hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Christian
Slater and Matthew Broderick were both being considered
for the role of Walter White on the AMC series
for us ó and for him ó the role went to Bryan
Cranston, who until then was best known for playing
dentist Tim Whatley on "Seinfeld" and the
obtuse, roller-disco-skating father Hal on "Malcolm
in the Middle."
coldblooded meth kingpin turned out to be the role of
Cranstonís life and "Breaking Bad" a
pop-culture juggernaut that would land at No. 3 on
Rolling Stoneís list of The 100 Greatest TV Shows of
All Time, bested only by "The Wire" and
years after the finale, Cranston still hasnít shaken
Walter ó which is fine with him.
is in me and I am in Walter," the actor said in a
recent phone interview. "He created me and I
story is a major part of Cranstonís new book, "A
Life in Parts."
Life in Parts" isnít as much a memoir as a
collection of stories. The approach made it easier for
Cranston to write ó much of it done on airplanes.
was piecemeal, whatever came into me," Cranston
said. "I imagine I would have faced a lot of blank
screen if it was a novel. It was actually not difficult
to approach, because these were stories I knew."
took to writing individual stories about his childhood.
His father leaving when he was 10. His mother taking to
drink. His early designs on law enforcement. He and his
brother spending time on their grandparentsí farm,
learning to cut the heads off chickens. A motorcycle
trip with his brother. Auditions. Relationships. The
genesis of Walter White.
expresses sadness and loneliness. Self-doubt. He writes
about the day he told his first wife he didnít want to
stay married; that he had misled her into thinking he
was someone she could count on. And he describes an
unstable ex-girlfriend, and how he once imagined
smashing her head into a wall.
was losing myself and feeling out of control,"
Cranston remembered. "This diminutive woman had so
much control over me, and at first I was embarrassed to
admit that. I am a grown man; I am strong. And I had to
get out of my own ego."
writes of how he wanted the Walter White role so badly,
he made the network executives think he was about to
take another job to expedite the casting (no need; they
wanted him all along).
describes on-set conflicts, and his grueling preparation
to play LBJ, including weeks of intense memorization and
a diet limited to oatmeal, fish and vegetables.
try my damnedest to make my characters as honest as
possible," Cranston said. "Why would I
withhold? Why would I sugarcoat? Why donít I just say
it like it is?
I felt insecure and alone, when I felt powerful,"
he continued. "Hereís me at my best and me at my
worst. The mistakes I made."
writes lovingly of Walter White, the character that made
him a household name.
do think that we are inextricably tied," he said of
Walter, an ordinary high-school chemistry teacher who
turns to manufacturing methamphetamine to pay for his
cancer treatments and to provide for his family after
his death. Over the course of five seasons, the
mild-mannered Walter morphs into Heisenberg, a murderous
won four Primetime Emmy Awards for his performance
(three of them consecutively).
taught him what it was like to be powerful, and the
character allowed Cranston to experience and express
"the gamut of emotions." At first, Walter was
depressed and lethargic. He loved his family and was
working to support them, Cranston said, "But he
the diagnosis happened and he took a chance and became a
powerful person," he continued. "Even the
meekest person among us can be dangerous, given the
right set of circumstances."
talked about the black hat Walter wore to embolden
himself and become his alter ego, Heisenberg. The hats
are for sale around the world now, he said.
it was a mask," Cranston said. "It was a
talisman. You put that on and youíre halfway there.
Thatís what itís like taking up a character."
was the same when he portrayed President Lyndon Baines
Johnson in HBOís "All the Way."(Cranston
originated the role for the stage and won a Tony.)
would get to the set before everyone except the makeup
and hair crew and sit for almost three hours.
Iím sitting there with a cup of coffee seeing a
tired-looking Bryan and by the time they were done, I
was looking at LBJ," he said. "I could see him
start to come and adding the dialect" ó and here
he drops into a Texan accent ó "is almost a
meditation on a character, so I used that time to sink
into who that character is."
grew up in a dysfunctional family. His father ó an
aspiring actor whose career never hit big ó left when
he was young. They stayed in touch, but it was sad and
painful. The sonís success couldnít save the father
from himself. Itís all in the book.
been using my acting to try to purge myself of
that," he said, "as a catharsis to move
through my issues. I have my acting as my therapy, and
by and large itís been very healthy."
book also serves as a handbook for those interested in
acting. Cranston writes in detail about how he prepared
for roles, his frustrations, his tricks, and how he drew
on the events of his life to enhance his performances.
have been a professional actor for 37 years now, so it
is part of the fabric of who I am," Cranston
explained. "I donít know anything about acting
that I canít share. And I do want to help with the
next generation. We are all just moving along, and itís
a big tent. Letís all support each other."
has been working almost nonstop since "Breaking
Bad" and "All the Way." Movies, video
games, an untitled Wes Anderson project and a new
"Power Rangers" movie.
think the industry and the public has designs on what
theyíd like me to be," Cranston said. "I
personally just love what I do, and it doesnít feel
like work. It doesnít feel like a burden or a task. Itís
what I love."
his success is far beyond what he ever could have
imagined. He described a recent dinner out with his
wife, the actress Robin Dearden (they met filming an
episode of "Airwolf" and have been married 29
years), when they took stock of their lives.
were saying, ĎCan you believe this?í You canít
predict it," Cranston said. "Itís amazing.
said, ĎYouíre married to your work,í and I started
to object, saying ĎNo, no!í
she said, ĎItís OK, as long as I am your only
take that deal."