Esquire meets the lead actor in the greatest show on TV.
Have you still not seen Breaking Bad yet? True, the best show on television has previously been tucked away on FX but now there can be no more excuses. This month sees it come to the UK via Netflix and for the first time on boxset. We caught up with main man Bryan Cranston to mark the occasion – here’s what he had to say:
This has been the role of a lifetime
I won’t have a better role ever for the rest of my career. But instead of lamenting that or feeling bad, I’m just glad I had the chance to do it – especially at my age now. I’m 56 years old and when we first shot the pilot I was just turning 50. To have that come into my life at that age it’s… unbelievable.
People still think of me as that guy from Malcolm in the Middle
There was this sensibility, like ‘You want Walter White to be played by Bryan Cranston, that guy who was in that silly Malcolm in the Middle show?’ But now when fans say ‘I can’t believe it’s the same guy,’ it’s the best thing I could hear. I feel like I’ve done my job to escape into someone else.
Breaking Bad could never have gone mainstream
It’s too different; it’s too pungent for the tastes of most people. And that’s OK with us. I think if you try to appeal to the masses you have to end up watering it down. I think it’s better to be specific and bold in your move, your points of view, and your risk taking.
We’re not afraid of making anyone feel uncomfortable
Given the right set of circumstances any one of us could become dangerous – so why not show that in our programmes? It adds confusion, discomfort and anxiety within the viewer, which is what Breaking Bad has done so beautifully. And people are upset that they’re drawn into this – they hate the fact that they’re watching it and that we’re dragging them down to hell. But they can’t help it.
Walt cares for Jesse – but he also thinks of him as an investment he has to protect
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. It used to be that people would watch TV shows because they knew the characters would stay the same. Whether it’s Archie Bunker or it’s Thomas Magnum you watch it because it’s like, ‘I’m comfortable, this is the same guy’. This has been a series of changes and adjustments, and what I’ve learned through it is that human beings are capable of a much wider spectrum of emotions.
I have no idea how Breaking Bad will end
I honestly feel – and I swear to you this is not a cop out answer – that I want it to end exactly how Vince Gilligan [series creator, writer and director] wants it to end. He’s the captain – he’s guided the story from the beginning and I empower that. I’m his mouthpiece, basically. Some people ask me, ‘You’ve got eight episodes, is there pressure on you to finish it?’ I go ‘Not at all, not on me. On Vince!’
I wasn’t upset when Damian Lewis won the Emmy for Best Actor this year
People came up to me afterwards and said ‘You got robbed.’ And every time someone said that it felt like they were accidentally stepping on my toe. They feel like it’s not enough to say ‘I’m sorry you didn’t win’, they have to put down the other guy. I know Damian and he’s so terrific, he certainly deserves that kind of accolade and attention. And they’re saying, ‘[Bryan’s] upset…’ No I’m not upset!
Television has changed for the better
When I was a kid there were a very select few channels – programmes had to have more of a large appeal and they just didn’t offer very much. Now you have a situation where the television world has expanded and there’s hundreds of channels. AMC [where Breaking Bad is broadcast in the US] have this credo that if it can be shown on a broadcast network, they don’t even want to hear it. They’re like ‘We want that thing you thought could never be done’, and that is like catnip to a writer. It’s empowering them to be able to do exactly what they want.
Breaking Bad Seasons 1-5 are available on Netflix UK now. Seasons 1-4 are also available on DVD.