won again?! Unbelievable!” So I don’t expect it. I’m certainly appreciative of it, but I just don’t have that sense of entitlement. I don’t think life owes me anything and the business doesn’t owe me anything. The only way to approach it is by working hard and loving what you do. If you do that and have faith, maybe you will get lucky. I mean that sincerely and specifically. I truly believe that no professional career in the arts is capable without a healthy dose of luck.
I have a lot of friends in the arts and I completely agree. With season 3 of Breaking Bad getting ready to come out on Blu-ray/DVD and season 4 getting ready to start airing next month. Can you talk about what you take away when you look back on the 3 seasons? How does the future hold as far as the way you look at everything?
BC: Well, you look at this way. The first season was all about the decision. Here is where you were introduced to this man, this man’s life, this man’s plight, his limited decision, and he makes this decision. The second season was “Oh, so this plan isn’t so simple? There is a ripple affect and the ramifications from this decision. Aha!” The third season was that there was no more fooling yourself. That you have to embrace the fact that you have some criminal intentions and you better wise up and get a little street cred going or you are going to lose your life. For a bright man he was naïve in many different ways. So he had to embrace how to be a criminal, you know? “Being a Criminal for Dummies” – he read that book. Season 4 now opens it up. It had to be and it is justifiable. It starts out in season 1 with this single man with this dilemma. Here is the condition and then it’s like a spring. All of a sudden now it’s a twig, now you have a bush, and now it is a tree. The breadth of the story had to expand to introduce toes that he is stepping on like the cartel and all of these new characters. The involvement gets more complicated. It has to grow. So now there are new shoots from this one tree that are all around. As promised, this man’s life is getting more and more complicated and not simplified. So his simple plan is anything but. It just gets darker and deeper. You used to say that he was on his way to this new persona, but he is here. It’s just the fact that he needs to truly embrace who he is and what he is capable of in order to survive.
Totally. I don’t want to say anything specifically for people that haven’t see it, but the last season ended in such way that you were on the cusp of being right there. With so much time between seasons 3 and 4, how was it like getting back into Walter’s head as an actor or was it an immediate thing where you can just flip a switch?
BC: It is like a switch. My switch, like for most actors, is reading the first script. It’s like, “Oh, yeah. This is familiar.” even though its been an year. It was a year since we ended season 3 and started season 4 in production. It is. You read it and go, “I remember this guy.” Then when you get to work and I put on the wallabees, the khakis, the shirt, and the glasses. I shave my head and goatee and I go, “Oh, yeah. Ok.” It’s like slipping on familiar clothes. I was going to say comfortable, but Walt’s life is anything but comfortable.
Vince Gilligan had a lot of time to create and arch out this season with production being put on hold until January or February of this year. How much did you know about the full arch of season 4 or do you like going one script at a time?
BC: The later. The scripts are available to read in advance, but I found them to only confuse the character because this story is such a journey of twists and turns with unexpected surprises and things. It wasn’t helpful for me to be too full on in advance to what we were shooting. Then I have it in my head that “but I already saw him or I met him already, right? ‘No, that is the next episode where you meet him. Now, you’ve just heard of him.’ Oh, right. So the name is not familiar yet.” It’s all of these things that you can get confused. Walt doesn’t know what is going to happen to him in the next hour let alone the next day, week, or year. So with that in mind, it was more helpful to me to be surprised and only know what I know as the character from week to week.
There was a lot of talk there was going to be some mini episodes coming out before season 4 starts. Is that still the plan? Did you film some?
BC: No. That was my big mouth blabbering all over last year when the question was, “Well, it is going to be a long time between seasons.” and I go “Yeah. It would be great to have mini episodes…” I had that idea and I pitched it to Vince and to Sony and everybody was going, “Yeah! We like that idea.” So then people were asking me about it and I was saying, “Yeah. What we are going to do…” because I think liking the idea means “Ok. Let’s do it.” You know, I like the Maserati. Am I going to get the Maserati? No. So I learned my lesson there because we then had to put out some fires. It was an idea and we all liked the idea. But it was tough especially on the writers because they would want to write it and have control over that because it is content. They are so deeply involved in the actual story that they couldn’t just break away and focus their attention on these little mini episodes that were a concept and an idea. Perhaps now with more of a lead we might be able to do that, but it might not be necessary now. We will see. I mean, we are in June now and we premiere next month. Next week is our release of the third season so people will be able to catch up and get up to snuff with that then roll right into July 17th for the premiere of our fourth season.
A movie that you were in that I thought was very underrated was The Lincoln Lawyer. I think they did a great job with it. You had a small part in that. Did you know it was going to be such a good film when you got involved or did you have your fingers crossed?
