Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
It can be difficult to think of actor Bryan Cranston as anyone other than Walter White, the cancer-ridden science teacher-turned- meth cook chronicled in AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” But in a new memoir, “a life in parts,” Cranston gives a candid look the many roles he’s played on camera —Tim Whatley in “Seinfeld”, Hal in “Malcom In The Middle” and Lyndon B Johnson on Broadway—and off, from chicken farmer to security guard and dating consultant. Actor Bryan Cranston talks with Diane about mega-stardom, telling stories and the necessary, hard work it takes to get it right.
- Bryan Cranston Academy Award-nominated and multiple Emmy-winning actor, writer and director. He is best known for his role as "Walter White" on the A-M-C series Breaking Bad. He’s the author of “A Life In Parts."
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted from A LIFE IN PARTS by Bryan Cranston. Copyright © 2013 by Ribit Productions, Inc. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Bryan Cranston grew up with two parents who were actors, but he wasn't always sure he wanted to be in the business himself. Decades later, Bryan Cranston is considered one of America's most versatile actors in film, on Broadway and on television. Cranston is known for his total emersion into character and especially as Walter White in the award-winning series "Breaking Bad" for powerful moments like this.
MR. BRYAN CRANSTONIf that's true, if you don't know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.
REHMAnd joining me to talk about hustle, Hollywood and his new memoir titled "A Life In Parts," actor, director and screenwriter, Bryan Cranston. And of course, as always, you are welcome to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And Bryan Cranston, it's good to see you.
CRANSTONThank you, Diane. It's great to be here.
REHMYou know, I am seeing you on Skype. I do know that I've been on kind of a marathon with Bryan Cranston watching "Breaking Bad," watching you as LBJ and I have to confess, I am stunned by your range. Did you ever think that you had that range within you?
CRANSTONI think so. I mean, to be blunt, any actor has to have confidence in your abilities or else you'll be dissuaded out of pursuing what you really truly love. And so I, like every actor, was looking for what we need and the only thing that we need really, is opportunity. If we get an opportunity to present ourselves and to be able to create a character and perform, that's all we're really asking for. So opportunity came to me. I tried to seize it and take advantage of it as best I could and I was very lucky to get these roles that came my way.
REHMWell, back when you were in high school, you were in a play that sort of shook that confidence. What happened?
CRANSTONWell, actually, it was the school play in elementary school. I was 11 years old and I was on stage as the lead of the school play called "The Time Machine" which in all school plays have a component of history or lessons to be learned in school. And so we would go back in time to seminal moments in American history and I, as the inventor of the time machine, Professor Flipnoodle -- yes, that's right, Professor Flipnoodle -- and I was a darn good Flipnoodle. There were to performances. One for the student body in the afternoon and then one at night for the parents of the classmates.
CRANSTONAnd I sailed through the afternoon performance just fine and to preface it just a little more, in Southern California in the '60s when I grew up, there were a chain of department stores called The White Front. They were as ubiquitous as Target. So they were all throughout Southern California. Now, back to the story. So in between the two performances, a friend of mine, Jeff Widener (sp?), he said -- he played Davey Crockett in the play -- he said wouldn't it be funny if you, instead of saying your line, "President Lincoln will finish write the Gettysburg Address when he returns to the White House," you said, "when he returns to The White Front."
CRANSTONAnd I said, oh, boy, that would be funny, but I can't say that. I'm not going to say that. That would be terrible. It would ruin the play. And at 11 years old, I'm positive I didn't know the term or the meaning of the word mantra, but somehow I knew I had to put it in my brain not to say White Front. So that's exactly how I repeated it.
REHMWhat you said, yes.
CRANSTONYeah, don't say White Front, don’t say White Front so naturally, when it came time, President Lincoln will finish writing the Gettysburg Address when he returns to the White Front. There was an explosion of laughter and all aimed at me, both on stage, back stage and the entire audience was beside themselves with laughter.
REHMAnd what did it do to you?
CRANSTONWell, I think, I mean, at the time, it was abject humiliation and embarrassment. I messed up and I ruined the play, you know, and I was too immature to be able to realize or take anything in stride or to be able to have a sense of humor about yourself at that age. So it hit me hard and I was devastated by it. It wasn't until many years later that I realized the power of the placement of one word. In your world, you know that quite well. And -- or the purposeful displacement of a word or replacement of a word and how it could evoke laughter or fear or any number of things.
