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Bryan Cranston Reflects on Early Rejection and the ‘Breaking Bad’ Scene That Still Rocks Him

Bryan Cranston has had an illustrious career over the decades, winning four Emmy awards for his portrayal of anti-hero Walter White on “Breaking Bad” and a Tony Award for “All the Way.” Yet, at the Tribeca TV Festival Saturday, the acclaimed actor shared that there was one person he didn’t win over, and he used that rejection as fuel for the future.

At 19-years-old Cranston said he took a college acting class simply for credit to graduate. In it he had to perform a kissing scene, and he felt so much chemistry with his scene partner that he later asked her out for a post-class lunch date.

“I bet any amount of money that this young girl liked me. But, she was acting,” Cranston said. “That’s what spun my head. I thought, ‘Oh, my god.’ That was powerful. I couldn’t believe what I just had experienced. What we had done on stage made me realize the power. She didn’t dislike me, let me say that. but it was acting.”

From there his desire to perform took over his world, but the work was not steady from the beginning. In need of money after financing a personal film project, he happily accepted a guest-starring role on “The X-Files,” which led him to meet writer Vince Gilligan, with whom he would team up years later for “Breaking Bad.”

“You have to take risks. There is a quote and I wish I could remember [who said it]: ‘You’re only as good as you dare to be bad.’ I always remember that. I’ve always been able to take chances,” Cranston said.

January of this year marked the 10th anniversary from “Breaking Bad’s” premiere, and later this month it will be the fifth anniversary of the series finale. Cranston revealed that the scene in which Jane (Krysten Ritter) overdoses (in the second season episode “Phoenix”) still sits with him today.

“When I was doing my preparation for the scene I wrote down why I should let her die and why I should save her life,” he shared. Originally, the scene called for Walt to suffocate her, effectively ending her suffering quicker but having more of a direct hand in her death. In the end, he simply lets her choke.

“As she starts choking I jump up immediately and run around to the other side of the bed because that is your impulse — the last little shred of humanity that Walter White had, really — and he stops himself,” Cranston recalled. “I was whirling in my head all of these things — let her die, or no she’s just a child — and Krysten Ritter, who is doing a wonderful job acting her heart out, is there as she is coughing and choking. And a split second later her face lost all characteristics and any noticeable feature of a face. It just blended into nothingness. And out of that came the face of my real daughter choking to death.”

Cranston noted that as he was remembering the scene, he was getting emotional because as a parent that’s what scares him and has taken a toll on him. However, that is what he said he fells “we are supposed to do” as artists. “We are supposed to replicate real life with honesty,” he said.

Reflecting on other milestones, Cranston mentioned how his parents divorce during his childhood taught him to take hard knocks in stride and, in a way, even used elements of his youth to inspire and influence “Sneaky Pete,” a series he co-created.

“I was making choices that were getting me in trouble. But, I learned to take advantage of that,” Cranston said. “When I was a kid my uncle and other members of my family dubbed me ‘Sneaky Pete’ Because I was a sneaky kid. I didn’t have that parental guidance, so I was left to my own vices a lot. And when you leave someone who is immature to their own vices, what do you get? You get immature decisions. So, I’m sneaking around trying to avoid responsibility and accountability.”

Cranston said the titular character on his Amazon series, played by Giovanni Ribsi, was “basically where I was headed.” But he was able to “turn [it] around to find something I really felt passionate about.”

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