Breaking Bad is an amazing piece of work. Previously, I’ve put up interviews with Betsy Brandt, Anna Gunn, and Aaron Paul and now arrives the main event. Bryan Cranston, the actor who has changed the world’s idea of him through his performance as Walter White. A nerdy science teacher who upon being stricken with terminal cancer finds himself in the meth trade to pay for his treatment, Walter is one of television’s all time greatest characters. So much of that is owed to Cranston’s phenomenal work. Now as is evident by his presence in so many big upcoming films, he’s hardly a sneak attack anymore. He’s the real deal in so many ways.
First let me say this, of all the actors I’ve met in my lifetime none of them has clicked with me like this guy. There’s something about him that screams “alive” in a way that transcends the craft and the business and the face one puts on when the “press” is around. He’s as engaging as anyone, a great listener, and somehow able to look ruggedly handsome, menacing, fatherly, and placid in the span of seconds.
Damn it sounds like I wanna kiss the guy.
I had a chance to speak with the man himself (on the record, the dinner the night before was an amazing few hours of entertainment and learning courtesy of Cranston, Giancarlo Esposito, and the rest of the fine folks at AMC who stopped by) on the second day of my set visit and though the most memorable part of that event may be the little “skirmish” we had, I think this goes a long way towards revealing why this actor with a four decade career is one of the greatest we have.
After pretending to be grumpy about the lack of coffee in the room, Bryan sat across from me in an empty office suite with just two bar stools and a view of Downtown Albuquerque.
Bryan Cranston: I see. I get the lower chair.
Nick Nunziata: Hey, it’s the only time I’m taller than anyone.
Bryan Cranston: SON OF A… (Looking out the window) Beautiful downtown Albuquerque! Have you had a chance to look around or see anything?
Nick Nunziata: After dinner with you guys last night I went to a cigar bar. It was college night. They had a DJ and it was guys in Affliction shirts and girls in stilettos. Not my vibe. That was a quick turnaround. Still, this seems like a fun little town.
Bryan Cranston: Right. The thing about Albuquerque is that it’s not about this. This is a small town right here. It’s about what you can do outside of this. The pueblos, the biking trails, and hiking trails. The tramway. The longest tram in the world, right up to the top that mountain there. On a clear day it is gorgeous. We’re at 5,000 foot elevation. That takes you up another 5,000. So that’s 10,000 feet. You can see into Colorado. It’s pretty awesome.
Nick Nunziata: And I love how it’s part of the show. The marriage between this place and Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston: We use it. It’s become a character. We were very fortunate about that because we first came strictly for financial reasons.
Nick Nunziata: Even the pilot was shot here?
Bryan Cranston: Yeah, everything was shot here.
Nick Nunziata: OK, when we visited the sets it’s apparent a lot of that was built after the show went to series.
Bryan Cranston: Right.
Nick Nunziata: I can only imagine that this place influences the show even at the writing stage.
Bryan Cranston: It does and you have the Hispanic culture and the Native American culture. In the pilot you saw that place with the red rocks, which is on an Indian reservation like forty miles out. It’s really amazing.
Nick Nunziata: I’m spoiled now. Last night was so great, getting to just shoot the shit and about whatever. We even got to talk about Dead Space.
Bryan Cranston: Dead Space! It was fun last night.
Nick Nunziata: The recurring thing that keeps hitting me in regards to this show is that it shouldn’t exist. In this climate without risks. Now it’s in its fourth season and it’s beloved. Yet the show never sits still. It’s even more ferocious. Going into season four…concussive is the only word I can think of, of what this show is. What does season four bring to the table that we haven’t seen?
Bryan Cranston: Let me backtrack just a bit. Season one was about the decision and what this man is about to embark on. The newness of it all. The idea of facing death. In the pilot you can justify that it was self defense. Then afterward, Crazy Eight down in the basement… that’s a big difference from being premeditated. Season two was about the ramifications of that decision. How it’s starting to affect his family. The secrets. How it’s starting to affect him and bring him down. The amount of worry and anxiety is built up. Season three was starting to be about acceptance. That he’s now no longer this innocent “I’m just doing it for my family” kind of guy. He’s accepting who he is. He needs to, and in fact embrace the person he’s become. He has to think about more like what he really is, which is a criminal, in order to stay alive. Season four then becomes ‘where is my place in life now that I’ve accepted that?‘. ‘Where do I stand?‘ . ‘Who am I now, who is this new molded person that I’ve become that in some ways I am very attracted to?‘. The power of that, and maybe it’s short-lived. Maybe it’s as ephemeral as the life of a butterfly but goddammit it’s going to be a wild ride. And I’m the man. I’m the guy. You know? So he’s feeling his oats. He’s really feeling it. Before, there were moments where he was able to intimidate and then he’s go “Whoa, oh my God what was that?”. Now he owns that and is starting to use that intimidation and that strength to get what he wants. So the metamorphosis of Walter White has taken shape and he’s moving into new territory with this. Dangerous territory.
