The Interview: Bryan Cranston talks acting, sourdough bread, and surviving four decades in the business
Seated in a mahogany-lined study with a neatly trimmed beard and leaning back on a deep brown leather chair, Bryan Cranston looks closer to a thoughtful college professor holding court than the actor behind the terrifying Walter White, or indeed, the hapless Hal Wilkerson from 'Malcolm In The Middle'.
When asked a particularly trite question to break the ice, he flashes a cold look and says, "That is so contrived, my God...", before breaking into an easy laugh and talking about his sourdough bread. His grandfather, he recalls, was a baker from Germany. "I'm actually quite a decent baker, I wouldn't say a great baker yet. I'm a pretty good baker," he laughs.
Although he's now known in his career for his working on 'Breaking Bad' as the fearsome meth-producing warlord Walter White and as the child-like patriarch in 'Malcom In The Middle', Cranston's career had prior to these had been one of supporting roles and guest appearances.
He had parts in everything from 'Seinfeld' to 'Baywatch' to 'Power Rangers'. Not the recent reboot, although he did have a role in that. No, Bryan Cranston voice the role of Snizzard in the original series. In fact, his IMDb from the '90s back to the start features classics such as 'Babylon 5', 'Falcon Crest', 'Murder She Wrote', 'LA Law', and even an episode of 'Airwolf'.
"I've been acting now professionally for 41 years and I've made a living since I was 25 years old that's all I've done since I was 25 and that was my goal. Just to make a living doing something I love to do. That's the victory. However much money that is, I'm it," Cranston puts it bluntly.
"I'm not one who's motivated by money - don't get me wrong, it's better to have money than not to have money because when I was a kid, I was really poor. But it doesn't motivate me. I don't want to make a creative decision out of financial need so I keep my nut low. I don't spend a lot and go from project to project of things that I love. I'll do theatre, which pays virtually nothing, and then I'll do a movie that it that might be a blockbuster, may not, but mostly my attraction is to small independent stories."
Cranston's career post-'Breaking Bad' has been one that's been difficult to track, to say the least. He certainly has made no attempt to return to television in a significant way, that's for sure. From 2014 to 2018, he's starred in a blockbuster ('Godzilla'), an Oscar-bait biopic ('Trumbo'), voiced an animated character ('Kung Fu Panda 3'), and even returned to the role of Walter White - once for an 'SNL' sketch and once for a brief scene in 'El Camino', the so-so received sequel movie to the series.
On the topic of 'The One and Only Ivan', Cranston points out that the movie, if nothing else, can start conversations with families about animal captivity. "If we can present entertainment that makes people think as well as enjoy themselves, we've we've done well," he declares. The character in which he plays, Mack, is a struggling performer and zoo owner who seems permanently optimistic about turning things around for his failing business. Above all, he's a survivor - not unlike Cranston himself.
"When I talk to young actors, I say you have to have a willingness and an ability to go into your own emotional cavity, your treasure chest, open it up and say what emotions you have truly felt that are necessary for this character," Cranston expounds, edging ever so slightly forward in his seat to draw you in.
"It could be rage, could be jealousy, could be fear, could be anger of some sort, or it could be anything as well as a positive experience. An actor has to be willing to allow the vulnerability to be present and come to the surface in order to be successful, and whatever you haven't felt in your real life, that's where you're imagination kicks in," he explains.
"It's all based though on a person being vulnerable. When you show vulnerability, human beings are really wonderful."