Bryan Cranston — skittish patriarch Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle” — never got the media love that followed co-stars Jane Kaczmarek and Frankie Muniz.
Kaczmarek has been Emmy-nominated six times, Cranston only twice. Starring movie roles for Muniz pour in. Cranston says the show’s family dynamic dictated a low profile for him.
“‘Malcolm’ was one of the best pilots I’ve read,” Cranston says. “The character of Lois was so bombastic, a sergeant at arms. Malcolm was the Greek chorus, if you will. And I thought, ‘Well, clearly, Hal needs to be slotted somewhere after those two — those two are so clearly defined.'”
As the sitcom rolled on year after year, Cranston says he got to know Hal better — his fears, obsessive passions — and the dysfunctional family became more of a noisy ensemble.
“My character was elevated, as far as exposure and importance to the show, and I’m grateful for that,” he says.
How long did it take for the ensemble effect to kick in?
“Jane’s big ugly shadow was looming over the rest of us far too long,” Cranston says, deadpan. “Her powerful reign had to come crashing down at some point.”
Even as Hal evolved, Kaczmarek’s Lois got more ink, more consistent noms. Hard to take?
“God, no,” Cranston says, emphatically. “Again, the role will dictate the profile. The role dictates the attention. There are many roles that are really good that only actors notice. Look at ‘Rain Man.’ To actors, the more difficult role was Tom Cruise’s because it’s not on the page, it’s not there.”
So Cranston got all the Hal-based recognition he needed?
“It’s not that I didn’t need it; it’s just what is,” he says. “In order to survive an acting career you can only concentrate on things you can control.”
Cranston modeled Hal after his own nervous grandmother, with her tendency to scream when he came through the front door.
He has directed nine episodes of “Malcolm” and recently helmed a pilot for Comedy Central called “Special Unit.” So what’s next?
“Something that breaks the mold of Hal,” he says. “In fact, right now, I look like a character out of ‘Deadwood,’ with long muttonchops and a mustache.”
Does he worry about finding roles that are too similar to his high-strung “Malcolm” persona?
“I don’t worry about anything,” Cranston says. “I’ve been offered Hal-type roles, and it’s like being asked out on a date by someone you’re not interested in. You take it as flattery and say, ‘Thank you very much, but I’ve got a boyfriend. I’m looking for other roles right now.'”