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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. 

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