Nick Nunziata: It’s a wonder. From the perspective of someone who watches a lot of TV and reads about the business, you watch and you see the ‘life of a show’ that’s mapped out. The five year mission and all that. But the show keeps redefining itself and evolving. It’s one of those things that you never want to end but more importantly you don’t want it too run too long and lose that.
Bryan Cranston: Right!
Nick Nunziata: What’s it like being in the center of this big ball of amazing?
Bryan Cranston: Unlike most other shows, where you have an idea where it’s going to go and what the circumstances are… this is an ever evolving storyline. I truly don’t know from one script to the next where my turn is going to be. It’s so unlikely. I’m enjoying the ride and am as amazed as you are watching it. When we’re reading the scripts we’re saying the “Oh my Gods” just as you are when you’re watching it. So we don’t really know. And I agree with you. I’ve talked to Vince about that. He’s a proud guy. I’m a proud guy. I want the show to last as long as it should, which is a very subjective statement. How long should it last? As long as it’s legitimately furthering the story and telling it, I think we’re good. Once it gets to a point where Walter White has become become this dangerous drug dealing guy, I don’t think it can sustain itself long. Then maybe the story is nearly over. I may be wrong. Maybe it evolves! Maybe it offshoots into whole other area no one really thought of. I guess that’s possible. Right now I’m thinking… I’m like a proud athlete who’d rather leave a year early rather than a year late.
Nick Nunziata: Knowing when to say ‘No’ is a rare talent. We’ve seen too many shows where they’ve lost their gas. Even if Walter becomes this Black Hat there’s so much depth and density… it’s never like that. He could become a transexual tomorrow…
Bryan Cranston: I like where this is going!
Nick Nunziata: That’s a spoiler isn’t it?
Bryan Cranston: Spoiler alert!
Nick Nunziata: But we really are spoiled. When you were on set right at the beginning of this show saying these lines and seeing how Aaron was able to hold his own and deliver the performance he’s delivering, he’s been a huge revelation… when did you first realize what you guys were building?
Bryan Cranston: I knew when I read the pilot that this was special. That if we do this right we can have a really special show, but if we do it wrong we’re screwed. Part of it was the need to set the hook of who this man Walter White is. That we have to establish a sense of humanity in him that is relatable, that people watching go “I get him, I know what he’s feeling, I can see the depression, I can over the years of looking at these apathetic students who don’t give a shit about chemistry and don’t want to be there”. I’m hoping it came through, that they could see that tiny pilot light was on in Walter, that he could still get lost in the joy of chemistry and science. At one time he really loved what he was doing and now doesn’t and he got on the wrong track for one reason or another. And as long as that hook can sink it, and it did, then we got them. We caught the fish, the audience. Now we’re taking them whether they want to or not, on this road that is going out of control. Spinning out. But we’ve got the hook in so people are going with us. Sometimes not even wanting to. That’s why I think that sense of addiction is what has happened to our audience.
Nick Nunziata: Have you started to see the repercussions of Breaking Bad and its footprint in American television? Shows getting chances they wouldn’t have. Leading characters painted with a different brush?
Bryan Cranston: I can’t honestly say it came from Breaking Bad. We owe a lot to The Sopranos for having the balls to put a show like that on. That established that kind of leading man character. Well maybe we can have a more complex, more honest, more real examination of character. Not the Thomas Magnum’s of the world. The always do something right. Never drink too much. Never cheat on their girlfriend. They always figure out the problem right at the end of the show and drive a beautiful car. They’re great looking. All that stuff is fantasy. I don’t think audiences are going to be looking for that anymore. Unless it’s specifically a fantasy show. There’s room for that.
Nick Nunziata: Escapism.
Bryan Cranston: Escapism!
Nick Nunziata: I think the show will ‘echo an eternity’. Especially considering what HBO’s expectations were and what AMC’s were. The gloves are off now.
Bryan Cranston: If that means we’ve then taken that torch and allowed other showrunners and other writers to create and say “you mean I can use the character I’ve been thinking and it’ll actually work?”. If that does it, it’s fantastic. I’m glad for that.
Breaking Bad hits your television this Sunday. If you aren’t caught up use the CHUD Amazon link and catch the hell up. You will not regret it.