BC: You know, it always starts with a script. I read the script and I liked the script. When something is well written it has a chance to be good. It doesn’t mean it will be, but it has a chance. If it is not well written it won’t be good. It could be popular, but it won’t be good in my estimation. So with that in mind I was asked to take a look at it and I did. I really enjoyed the script and talked to the director. We were talking about which role was appropriate and what was going to work. He was assembling it. It’s like putting the ingredients of a cake together. You know, when you want to rise, to be attractive, look good, and work. I really started to want to be a part of that. I said, “Look. Let me pick out a role then.” William [H. Macy] was already cast and, of course, Matthew [McConaughey] was already cast. So the only real thing that was appropriate to me was one of the detectives. I chose the role that had a specific agenda and he had a counter point to the lead character, which I thought would be fun to play. As it has always been historically the case, you are susceptible to being cut. And my role was cut down in The Lincoln Lawyer and understandably. I get it. You have to have the length of the movie appropriately long to tell your story, but you don’t want it too long and there are some places where you can trim it. This is a result from our society’s attention span. It truly is. Can you imagine if you went on dial-up right now? [does the old sound of the internet connecting] You would be looking at it and going, “You have to be kidding me! Come on!” But at the time when dial-up started it was like, “Well, ok. This is how it works. Wow that is fast! God, the screen came on in 3 minutes! Man, that is amazingly fast!” We continue to increase our low sense of patience. We want it now, now, now! The same is true in filmmaking that we are appealing to a modern audience. When I was a kid movies were always double billed. You would always go see two movies. Can you imagine doing that now? Movies back then were always longer. They were two hours or longer. So we are talking about four and a half hours.
For me that is not a problem, but you are right. For the average movie goer they want an hour and a half of entertainment and then see you later.
BC: Right. Exactly. “I’m done. Let’s do something else.”
On a positive, I’m sure there will be an extended Blu-ray/DVD. For fans of the movie, like me, I’m sure I will able to see all of the footage.
BC: Hopefully they will have deleted scenes. So that is good. But it was a good movie and I enjoyed it. Personally, I thought it was one of the best things that Matthew has done. I thought he really grabbed it and I thought he did a terrific job. Brad Furman, our director, was fantastic to work with. He was patient, understanding, and wanting ideas and opinions. It was great. It was a
You’re in a bunch of other things. One of the films that got a lot of buzz from Cannes was Drive, which I believe you have a part in.
BC: I haven’t seen it yet. I had a great time shooting it. [Director] Nicolas Refn is a terrifically open and collaborative man. I went over to his house several times. I met with Ryan [Gosling], Albert Brooks, and our writer [Hossein Amini]. We were discussing, pitching ideas, and we would act it out. A lot of that ended up in the movie. So it was very involved from all ends. It turns out that it was well received and I am grateful for that. Again, going back, I am just so lucky. It was like, “Wow! That was a fantastic choice!” I was glad to be available and they wanted me for this. I had a great role. I was able to create this character and how he looked. He had a bum leg so I had a brace on my leg. I had a little hitch in my get along there. My character Shannon was kind of irascible. It was just a blast to play and Ryan was terrific to work with.
After you wrap on Breaking Bad in 10 days I know that you are obviously going to go do Total Recall and I see that you are also listed for Rock of Ages. So what are the next 6 months looking like for you?
BC: Right now, those are the only two things that are definite. I am doing a cameo in Rock of Ages. I talked with [director] Adam Shankman and had a nice conversation. He just painted such an attractive picture that I said, “Ok. I am going to do this.” To play Catherine Zeta-Jones’ husband…I was very flattered. It was like, “…really? Ok. That sounds like fun.” It’s like the movie that is coming out next month that I did called Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts where I was able to play Julia’s husband. I was really nervous about it because I was shooting Breaking Bad’s third season when Tom called and I said, “Tom, I got to tell you right now. Right now with the way I look I look more like her dad than her husband.” and he goes “Your hair will grow back. It will be fine.” I had a great time, of course, shooting on that film, but I was nervous. So I got into really good shape. I got one of those spray tans. I bleached my teeth. I grew my hair out and I had styled it. I just wanted to look at young as possible so that people wouldn’t watch the movie and go, “When did he get with her?! How did that work?” I wanted people to go “Yeah. Ok. I can kind of see that.” So I hope I pulled it off. So, yeah, Larry Crowne opens on July 1st.
I have to ask. How does your Cohaagen compare to the “original” Cohaagen from the first Total Recall?
BC: I took a different path as you will see. My path was that the Hauser character – the man I knew before his memory was erased – I am so fond of. He is a protégé of mine and I love this kid. To me, to find him and to capture him was about trying to restrain an unruly teenager of mine. I have no intention of causing him any long term damage, but he needs to be punished. He is acting out. I have to find him and give him some tough love. So that was my whole point. It is that I love him and I want to protect him at all costs, but he is just testing me. He is being challenging like a teenager would be. That is my whole approach to it as opposed to the “I want him dead!” kind of feeling. I want him alive and when it gets to a point where that might not be possible it breaks my heart.
I have to tell you that I am pretty excited for the remake. There is one hell of a cast involved.
BC: It is going to be great. I really love this new script and I think you will love it. I really do.