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Break Out

Bryan Cranston, the star of AMC’s Breaking Bad, has won two Emmys in the show’s first two seasons. Can he go three for three?

Author Adam K. Raymond Photography Lewis Jacobs / Courtesy of AMC

Image – Lewis Jacobs

AFTER SEVEN YEARS as the lovably loony dad on Malcolm in the Middle, 53-year- old actor Bryan Cranston wanted to try something a little different. Walter White, his character on AMC’s Breaking Bad, is a lot different. A frazzled chemistry teacher who begins selling illegal drugs after a cancer diagnosis, White has allowed Cranston to display his acting chops in ways Malcolm’s dad, Hal, never did—for instance, traipsing naked through a supermarket. Give that man another Emmy!

Breaking Bad’s premise is so strange. What did you think when you first saw the script?
I was knocked out. I thought every actor I knew was going to be dying to play this role.

You didn’t think it was too bizarre?
No, because I knew where it was going from the beginning. Everyone else saw “high school chemistry teach turns into drug dealer” and thought it was ridiculous, but I knew [creator] Vince Gilligan wanted to do something that’s never been done on TV: start a series with a mild-mannered milquetoast lead character and take him on a journey that turns him into a tremendously bad guy.

So Walter is only going to get worse in season three?
Yeah. In season one we explored a choice Walter made in a desperate condition. Season two exposed the ramifications of that choice. And in season three, we find out what happens when his secret is exposed.

Which is?
All hell breaks loose.

Not quite Malcolm in the Middle.
You know, after I finished seven years of Malcolm I rejected a couple roles that would have been carbon copies of Hal.

I don’t know if I can do a goofy dad any differently than I already did.

And you landed a role that won you some serious recognition. Like two Emmys.
Yeah, that part has been wonderful. But you can’t anticipate that. You just have to find work that brings you joy and hope success comes your way.

Cable seems to have a fondness for shows about suburban folks with a secret dark side, like The Sopranos, Weeds, Dexter, Hung. What’s the appeal?
Networks realize that there are a lot of distractions out there, and in order to get someone’s attention you need a dynamic, compelling story that grabs people and doesn’t let them go. People relate to the imperfection of the regular guy. I think it’s what makes the show human.

Have you ever been forced to make decisions like Walter?
Fortunately, no.

I can’t imagine living with that kind of pressure. In some ways I do because I play the guy, but I have a whole ritual where I go into my trailer, wash him off and turn back into Bryan Cranston.

Associate editor ADAM K. RAYMOND always wears clothes to the supermarket.

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