Bryan Cranston on tackling an evil role in Total Recall and plans for life after Breaking Bad
BRYAN CRANSTON’S ROLE as a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who manufactures methamphetamine on television’s Breaking Bad has earned him three Emmy Awards and a massive cult following.
Before the show he was best-known as the father on the comedy series Malcolm in the Middle, but his role as a sympathetic bad guy has made Hollywood take notice.
Now the 56-year-old actor is sought for feature films, having starred in John Carter, Red Tails, Rock of Ages and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
Cranston has his most high-profile film role to date, as the evil Chancellor Cohaagen in a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster Total Recall. It stars Colin Farrell in the Schwarzenegger role as the ordinary man who discovers he is actually a super spy.
Cranston spoke about the new film and what he plans to do when Breaking Bad ends next year.
You play the evil Chancellor Cohaagen in Total Recall. What was it about the role that attracted you?
The idea of having a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy, I don’t relate to that. I always need to justify the characters’ actions. If you can’t then the character stays outside of you and you’re never comfortable because you never quite understand that character. An actor needs to ingest a character, to swallow it and let it sink down into the centre of your body and live there in order for you to truly be comfortable.
So after you ingested Cohaagen, what’s he all about?
I wanted to have Cohaagen understood. He believes in his own cause so he can justify his actions and his point of view and his agenda: ‘I am right. My world is great. Come on in.’
What was the most challenging aspect of playing the role?
The hand-to-hand combat with Colin Farrell. I’ve always been an athlete, so I pride myself in being able to do it. But it was the physical nature of the hand-to-hand combat and the orchestration that had to be done. Then I got pink eye from splashing around in that water (where the fight takes place). Everybody was walking in and out of that water and it became this dirty Petri dish. I got pink eye in both eyes!
You’ve won three consecutive Emmys for your performance on Breaking Bad. Does that alter a career?
It does. That kind of attention gets you noticed. Having notoriety like an Emmy or getting nominated for a Golden Globe puts your name out there. Then when someone is talking about roles and you’re in the news, you’re out there in the zeitgeist and then it’s, “Bryan Cranston? Bring him in!”
So you credit the show for your feature film resurgence, including last year’s Drive, Contagion and the upcoming Ben Affleck-directed Argo?
I think Breaking Bad busted down those doors where people either didn’t know me at all, or knew me as the silly dad from Malcolm in the Middle. But even getting Breaking Bad was an issue. Had I not had the good fortune to work with (show creator Vince Gilligan) nearly 10 years ago on an episode of The X-Files it wouldn’t have happened. I played a despicable character who you still kind of cared about and he remembered me from that.
Breaking Bad is currently in its fifth season. The sixth and final one begins shooting in November and will air next summer. Are you looking forward to reprising Walter White one last time?
I want to get on the roller coaster again, yeah. Then when it comes to the last stop, I’ll step out and say, ‘That was great!’ Then we’ll hug, we’ll cry, we’ll laugh, we’ll say goodbye and move on.
Are you already plotting what you’ll be doing after that?
There are plans. I wrote a script that I’m going to direct. I adapted it from a novel (Home Again by David Wiltse). It’s a family drama, a family in crisis and a murder mystery. As soon as Breaking Bad is done, we’ll go into pre-production. Hopefully we’ll have our cast rounded out by then.
Is there anything else you’d like to check off your career bucket list?
I haven’t done Broadway yet. I hope to within the next couple of years. I’ve had opportunities but either the material wasn’t quite right or the timing wasn’t quite right. But now that I know Breaking Bad will (stop shooting) in March of next year, I will be able to walk away proud of that series and not do another one for at least a couple of years — to just push back from that and see what opportunities there may be for me in theatre.
In September, you’ll be attending the Emmys where you have your fourth nomination for playing Walter White. Is the pressure on or off?
I never thought the pressure was on me because I don’t think in those terms. To anticipate a gift is bad form, so just allow it to be a gift. If it’s supposed to be yours then someone will give it to you. If not, then not. It’s not going to make me happy or unhappy.