CRANSTONSo I think in the long run, it was an extremely helpful situation for me, but...
REHMA good teaching moment that lasted for a long time. Your parents were both actors, but you really weren't at all sure you wanted to follow that path.
CRANSTONNo, I was into sports a lot and my father, right around that time, he left that family and they divorced and I didn't see my father from the time I was 11 or 12 to the time I was 22. So big chunk of my formative years were missing from that kind of influence. And my mother was devastated. He was the love of her life and she didn't handle that well and started drinking considerably and it was a tough, tough period. So I didn't know the direction I wanted to go in. Just by accident, there was career day at my high school and my brother had joined the LAPD explorer group when he was 16.
CRANSTONAnd we were poor kids from a very, very lower middle class area of the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles and his group, when he was 16 in the Police Explorers, they traveled to Hawaii the first summer. And I was envious. And he sent me a postcard and I was like, oh, my god, that's amazing. The second summer, they went to Japan and that was it. I thought, as soon as I'm 16, I'm joining this. That's it. I want to travel. So that was my impetus to join the Police Explorers. And what I found out is that I had an aptitude for it, for police work and I did well in the academy.
CRANSTONI had to go for eight straight Saturdays in order to, you know, study police work and protocols and things like that before you get into this organization.
REHMBut you did go through a series of jobs to help the family. You were a paperboy, a house painter, a chicken farmer and there's probably lots of unexpected humor in what was clearly a bit of a sad time in your life. Would you be good enough to read for us on page 38. It's about how you and your brother were learning how to kill a chicken.
CRANSTONWhy, yes, that's true. I'll just preface it by saying my brother, Kim, and I were sent off when my parents split up and we lost our house and it was a turmoil, we were sent off to live with my maternal grandparents and he was a retired baker and they had a little farm in a little community called Yucaipa, California. And he raised -- he was kind of gentleman farmer and he had chickens and goats and things like that in a little, you know, like an acre of land that he would till himself. And he was an old world kind of guy.
CRANSTONSo one of the rites of passage for my brother and I, remember he was 14, I was 12, was to do the dirty deeds or what you had to do on a farm and kill chickens and so here's this passage from it. "I used to pity our friends and neighbors, the Barelle (sp?) boys, having to endure the rigors of memorizing passages from the Torah in preparation for their bar mitzvahs. Now, I envied them. Reciting Hebrew was a cake walk in comparison to this rite. I aggressively reached down and grabbed my first victim.
CRANSTONThe bird squawked, but I paid no attention to its discomfort. I was too concerned with my own. I remember saying a silent "I'm sorry" to the creature. I was its executioner, dead hen walking. I hooked my left hand around one of the chicken's spurs, the sharp underdeveloped opposing digit that comes out at the back of the ankle. It dug into my flesh. I was going to let that -- I wasn't going to let that slow me down. I quickly gathered the wings and legs in one hand. I yanked the hatchet out of the stump with my free hand plopped the chickens' head in its place.
CRANSTONI was focused."
REHMAnd we'll have to stop that right there. We'll be back in one moment.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, actor, director, writer Bryan Cranston is with me. He joins me from New York. He's best known for his role as Walter White on the AMC drama series "Breaking Bad," for which he won four consecutive Emmy Awards for outstanding lead actor in a drama series. His new book is titled, "A Life in Parts." And that is just released today. Bryan, I don't think I can bear to have you read the rest of that. It just gave me the chills reading it. And yet you had to do it. You had to do it, and how did it make you feel?
CRANSTONIt was terrifying, actually, to be able to take another life, whether it's a chicken or otherwise, was traumatic for a boy. And then being forced to do it by my strict grandfather as a rite of passage, I was determined to do it and do it well. It didn't quite work out as well as I had hoped. But I wasn't going to fail him or myself in that act.
REHMI want to go back to your joining the LAPD Explorers' group, a young police training program. You were clearly one of the best students that they had. I know that the travel certainly appealed to you. But then, at 20, you began to have questions as to whether that was the right course for you. What was it you were looking for?
