The Handlers is an Atom.com exclusive web series about a group of ambitious campaign operatives determined to claw their way to the top of their game. They will do whatever it takes to get hapless candidate Jack Power (Bryan Cranston) elected to a post as State Senator, whether he likes it or not. Based on a French concept called Henaut President, the eight-episode series premieres on January 4th, and then series star Bryan Cranston returns to his Emmy Award-winning performance as Walter White on AMC’s hit television series Breaking Bad, which goes into production for Season 4 on January 13th.
In a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, the very busy Bryan Cranston talked about the fun of doing a web series that is a humorous and racy look at politics, his hopes that it will continue for future episodes, how nerve-wracking it was to host Saturday Night Live this past October, what his favorite skits were, how he’s looking forward to returning to Breaking Bad, and that he prefers to not know where his character is headed so that he can be as surprised as everyone else. He also talked about his roles in the feature films Larry Crowne, The Lincoln Lawyer and Drive, all due out in 2011. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you get involved with this web series, The Handlers?
BRYAN CRANSTON: A friend of mine, Jamie Bruce, who’s one of my partners in it, is part French and he’s a director, and he told me about it and I said, “This is really funny.” It’s based on a French concept called Henaut President, and so I watched that and thought, “This is really clever and fun. Can we Americanize it?” So, we said, “Yeah, let’s try it.” I was also working with Avalon Television, at the time, and really enjoyed working with them on a pilot idea that we sold to the States. So, we got together and we’re producing this short-term series that could turn into a longer-term series, if it works well on Atom.com. We’ll see. We’re premiering on January 4th, and a new episode will show up every Tuesday for eight weeks, so we’re happy about that. It’s fun.
What is The Handlers about?
CRANSTON: It’s a humorous way to look at politics. It’s part of the political spectrum, but it’s non-partisan. We don’t take anything seriously and it’s very racy, at times. We really go into the art of the campaign and the war room behind it and some of the decisions that are made. We’re really following, not necessarily the candidates so much, but the handlers and the campaign managers who take on all the campaigns that happen, throughout the country, around the clock, throughout every year. It doesn’t have to be a presidential election year. They’re doing this all the time.
So, we focused on taking it away from the candidate, and the focus is really on the four people who are the handlers. In future episodes of it, it could be with other celebrities being the candidates. We’re hoping it follows that format. They could be running for mayor, they could be running for dog catcher or, in some cases, there are actually some counties that elect their own coroner. I don’t know how you go about saying, “Oh, I don’t like the work he’s doing! I think we need someone new. His people just don’t look as real.” So, we’re going to explore a lot of different things. It’s fun to keep active and do funny things.
Who are you playing?
CRANSTON: I play a character named Jack Power, who is running for a State Senate seat in a non-descript, small state. We don’t say which state it is. It’s fun to just make it more appealing and more relatable to people, so that it could be any state, really.
Was this a nice diversion from Breaking Bad?
CRANSTON: Breaking Bad is a fantastic show. I love working on it. But, it’s very dark sometimes. It’s nice to just break it up and be a little silly and have fun.
How long did it take to shoot? Was it something that was done pretty quickly?
CRANSTON: It is, budgets as they are. Atom.com was very gracious with us. They paid for everything and we’re grateful for that. That being said, we still don’t have a huge budget. Our dressing rooms consisted of us dressing on the fly, as we did this. It takes a week to prep it and write it and shoot it. We get our writer/performers together, and myself, and Jamie Bruce, who directs them, and we put it together in that week. We shoot for two days and we’re done. And then, we send it to post and do some post work on it. It’s hand-held and loose, but the quality is really quite good. We’re pleased with it.
Is there a lot of improvisation involved with something like this?
CRANSTON: Yes, there was definitely improvisation, which I think is terrific. In some sketches, we took a page out of Saturday Night Live, that puts together a show in a week. We write sketches, read the sketches, rehearse the sketches and then decide which ones we want to do. And sometimes we take a page out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where we have a concept and we get everybody together and just riff on that concept and see what we come up with. We’ve done both. I think we’ll continue to do both because sometimes it’s good to have it sketched out and have an idea, so that the performers can all just go and expand and say anything and see what happens. And then, other times, you have a specific idea of the beginning, middle and end, for where you want it to go and it’s good to have it scripted because that also saves a lot of time, and you get to it and knock it out.
You hosted Saturday Night Live this past October. What was that experience like for you? How nerve-wracking was that to do?
CRANSTON: It is amazingly nerve-wracking. It was one of the highlights of my career, honestly. The cast and crew and the writers and Lorne Michaels were very gracious, welcoming and supportive, and they know what they’re doing over there and have really got it down. I just wanted to come in, as I did, and say, “I want to be a team member here. If you think I should be in a sketch, great. If you think I shouldn’t, fine. Just work me and let me participate.” I was really, really happy with the experience. It was working without a net. It’s live and you don’t know what’s really going to happen. You have an idea of what’s going to happen. You’ve rehearsed. But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen exactly the same way it should. It was fun to be able to jump in.
