Bryan Cranston is best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as Walter White in AMC’s "Breaking Bad." More recently, he’s starred in films like "Trumbo" and "The Infiltrator," and even had a run on Broadway as President Lyndon B. Johnson in "All the Way."
But years before he landed the role of a struggling high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with lung cancer turned drug kingpin, Cranston appeared in commercials for hemorrhoid medication, he had roles in soap operas, on "Seinfeld" as Dr. Tim Whatley, and he played goofy-dad Hal on Fox’s sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle".
In his new memoir, "A Life in Parts," Cranston chronicles his odd journey to becoming a working actor, and discusses his roles off screen including, paperboy, farmhand, security guard, dock loader, husband, and father. He talks about how hard work, on and off screen, and his love of storytelling got him to where he is today. Listen to an extended version of this interview and read the highlights below.
Cranston on his childhood, and falling in love with storytelling:
My mother and father met in the late '40s in an acting class in Hollywood — I am a child of Southern California. And as soon as they got together and it was hot and heavy and they quickly got married — because that’s what you did in those days. And they had their first child and then they had me and — my mother gave up her work as an actress so that she could be a housewife and a mother. And that’s what they did in those days. And, actually in her later years, she regretted that decision, to be so devoted, the modern woman could do both.
My father was an actor who had his ups and downs, a lot of downs. So I was around it from an early age and I knew something was very special when driving on to a movie lot. There was something special going on. I did a commercial with him, that he directed and produced for the United Way, when I was seven years old. I knew then that there was something very special about storytelling. And it doesn’t matter if you’re two or 92, you still want to be told a story. And I think from an early age, it was something that I was drawn to. I just didn’t know how to put it into action until later on.
On reading the pilot script of AMC’s "Breaking Bad":
It was an unbelievable pilot. It was storytelling that I’ve never really seen before about the plight of this really good guy who was eventually going to become a really bad guy. And I didn’t know if it was possible, and frankly, Vince Gilligan didn’t know it was possible either. We had conversations to that effect. I said "Are you really going to be able to do this?" and he said "Well, I don’t know. I’m going to try. We’ll see if they’ll let me," in his sweet, gentlemanly Virginian tone. And so we just ventured out together on this journey that we didn’t know. We didn’t quite know if it would work, but we were willing to give it a shot. And we’re happy to say that we feel it did work.
On how celebrity and fame comes with being a working actor:
When I had that epiphany on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it didn’t enter my mind to be famous or a celebrity in any regard. My goal was then—and it is still my proudest professional accomplishment—is to become a working actor, to make my living as an actor. I thought that that would be the most pride I could ever have, professionally. And it still is. And that happened when I was 25 years old and everything that comes after that is just a cherry on top. And I feel that, I believe in that. That being said, it is an odd thing to navigate the choppy waters of celebrity, the attention constantly being pointed at me, when in truth, my comfort level is that I want to focus away from me. I want to observe, I want to be in the moment, I want to experience. I want to look at architecture, I want to have an engaging conversation. But if someone knows me to be a celebrity, the conversation is about me, even though I try to guide it away. The attention and conversation keeps coming back at me. That’s why I really am tickled when I find myself in a situation where I’m in the company of people who do not know me. And you know for sure that you are getting an honest experience at that moment and it’s refreshing to have that kind of touchstone in my life.
On Amazon's "Sneaky Pete," which he produces, acts and directs:
It’s a very interesting process. I co-created this show based on my alter ego as a teenager of being called "Sneaky Pete" and the question that was posed to me was "What would happen if Sneaky Pete didn’t grow up? What if he became 35 to 40 years old and he was still looking to circumvent his responsibilities?"And I thought, "Well that’s kind of interesting." And so I made an adjustment, I had many discussions and co-created the show about just that guy. Who would I be if I didn’t make the correction to my life? And I thought, "I think I’d be a con man." And that’s what our character is. And "Sneaky Pete" is – and I’m very proud of it – is a series that will be available in January on Amazon.
“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VABEFORE YOU GO