×

Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His ‘Erasable Mind’

Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this anymore” — is the latest in a string of iconic roles for the actor, best known for playing chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White in the AMC series “Breaking Bad” (earning him a Golden Globe and four acting Emmys along the way). On a more lighthearted note, Cranston starred as goofy father Hal in Fox family sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle.” He was first mentioned in Variety in an announcement on Jan. 13, 1982, when he signed with Leonard Grant & Associates for personal management.

Did you have any train-wreck auditions early in your career?

I was 22 years old, and the character was a cocky Southerner. I thought, “I’m just gonna go in character.” The casting director held out his hand, and I pretended I didn’t see it. I crossed my legs and put my boots on top of his desk. At that point he was done with me, and he was right because I was acting like an idiot. He goes, “Get your feet off my desk.” I had a moment of “Are you really this character, or are you going to acquiesce?” I just smirked. He said it again, and I realized we were done. The whole character dropped, and I took my feet off his desk. I said, “It wouldn’t really matter if we read the scene, would it?” He said no, and I left and apologized.

How did you deal with rejection?

I had an epiphany 10 years after that. It changed my life as an actor. I used to think that an audition was a job interview, but I realized I was giving up my power because I was going into an office wanting something from them. Whenever you want something from anyone, you have relinquished your power. Holding on to power in an audition is essential for an actor. You have to be able to do exactly what you want because that’s what’s required of you to impress someone with your uniqueness and what you could bring to a character. I was going in there to present an idea, an option for them. An audition became another opportunity for me to act.

What did you learn from your first major role?

I accepted a role on a soap opera called “Loving” on ABC in 1983. The challenge on a soap opera is how to be authentic with basically no rehearsal. You learn your lines the night before. With that kind of turnover, how do you get to a place that feels honest? That was hard for me. I think soap operas are unfairly judged as less valued acting experiences. They are indeed extremely challenging. It felt like I crossed a threshold from that point on.

Is there a line of dialogue that always sticks with you?

It’s funny; I have an erasable mind. Once I finish something, it pretty much goes. The line from “Breaking Bad” is pretty iconic. “You think you know me. You think that I’m the one who’s in danger. No, I am the danger.” I can’t remember it. Fans quote it back to me, but I don’t know it. They’re shocked. Some have said they’ve watched “Breaking Bad” six times all the way through, and that’s five more than I have. 

Popular on Variety

More Vintage

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Natasha Lyonne on

    How Natasha Lyonne Talked Her Way Into a 1996 Movie Role as a Teen

    Two decades before her turn as the gruff-voiced, sardonic Nadia on the existential dramedy “Russian Doll,” a teenage Natasha Lyonne played DJ, the chirpy narrator in Woody Allen’s 1996 whimsical romantic-comedy musical “Everyone Says I Love You.” Lyonne’s name first appeared in Variety on Dec. 2, 1996, in a review of the Allen film.  In [...]

  • When They See Us BTS Ava

    Ava DuVernay on Moving From PR to Filmmaking, Directing 'When They See Us'

    For the past 14 years, Ava DuVernay has used film as a way to tell the often untold stories of marginalized communities — but the Oscar-nominated filmmaker has more IMDb credits as a publicist than as a director. DuVernay rose through the ranks as a PR executive early in her career before starting her own [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Word-of-Mouth Turned M. Night Shyamalan's ‘Sixth Sense’ Into a Sleeper Hit 20 Years Ago

    It’s the 20th anniversary of “The Sixth Sense,” a success that took everybody by surprise, including the filmmakers. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan had made only two films, “Praying With Anger” and “Wide Awake,” which barely made a ripple in theaters. However, Variety reported Aug. 9, 1999, “In a surprise ending to rival the film’s twisty plot, [...]

  • Lee Pace Big Ticket Podcast

    Cinematographer Jack N. Green's Aerial Work Led to Gigs on Clint Eastwood Movies

    Cinematographer Jack N. Green is proof that nice guys sometimes finish first — even in Hollywood. Born in 1939, the San Francisco native traveled a long-rising arc in his career, which includes distinguished stints shooting aerial sequences for documentaries and some of the most iconic films of the 1960s, eventually becoming director of photography on [...]

  • Sharon Tate Mansion Muder House

    Sharon Tate's 1969 Murder Began a Sorry Chapter in Hollywood History

    Sony opens Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” on July 26, close to the 50th anniversary of the murder of Sharon Tate and four others. A front-page Variety story on Aug. 11, 1969, two days after the killings, said police described the scene as “a ritualistic mass murder.” Showbiz has since then [...]

  • Amy Sherman-Palladino - Outstanding Writing for

    'Mrs. Maisel' Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino Honed Her Writing Skills on 'Roseanne'

    Last year Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” made Emmy history with wins for both comedy writing and directing, becoming the first woman to achieve that double. On July 16, her show, a ’50s period piece starring Rachel Brosnahan as an up-and-coming comedian in New York, was nominated for 20 Emmys, including outstanding [...]

  • Moon Landing

    Looking Back on the Moon Landing and the Giant Leap for TV Networks

    On July 16, 1969, Variety ran a package of stories under the headline “Greatest Show Off Earth,” detailing the three TV networks’ fever over the July 19 moon landing. CBS exec producer Robert Wussler predicted “the world’s greatest single broadcast.” Variety called it a “31-hour TV super-special,” running all day Sunday through midday Monday. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content