It’s so chaotic, it’s nerve-wracking. As soon as you finish your monologue and they go to that Saturday Night Live commercial to fill time, I was rushed off the set to change clothes and was immediately throwing wigs off. Three people were taking my clothes off and putting wigs on me, and someone was holding me so that I didn’t lose my balance, and someone was holding up a cup of water in case I wanted a sip, and someone was yelling, “25 seconds! 15 seconds!” And then, they push you on and there you are. The live audience has an idea of what we just went through, but the TV audience just doesn’t know that it was this absolute chaotic moment. But, it’s stimulating and it’s so much fun.
Was there a favorite skit that you got to do?
CRANSTON: There were several favorites that I enjoyed. I think the game show was one of my favorites. Overall, the silliness of singing with Fred Armisen was great. It was two brothers who only sang one song and the song was, “I Sent a Bottle of Sparking Apple Juice to Your House, Did You Get It?” That was the only lyrics to the song, and somehow it cracked the Top 100 in the ‘70s and we had a little ripple of fame because it was so goofy. It was like “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” That was fun and so bizarre.
When do you start filming Breaking Bad again?
CRANSTON: We go back on January 13th. That is our first shooting day for our fourth season.
Have they given you any hints about what the arc is going to be for Season 4, or are they still trying to figure all of that out?
CRANSTON: No, they’ve got it. I just don’t know it. It’s true. I haven’t asked and they haven’t told me. I don’t want to know. This is such a journey for Walter White. He doesn’t know what’s happening, from moment to moment, so I didn’t want to ruin it. I enjoy reading the scripts cold and seeing where it goes, just like you’re reading a good novel. If someone were to tell me, in a thumbnail sketch, what happens, I’d be disappointed. I don’t want them to tell me. I want to experience it. That’s my philosophy on it. So, I honestly truly don’t know where this fourth season is going.
What are the qualities that you like best in Walter White, and are there qualities that you wish you could change in him?
CRANSTON: That’s funny because you get so subjective to it. Walter is in a metamorphosis. When we first started the show, I could tell you who he was, and what he is and what he isn’t, as most people can. But, at this stage, Walter doesn’t even know. He’s coming to grips with the dark side of his personality. At first, he had to acknowledge that there is such a thing, and now he’s embracing it. This third season was all about accepting who you are, so that you can stay alive in this very dangerous game. He’s learning about himself. When I look at it now, objectively, I think he’s going to try to hold onto as much of that altruistic nature as he can. It’s a, “I’m doing this for my family,” point of view. But, in reality, I don’t think so. He’s found some sort of addictive quality to the rush of the game itself, that he didn’t even know he had. I think about that and realize that, given the right set of circumstances, just about any one of us can be that dangerous.
CRANSTON: No, I like the break. We had almost a year break this year and it was great because I got to spend time at home with the family, and then I went off and did several films and developed The Handlers. Things were good and I was able to have L.A. as my base. I was fortunate to be able to then look forward to coming back for a fourth season of the show. Now, as the year is winding down and I’m just relaxing, I can start thinking about Breaking Bad and The Handlers, and a couple of the projects that I’ve got in the works, and look forward to having them jump off and see how people respond to them.
Can you talk about the film projects that have been keeping you busy during hiatus?
CRANSTON: None of them will come out for awhile, but I was able to do a lot of different things and I was very grateful. I did Larry Crowne, with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, where I got to play a jerk, but I was married to Julia. How about that? I was very intimidated about that, as you would think. At the time that Tom had offered me that role, I was Walter White. I was bald, hunched over, wrinkled, thin and sickly. I told Tom, “I’ve got to be honest with you, I feel like I’d look more like her dad than a potential mate.” But, he said, “No, you’ll be done. You’ll be fine. You’ll gain your weight back and grow your hair back.” He wasn’t worried about it at all. I said, “Are you sure?,” and he said, “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” And, it did work out great. I went on a special diet and I started pumping up a little bit. I wanted the audience to look and go, “I can see where they could possibly, at some point, get together.” That was important to me, so that it wouldn’t look like, “Why is that old guy with her?” I was a little intimidated by that, but that was fun. That comes out in July 2011.
And then, I did a little picture with Matthew McConaughey, called The Lincoln Lawyer, and that comes out in March 2011. I play an investigative officer who doesn’t like Matthew’s character at all. I got to play an authoritative tough guy, which was fun.
John Carter of Mars is another one, but that won’t come out until the Summer of 2012. And, there was Drive, which I had a terrific time on, with Ryan [Gosling], Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Carey Mulligan. I don’t know when that’s coming out. I’m sure we’ll have another opportunity to discuss those, and I look forward to it.
Are you having a lot of fun with all of the diverse work that you’re getting to do, in your career?
CRANSTON: I am. This is a great time for me.
THE HANDLERS premieres on Atom.com on January 4, 2011