CRANSTONWell, Diane, it's a little embarrassing to think -- look back on that. But at the time, I was 19 years old, just in my second year in college, studying police science, and I took an elective course of an acting class. And in it, I was given a scene. Everybody was doing a scene the first day of class, and mine was with an attractive young girl, my age. And at the top of the scene that I was given it said, a couple is making out on a park bench. And I thought, oh, my goodness. And I looked at her and she's really pretty. And I started wondering, wow, I wonder if I'm really supposed to kiss her or pretend that I'm kissing her? And I asked the teacher and he scoffed with derisiveness and he said, you're not in high school anymore.
CRANSTONSo I took that as a yes, I'm supposed to really kiss her. And I have the first line, Beth, we need to talk about our relationship, or something to that effect. And we were called up on stage. We -- there's the bench. I sat down. I put my script on the floor. And as I'm turning back to her, she grabbed me and started kissing me, really passionately, hugging me and squeezing me and kissing and we're kissing and we're kissing. And what I didn't notice for a while is that she was also tapping me on the leg. And I was confused. My mind, my head was spinning.
CRANSTONI was delirious. And she was trying to tell me, start the scene. I had to push away from her and say, Beth, we need to talk about our relationship because -- so that was the start of my confusion as to the direction I should take in my life. And so, as a 19-year-old boy, it was a girl that spun me around and away from my -- what I thought was going to be my future in law enforcement and instead it turned me into an actor.
REHMSo you then biked to California.
CRANSTONWell, we were from California and we got on our motorcycles, my brother and I, because he was kind of in the same position. He went through the whole program ahead of me and he thought he was going to be a police officer as well. And he had the same doubts. So we hopped on our motorcycles in 1976 and we took off. It was, you know, I think it was like September. And we just left. And we were gone for two years.
CRANSTONWe would get odd jobs. We would work in -- on pool decks. We would work in restaurants, carnivals, pretty much anywhere we could stay for a while and make some money and build up the coffers. And it was during that trip that I realized how much I needed to focus on something that I really loved and hopefully would become good at, as opposed to doing something that I was good at, police work, but I didn't love. So that was when I made that decision, at 22, to become an actor.
REHMSo when you first started looking for acting jobs, what happened?
CRANSTONWell, a lot of things. First of all, you have to secure your own finances, your own personal expenditures. And -- but I got a job loading trucks downtown Los Angeles, did that for a while. I got a job as a videotape interviewer at a dating service, which predates Match.com and all those things. And I would conduct the interviews for these singles who were looking for love. And it actually was -- worked very well with them.
REHMSo you interviewed them to see how they might match up with somebody else?
CRANSTONRight. So each member of this company called Great Expectations would conduct a tape interview, so that a prospective person would see them interact and see how they -- what's their comportment, what's their personality? And I would always conduct my interviews privately. I wouldn't let them see when I pushed the record button.
CRANSTONBecause I didn't want them to put on airs. I wanted them to be real. So at first, they would sit there upright and say, well, I love romantic walks and I love to read and a hot mug of coffee and the rain. And I love sunshine and hummingbirds. And I'd go, good. Okay. Okay. Tell me a joke. What? You know, just some joke. Oh, god. And it would throw them at first. And then they'd tell a joke or an anecdote and they would be real. And that's when I'd secretly push the button...
CRANSTON...so that a prospective date could see them as they really are.
REHMDid you like doing that?
CRANSTONI did. It was an extension of storytelling in a way. I'm trying to tell the best story I can for this woman or this man, so that they can have a fulfilling life potentially. So that was great.
REHMSo that was one of the jobs you used to support yourself.
CRANSTONOne of the jobs. I also became an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church.
CRANSTONAnd I married several couples, maybe a dozen all told. And that was another acting job where some people wanted to be entertained at their ceremony and some took it very solemnly and wanted to have a very sincere, serious wedding. And so I would do that. Because it wasn't mine, it was theirs. So I wanted to be prepared and fulfill what they imagine their wedding ceremony would be.
REHMNow take me to that moment when you sought out and got your first real acting job.
