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All hail the King: An interview with Bryan Cranston
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
ImageBy Mike English
Bryan Cranston, for the rest of his acting career,  will be known as Walter White. Not that he doesn’t boast an acting resume filled with other memorable roles, from Jerry’s dentist on Seinfeld to the dad on Malcolm in the Middle to a supporting role in the recent Oscar winner for “Best Film,” Argo. But as Walt, Cranston has made television history — and now that historic run is coming to an end.

The crew for Breaking Bad is wrapping filming for the show in early April, with the final episodes to air starting in August. The ever-gracious Cranston spoke to Local iQ recently about his experience playing Walt and his time in Albuquerque.

Local iQ: You’re now shooting final scenes. Is there a culmination for Walt in these final episodes? The arc of his character — can we expect that to reach some kind of resolution?
Bryan Cranston:
He takes tremendous pride, Vince Gilligan does, on how he structures his stories. As of right now, I don’t know what the finale is. I have not read the last episode. He’s crafting it as we speak. And it’s always been a policy of mine not to know too far ahead of our shooting, because of the profound twists and turns that the character and plot take. I find it more helpful to just peel back the onion as I need to know things.

iQ: Can you speak to the genius of Vince Gilligan? He’s had a pretty remarkable run with the story of this show.
BC: He is that. He’s a man who is simple and complicated, he lives in that dichotomy. He demands a high level of function from himself, he agonizes over every moment, he loses sleep over it. He’s that kind of guy. He also is very surprising. I’ve been on the show for six years and there are still things he writes that surprise me. That’s the measure of real genius writing, that someone who is that connected to it is still surprised.

For instance, in the end of the fourth season, when we discover that Walt did poison that little boy, I didn’t know I did that. So the episode right before that, when Jesse comes to me with a gun and accuses me, I was able to justifiably deny it. I was just amazed he could still surprise me like that in the script.

iQ: The Walt you play now is so different than the Walt in the early episodes. How satisfying, challenging, exhausting — now that we’re getting to the end, I wonder if you have some perspective on the challenge of playing this character?
BC: It’s certainly all the adjectives you use. It is the best role of my career. I couldn’t imagine a better role ever offered to me. I’m very lucky. To have the emotional spectrum given to me that Walter White has been able to play, that’s just unheard of. Usually a character is given parameters and he can’t go outside them, because it would break that character. The metamorphosis of Walter White just shattered that to pieces. They allowed me such enormous latitude to bring some interesting and odd things to the role, and I will miss it. And I will miss Albuquerque.

ImageiQ: Speaking of Albuquerque, it seems like Vince Gilligan made a choice to really embrace it as a central part of the show.
BC: Yes, we came here because of financial concerns by the studio. The rebate program has been a big benefit, not just to Breaking Bad but to a number of productions, and I hope that resonates with your readers. We as a production company, we come in, and over 90 percent of our crew are New Mexico residents. We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to introduce a new industry. And now you have something where we’ve been here for six years, I own a home here, we have other homeowners here.

I hope that the governor is aware of the value within the state, that we are not only producing jobs but also giving a foothold for building an industry, so when you think of New Mexico, sure, tourism and the wonderful Native American sites and that sort of thing, the International Balloon Fiesta — and motion picture and television production. It may very well be an opportunity to gain that kind of traction and become a bona fide industry in the state.

You have terrific talent here in crew and cast, and that kind of base is what’s necessary to sustain an industry. Other states like Michigan may offer higher percentages of rebates, but they don’t have the infrastructure to sustain that. They would have to import the key workers from other states, and that nullifies the benefits that New Mexico is in a position to get. Without getting too political.

iQ: It does seem like you guys have established a beachhead for the industry here.
BC: Yes, and the other thing is, instead of Vince Gilligan saying we’re shooting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but we’re going to say it’s some other state and some other city, he just gave over.

iQ: There’s such a talented cast on the show. If I might single out one of the actors, what has it been like working with Aaron Paul? He seems exceptionally talented.

BC: If you fall in love with a girl and you want to get married, and you meet her parents and her brothers and sisters, it’s not imperative that you fall in love with them as well. It just makes your life a lot easier going forward in your marriage. And that’s the same way I look at working with a co-star. It’s not imperative that I really get to love the people I work with, but it just makes it so much easier. And in this case, it’s been a godsend, because Aaron Paul and the rest of the cast, really, are not just talented actors but they’re really solid, wonderful human beings. That makes the workplace so much easier to want to go to in the morning, and to be with them and express yourself and spend hours upon hours upon hours with each other.

He is young, he’s talented, but the best thing about him is that he’s a great, great person and it’s been a wonderful experience. And now if he goes on other adventures, both personally — he’s about to get married — and professionally, I know our paths will cross again and we will remain friends for a long, long time.

ImageiQ: That chemistry you speak of, the camaraderie, do you think that translates on screen and has been part of the success of the show?
BC: I hope so, I hope it translates. But as professional actors, we're trained and able to go through it and get what we need in order to present ourselves honestly as people in front of the camera. You could work with someone who is a wonderful actor, and not a very good person, and still it works on screen. And your takeaway from that might be, "Well that was a good experience but I don't think I want to do that again with that person."

iQ: I see you in an increasing number of prominent movie roles. What's next for you? Are you going to take a break when the show wraps or do you have things lined up?

BC: I do have some things lined up. When you first start out in your career, and I've been doing this 34 years, you are hustling. It's hard. Opportunity is the main quest of the young actor, the chance to get your foot in the door and show what you can do. So it's hard to break that pattern, even after you've reached some level of success. You still feel a need to get out there and hustle, because you're so used to doing that. But now things have turned for me, considerably, and I need to make some adjustments and I'm doing that, and it's a ride. I'm busier now than I've ever been in my entire life. All in all, I wouldn't change anything. It's great fun. I mean, look at what I get to do for a living.

iQ: You've been gracious during your time in New Mexico, it seems like people here feel a sense of kinship with you from your time here and are rooting for you.

BC: Well thank you. We come into a place — I learned this as a kid — you go into a campsite, and you leave it better than you found it. We've come in here, we've been here for six years, we've grown some roots and developed an affinity for the town and the people, and now it's time to leave. That's the life of an actor, we're vagabonds. But I know I'll be back. There will be opportunities to come back and work again, and I'll look forward to that. But I just think it's incumbent on us to try and leave the city better than we found it. We've tried to be good guests, because the city and the state have been really good hosts.

iQ: With the show nearing its end, when you look back, did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams it would play out like this?
BC: No. It's in our nature to try and project. When things start, I might think, "This can be a good show," or, "I've got a good role." And I might be disappointed or surprised. But it's like that old saying, "Just focus on the things you can control." What I've done over the past 20 years or so is just focus on my work, do the best I can, and let it go. If it's supposed to be successful it will be, if it's not it's not. But no, there's no way that anyone could have predicted the affect that Breaking Bad would have on our culture and our lives. It's just been a boon. Like those eager explorers of the Wild West coming down Route 66, they didn't know what they were about to face, but they were willing to face it. And there's greatness in that.
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