Perched at the very top of the dramatic actors A list, Bryan Cranston recently picked up a Screen Actors Guild award for playing LBJ in HBO’s All the Way, adding to his five-Emmy haul for Breaking Bad, an Oscar nomination for Trumbo and numerous other accolades.
At the same time, the versatile Cranston, who landed on the pop culture radar as the goofy dad in Malcolm in the Middle, continues to exercise his comedy muscles. His chops are evident in live-action films like the recent Why Him? and animation projects like the voice of Zardon in the upcoming Power Rangers movie and Titanium Rex in Crackle.com’s SuperMansion, which begins streaming its second season this week.
Meanwhile, his Amazon Prime series, Sneaky Pete, which he created, wrote, helped direct, and villainously stars in, is winning raves, and so is his memoir, A Life in Parts. So we asked the late-blooming 60-year-old about acting, writing, what drives him and the craziest thing he’s ever done to land a job.
“I don’t have to work another day in my life. Why would I work? I do it because it moves me. I dream about it.”
You’ve got Season 2 of SuperMansion this month and Power Rangers next month. What’s the appeal of doing animation voiceovers?
It’s really about storytelling. I really don’t approach it any differently than I would live action. When I read the first SuperMansion script, I thought it was funny but also relatable. You have a guy who is past his prime struggling to hold onto relevancy in his life and wanting to still be important to the world and proud of his job as a superhero, fighting crime. It’s just a lot of fun, and you don’t have to wear makeup or anything like that. I did Power Rangers voices when I started out as an actor. I did a lot of voices for them. I played mostly bad guys. That was 35 years ago. I’ve seen a lot of the movie and it’s impressive. I think it’s going to be a big deal.
What cartoons did you watch as a kid?
Pretty much anything from Warner Brothers: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn.
You do TV and movies, comedy, drama, voiceovers, writing, producing and you’re great at all of them. Is there anything you’re terrible at?
Yes, as my wife will tell you! I could learn to have more patience. It’s not that I want everything now, but I want to keep moving forward, I want to get going and I want the process to be faster. The downside to features is a film will take three years from the concept to the writing, development, shooting, post-production and selling it. If it doesn’t work, it’s “Oh my God, I spent three years and no one knows what I did!” There’s more immediacy with television.
Do you prefer it?
I like to change it up. I do LBJ and then I do Why Him? I try to go vastly different from what I just did.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get a part?
Does having sex with someone count? Not that I did, I was just wondering. I went on a commercial call for Mars candy bars and in order to be in this commercial you had to rappel off a mountain. I’d never done it in my life and I was even afraid of it but I wanted the commercial and I knew I would have to do it. On the callback they were having people rappel off a three-story building.
So I called a company called A16, an outdoor outfitter, and I hired a guy to come teach me how to do this. We were out on the rocks in Chatsworth, California, close to where I was raised. I was sweating and gripped with fear. I could not move. It took me four hours to figure out and by the end of it I was twirling around. I took what I learned to the callback and got the job. Two weeks later we were shooting at the Chatsworth rocks and I told the director and producer that it was the exact location where I learned to do this… but I didn’t tell them when. I wrote about this in my book.
How did you find the process of writing the book?
I enjoyed it. It was a chance for me to be creative without being in the public eye—it’s really exhausting at times. I wanted to be able to refocus on stories that I’ve told before, stories that I’ve never told and really be detailed about what was happening with me emotionally and intellectually and lay it all out. I thought it would be a futile exercise to withhold something. There are a lot of intimate things I reveal: some things I’m not proud of, some things I am, insecurities and triumphs. It was very cathartic.
“I want to wander the streets in Budapest. I haven’t been to Africa and would love to go there and to the Scandinavian countries, I haven’t been there either. I want to be alive and experience more things.”
Did you show it to your wife as you were writing?
Yes, and my brother and sister because I have a lot about them in it and I wanted to make sure the details were correct. They helped me a lot with recollection.
You also recorded the audio version.
It was harder than I thought. I would hear my voice and it was like reverberating back into my brain, like a bad phone connection. I don’t think I’ll do it again.
Who would you get instead?
You’ve signed random copies of your book in airport bookstores. Have you heard from any of the buyers?
Yes, it’s been fun. It was a lark. It was early on in the book tour and I wanted to give a gift, you know? I’d buy it, sign it and sneak it back on the bookshelf. I did it in every airport and place there was the book. There have been tweets and interviews where people show pictures of it. It was a fun thing to do.
What do you want to do next?
I need to slow down a little bit. I did a lot this year. I don’t know if I did too much. I have a lot of things coming up again and each thing takes a lot of energy to do and then sell. I feel like at times I’m breathing in my own exhale, like I’m working in a bubble so much and I know it doesn’t behoove me as an actor. As a person I want to be able to continue to explore and learn things, whether or not they have anything to do with a character I’m playing. I want to wander the streets in Budapest. I haven’t been to Africa and would love to go there and to the Scandinavian countries, I haven’t been there either. I want to be alive and experience more things.
If you feel like you’re taking on too much, what drives you to do it?
You know, I don’t play golf. I work and I go home—that’s basically it, and it’s not laborious to me. When you start out as an actor, you have a tendency to just take whatever comes along because you need to pay your rent. You don’t really learn the power of “no” until later on if you get very fortunate. But being very fortunate, you also get a higher level of storytelling, of writers and directors who approach you with different projects, and you thought, “Wow, this is a great opportunity. I should take advantage of this.”
I don’t have to work another day in my life. Why would I work? I do it because it moves me. I dream about it. I get up in the morning, and I write ideas and just little interesting oddities of situations that I may put in a script sometime, and I’ll put it in a file. I’m not money motivated at all, really. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate money because when I was a boy, I didn’t have any money. I just love storytelling. Get me involved in any aspect of storytelling, and if it’s compelling to me, I’d like to be a part of it.
Photo: Amazon Studios