CRANSTONWell, I was doing bit parts of a lot. And then I auditioned for a daytime drama that's shot in New York and I got it. And I had to move to New York when I was 25 years old. And it was a show called "Loving," on ABC, many, many years ago. It's now 33 years ago, 34 years ago, something like that. And it really broke down a barrier for me. At first, I always had to supplement my acting with other odd jobs. And this was the first time that I felt I belonged, that I...
CRANSTON...I really earned my way to a point. And it's still my most proudest professional accomplishment to say at the age of 25...
REHMAnd how many years did you do that program?
CRANSTONThat was two years. I did that for two years. And then I had another profound experience. Because as I was preparing not to re-sign the contract to "Loving," I was fired. So, and that threw me for a loop, because...
REHMYou did not expect that.
CRANSTONNo. It was a total surprise to me and to everyone really. And I was one of the core members and the original members of the show. And it really threw me. And it almost felt -- it felt like I was going to break up with the show anyway. But when the show broke up with me first, I wanted back in.
CRANSTONLike, as if it was a relationship. And in a way it was. And I think it was just my ego. I think my ego was damaged and bruised. And I sulked that whole weekend, until I -- on Sunday -- I was fired on a Friday, and all the rest of Friday and all day Saturday I felt sorry for myself. But on Sunday, I kicked myself in the butt and I said, do something about this. Go out and do something creative. So I got out dozens and dozens of rolls of film at the time and went out into Central Park and there was the finish line of the New York Marathon. And I thought, oh, great.
CRANSTONBut then I saw two extremely overweight police officers and a sign above them saying men, one way, women, the other, runners. And I thought, that's kind of an interesting juxtaposition, so I took that picture. And I stayed six hours and I took pictures of every runner that came by basically. And I was inspired by that and I vowed to run in that race the next year. I needed something. I needed a goal, after having the rug pulled out from me. I needed something. So I made a vow to do it. And the year later, I actually did run that race.
REHMAnd then how much later did the role of Hal in "Malcolm in the Middle" come along?
CRANSTONThat was quite a bit later, maybe 15 years later...
CRANSTON...something like that. I went back to doing a lot of day playing, a lot of guest star roles on TV shows and little bit parts in movies and things. And then it broke. I got the role of Hal on these extremely well-written show. And I was -- it was a gift. For seven years we were able to have fun and make people laugh.
REHMAnd then, for one episode, you let them cover you head-to-toe with live bees. And there was also this song.
CRANSTONI'm so full of bacon, my body's meant for shaking. Boom, boom, oom-oom, oom, oom, boom. And when I start to wiggle, my nipples they will jiggle. Ooo, ah, ooh, ah, ah. Ooo, ah, ooh, ah, ah. Ooo, ah, ooh, ah, ooo, ooo.
FEMALE ACTOROnce again, I have to be embarrassed from both of us.
REHMWere you in that?
CRANSTONYes. Well, thank you to that. Thank you very, very much for that, Diane.
REHMWere you embarrassed for that?
CRANSTONNo. No, no. I was -- it was, you know, it was right for the part. I was actually very happy that at the age, I think it was 41 or 2 or something like that. And I was happy to say, oh, honey, to my wife, honey, for this role, I need to be pudgy. So pass the gravy. And it was fun to be able to play that and to just do any silly thing that they brought along. It was delightful and a great family that we formed over the years.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I really want to know, Bryan Cranston, how you managed to get the role of Walter White in "Breaking Bad." You really felt you had to have this role.
CRANSTONIt was one of those things when you first read something and it resonated so deeply and you related to this character so convincingly in your own soul, that I needed to have that. So I just did everything I could to become Vince Gilligan, the creator's, champion for me to get this role. And he was instrumental in getting it. And at first, the studio, the network, balked at the idea of the silly dad from "Malcolm in the Middle" to play Walter White on this harrowing show, "Breaking Bad." It didn't seem to make sense on paper.
CRANSTONBut Vince convinced them that I was the actor for the job. And, you know, without his insistence and pushing, I think you would be talking to someone else right now, whoever that other person would have been who'd play Walter White.
REHMAnd what was remarkable to me was the character development and the facial changes, the physical changes that occurred during those years, that you were morphing from this science teacher with cancer to someone who made a living selling, cooking meth.
