×

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

  • James Wong Howe Asian Cinematographer

    Cinematographer James Wong Howe Put Diversity in the Picture in Early Hollywood

    Few Hollywood stories can match the career highs and heartbreaking lows of James Wong Howe, whom Variety recognized in its July 15, 1976, edition as “one of the world’s foremost cinematographers.” Born in China on Aug. 28, 1899, he was 5 when his family moved to the U.S. At 18, he was hired for $10 [...]

  • Crystal Gayle First Time in Variety

    Crystal Gayle on Building Her Music Career After Leaving Sister Loretta Lynn's Label

    With her self-titled debut album for United Artists Records in Nashville nearly 45 years ago, singer Crystal Gayle immediately established a winning sound that would take the 24-year-old younger sister of country music legend Loretta Lynn repeatedly to the top of the music charts. Hit records such as “Wrong Road Again,” “I’ll Get Over You,” [...]

  • Stanley Nelson

    'Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool' Filmmaker Stanley Nelson on What He Loves About Documentaries

    Stanley Nelson’s documentary “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” is playing in U.S. theaters after screening at Sundance. But for the past 30 years Nelson’s films, such as the features “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” and “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” have detailed lesser-known stories of [...]

  • Mickey Gilbert The Wold Bunch

    Meet Mickey Gilbert, Hollywood's Veteran Western Stuntman

    Among the true legends of Hollywood’s stunt profession, Mickey Gilbert has always performed a notch above the rest. The stunt double for Robert Redford from 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” through 2018’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” Gilbert has more than 100 film and TV credits as a stunt coordinator and a [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate, myCinema and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. On Oct. 14, 1969, Variety reported that Warner Bros. bought the script by John [...]

  • '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 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content