CRANSTONMm-hmm. He was -- it was a pure transformation. The character was going to change from the time we first met him to the time the end of the series would come, a metamorphosis, if you will. He went from being a good person to a bad one.
REHMI want to play a clip I think most "Breaking Bad" fans are going to recognize.
CRANSTONWho were you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn't believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going in to work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up -- disappears, it ceases to exist without me. No. You clearly don't know who you're talking to. So let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens this door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.
REHMYou're mouthing those words, even as they come.
CRANSTONWow. I was -- I think I was trying to see if I remember the speech.
CRANSTONAnd I don't think I remember it completely, but a little bit of it, yeah.
REHMIt's extraordinary, the amount of vicious passion that's in those words.
CRANSTONMm-hmm. Yeah. It truly was. That was during the turning point, the fulcrum of his change from good to bad. And he was starting to own the badness that he'd become. And that was a -- at a point when it was shocking to his wife to see this change right before her eyes. This man she thought she knew, she doesn't know at all. That's how different he's become.
REHMAnd when we come back, I want to understand what doing that role did to and for you. Short break. And when we come back, we'll talk more with Bryan Cranston. His new book is titled, "A Life in Parts."
REHMAnd welcome back as I chat with Bryan Cranston, the extraordinary actor with such incredible range. He has won two Emmys as producer on "Breaking Bad," for Outstanding Drama Series, five Golden Globe nominations, one win for "Breaking Bad," Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for "LBJ," "All the Way," which I really want to get to in a moment, but Bryan, just before the break we were talking about that transition from good to bad that the actor makes in "Breaking Bad."
REHMAnd I want to know how that affected you as you had to leave the scene, go home to your wife, go home to your family. I mean, how do you make that kind of transition?
CRANSTONYou do need some buffering. You need something that is a ritual that allows you to wash away the toxicity of a character like that, the sweat and anguish that you may have experienced on any given day. And I did have a ritual. I would go into the hair and makeup trailer, and I would have -- take two, hot, moist towels, and I would wrap one around my head almost like a turban and another around my face and neck like I was going to get a professional shave in a barber shop, and I would just sit there for five minutes until the towels cooled.
CRANSTONAnd I could feel the dirt and grime from the day and just emotional baggage just lift off of me, and I'd wipe it away and put on some, you know, some lotion and take off Walter White's clothes and put on my own, and I left him at the studio, I made sure I did.
REHMYou were really able to do that and walk out and be a free man again?
CRANSTONYeah, I think it's because I'd been doing it for so long that it's like a well-used muscle that it's familiar with the process. So it's not like I had to reacquaint myself to that procedure each time.
REHMAnd before we open the phones, I really want our listeners to hear just a short clip of Bryan Cranston in his role in the LBJ -- as LBJ in the HBO version of "All The Way."
CRANSTONOr maybe you think Goldwater ought to be president, is that it?
MR. BRADLEY WHITFORDI never said that.
CRANSTONThat maniac wants to lob an A-bomb into the Kremlin's bathroom and start World War III. You see how you like that.
WHITFORDMr. President, come on.
CRANSTONIf Goldwater gets elected, you can forget about poverty, you can forget about civil rights. Is that what you want? I'm trying to turn this country around and prevent a major war. Christ, why the hell did I ever consider you for my vice president? First sign of trouble you cut and run.
WHITFORDI'm not running anywhere, Mr. President, I'm standing right here beside you.
CRANSTONPrecious cold comfort you are.
REHMNow I have to confess I was absolutely amazed to see you and to hear you take on the role of LBJ because I am certainly old to have seen him in person. My husband worked in the Kennedy and Johnson White House. And to see you take on that role and that accent was just extraordinary. How did you manage?
CRANSTONWell, those are big shoes to fill, and I knew that when "Breaking Bad" was coming to an end I needed to step away from the medium of television, and I asked my agents to look for a play. And they found this great play written by Robert Schenkkan, and it's called "All the Way," and we performed it on Broadway for five months, and it was a joy. It was hard, but it was a joy to dive into and to the research of this very accomplished man, this man who has tremendous highs and tremendous lows, as we've seen there.
CRANSTONIn that clip, it was Bradley Whitford played Hubert Humphrey wonderfully, so -- and we get a sense of at one minute he was, you know, a raconteur and gracious and kind, and another minute he's cold and resentful and angry.
CRANSTONOh, he -- my favorite quote comes from Bill Moyers, who said 11 of the most interesting people I've ever met is Lyndon Johnson.
REHMAnd that HBO version is really, really something. I recommend it to everyone. How did you manage to work on that Southern accent that LBJ had?
CRANSTONWell, I made a few trips to Austin, Texas, to visit the LBJ library, and Mark Updegrove, who is the president of the library down there, was very kind to open up the doors for me back in the back hallways and the catacombs of the museum, which is a terrific museum, by the way, I highly recommend it. He also drove me down to the LBJ ranch, and we spent the day there. And just being immersed in that country and where he walked and what he wanted around him, the people he wanted around him, talking to Harry Middleton and Larry Temple, his lawyers and speechwriters, I was able to, you know, get a sense of the man and tremendous help.
CRANSTONAnd then just by being there, the accent started to seep into me, and I did work on it to make sure there was some, you know, authenticity to it, and it -- after a while it just kind of seeped into me, the character, dialect, the way he held himself, the stature, his demeanor, comportment all started to make sense to me. And that was my presentation of what I felt this man was all about.
REHMAll right, we're going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Alona you're on the air.
ALONAHi Diane, I'm a huge fan of you as a reporter.
ALONAAnd I am a huge fan of Mr. Cranston in your studio today. I actually just finished "Breaking Bad" for the first time a couple days ago, coincidentally, and the final episode really, really messed with me emotionally. And I'm just -- my question, I guess, is how did -- how were you affected emotionally, you know, preparing for the role, preparing for that final episode, preparing for the final episode and then watching it, how did it affect you, and how did it affect people you knew who were in your personal life who were also watching the show who, you know, who watched it when it came out.
CRANSTONIt's a good question, Alona, although audiences have a much more condensed version of an experience when they watch a show. For me, it took eight days, normally, sometimes nine, 10, to shoot one episode. So we were doing everything piecemeal, a little, bits and piece of shooting every day over the course over the course of six months. And then it all comes together, and special effects, visual effects, sound effects and those sort of things.
CRANSTONAnd so your experience is intense. My experience is intense to a point, but also there's an objective and a subjective point of view on this, where I'm seeing it, and I see an episode, I go, oh, they took they take, I thought we did that differently. So there's a certain part of me that's analyzing what I'm seeing, even though I try not to. So there's almost a little distance between me and watching my own work.
CRANSTONBut I thank you for the call, Alona.
REHMLet's go to Thomas in St. Louis, Missouri, you're on the air.
THOMASHi there. I'm a really big fan of Bryan Cranston as an actor. I really think that you're an amazing actor, and you never cease to surprise me in what you're able to do. That being said, I have a question as to what really kept you motivated through your career as you suffered through being typecast as Malcolm's dad? From what I understand, there was a period of time where that's all that people could see you as, and I could imagine that it would be really difficult to keep -- to stay in the field that you're in when you're suffering from that sort of an event happening. So how did you keep going?
CRANSTONWell thanks, Thomas. I can't say that I suffered. When I was 22, I decided to become an actor and whatever that meant, if it meant I was sharing an apartment with three other men, then -- as bachelors then that's what I was going to do. So I kept my nut very low, and all I wanted to do was get to the point where I could say I was a working actor. Anything beyond that was gravy, it truly felt that way, and that happened when I was 25.
CRANSTONSo I was happy. I was going along. Things were fine. I wanted to be an actor. I didn't -- I didn't want to be a star or a celebrity. It wasn't something that I dreamed about. So when it happened, I welcomed it because what that meant to me is opportunity. I had more opportunity, better quality of scripts and directors and people to work with. So at first I was pushing against the idea of accepting myself as a star or a celebrity, and then I realized I'm spending so much energy doing this, why don't I just let it go, and it'll be what it's supposed to be.
CRANSTONAnd that's when things started flooding in because I wasn't putting up resistance anymore. So actually there was only -- less than a full year between the end of "Malcolm in the Middle" and the beginning of "Breaking Bad," and there's a considerable amount of luck also involved in any success in the arts. You need a series of lucky breaks.
REHMBut you did struggle against the idea of becoming a mega-star, which clearly you have. And why do you think that was? Why was that struggle so hard for you?
CRANSTONI don't know, I'm -- I wasn't raised that way. I wasn't raised to beat my chest and to point to myself, and I like my entertainment to be more subtle and nuanced, and I like my life to be that way, too. I would rather go unnoticed walking down the street every single time than noticed at all. That being said, the notoriety and opportunities that have come from stardom have been incredible, and I wouldn't change that. It's just now adapting to celebrity is -- it's an interesting thing to know that I can't really go anywhere without being recognized.
CRANSTONAnd so there's a certain amount of anonymity that you lose. But it's a tradeoff that I find myself in, and I'm dealing with it.
REHMBryan, you ought to take up radio as your next profession. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So let's now go to Noel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you're on the air.
NOELHi Ms. Rehm, I just want to say thank you, you're just such a wonderful treasure to our country. Mr. Cranston, thank you for being on. The one thing I wanted to bring up, I just wanted you to share with us a little bit about that one episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" when you taught Malcolm how to rollerblade because that's the one image that will almost stick with me when I hear about you.
CRANSTONWell, thanks, Noel. On "Malcolm in the Middle," they asked me week to week what would I be willing to do or what would I not be willing to do. Would you have bees on you, would you be dipped in blue paint, would you be strapped to the front of a city bus, would you, you know, and I just found each one of those opportunities to be crazy fun. So would you -- what if Hal was a disco rollerdancer back in the '70s, you know, and we want to make -- and I go, I haven't been on roller skates since they were made of metal.
CRANSTONAnd so they got a guy named Fred Talikson (sp?) who was a choreographer and a wonderful skater, and he taught me every day for two weeks, every single day after work for two weeks, a couple hours a day, and I would just -- even after he left I would practice more and more and more. I had pads everywhere because I fell down all the time. But it was a great experience, and it turned out to be really, really cool.
CRANSTONAnd that's the great thing about being an actor is that we get to dip in and try our hand at a multitude of different professions and just a wide range of possibilities.
REHMBryan, you know, you started this conversation by talking about how poor you were, how your after -- after your father left you and your brother both certainly had to go to work to ensure that the family had enough money to pay the rent, to eat and the like. Saying that you were poor and how poor you were makes me wonder whether had another kind of opportunity been presented to you, one that not as extreme as that in "Breaking Bad" but one that would have allowed you to make a lot of money, do you think you could have gone that way?
CRANSTONNo, I don't think that was part of my makeup. I mean, it was a challenging childhood, but -- and my parents -- you know, I look back on that now, and I feel sadness for a lot of wasted life, but they were not bad people. They just were broken in some aspect and hurting, depressed. There was abandonment, and there was alcoholism that really just -- just pulled the fabric of my childhood away and just frayed.
CRANSTONAnd it was what it was. You know, children, we don't have anything to relate it to.
CRANSTONSo it just happened that way, and I just needed to deal with the cards that were dealt to me and do the best I can. And I think, you know, there's a chapter in the book about my family calling me Sneaky Pete, and I think it was a coping mechanism, it was a survival mechanism to be able to get along in life. And fortunately that sneakiness changed right when I realized I wanted to become an actor.
REHMBryan Cranston, his new book, titled "A Life In Parts." Bryan, next time I hope you're here in the studio so I can give you a big hug. Thanks for being here.
CRANSTONThank you so much, Diane, I'm a big fan, as well, and I appreciate the opportunity.
REHMThank you, and thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Trump impeachment witness Fiona Hill on what her own background says about this political moment, and why she thinks the greatest threat to American democracy now comes from within.
Cities and states across the country are exploring reparations programs for Black Americans, but not all reparations advocates think it's the right approach. Diane talks to Mayor Daniel Biss of Evanston, Ill., and William Darity, Jr., and Kirsten Mullen, the co-authors of the book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century”
The New Yorker's Evan Osnos traces the roots of divisions in the U.S. from 9/11 to January 6. His new book is "Wildland: The Making of America's Fury."