Bryan Cranston is of course much beloved for his portrayal of meth dealer extraordinaire Walter White in Breaking Bad–a role that won him six Emmys, four SAGs and a Globe. But with that show over, Cranston did not rest on any laurels. Instead, he took on the meaty title role of Trumbo, racking up Globe and SAG noms for his efforts. Tackling the role of real-life blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was certainly not without its challenges, including the fear of creating a caricature, as Cranston says, “the character came with a lot of obvious traps to it. Actors can look at that very flamboyant, dramatic character, irascible and loud. He pontificates and he just speculates and he loves holding court and he can be bigger than life, and that’s great but those characters can also create a problem of being too big. So we had to try to modulate that.” Currently at work on the Robin Swicord-directed, ultra low-budget indie Wakefield (co-starring Jennifer Garner), Cranston plays a businessman who has a breakdown and disappears from his life. “It’s a very all-hands-on deck, extremely low-budget movie,” Cranston says, “and it’s only a four-week shoot. We’re going guns blazing.” Cranston is also exec producing new show Sneaky Pete for Amazon, in which he stars with Giovanni Ribisi.
You did both Trumbo and All the Way with director Jay Roach–why does that relationship work for you?
He’s a wonderfully collaborative man; very sensitive, very warm, very calm. There are no histrionics on a Jay Roach set. Work gets done. We have some laughs. It’s very collaborative and because he wants that collaboration he almost demands it. He forces that. Really, really strong actors, actors who love to work, who love to delve, do well working with Jay. The lazy actor wouldn’t do well with Jay, I don’t think, because he wants to enlist them into his thought patterns and he wants to involve them in the conversation not just on their character, but on the story in general. I love that part. So then during the pre-production of Trumbo he said, ‘I just had a meeting with Steven Spielberg and he would like me to direct All the Way for HBO. How do you feel about that?’ I said, ‘I have a feeling that’s going to be great and Trumbo’s going to be the test for it, to see how well we get along.’ It was just a perfect thing. I loved going to work every day and believing tremendously in the material.
How did you set about bringing Trumbo the man to life?
In talking with his daughters, who are still alive and well and were very much consultants with me and even consultants on the movie, they said, ‘He was huge. He loved holding court and having people gather around. He talked about his feelings and his thoughts and his opinions and he felt he was the smartest man in the room and would challenge people to debates. He loved it. He was a debater in high school. He loved that world.’ And so with Jay, I told him, ‘look, in order for me to find him, truly find him, and in order for this to work I think what we need to do is do multiple takes at various levels of largeness that went from subtle to ridiculous. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears we’ll find the thing that’s just right. So that was the thing that I was concerned about, is feeling the freedom to be able to go for it and yet not having to worry that I was going to be chewing the scenery in every scene, and sometimes he is because that’s the way the man was. He was a big, big personality.
Did Trumbo feel current politically to you?
It is. I think it’s not about Hollywood. It’s really about our country and forsaking a cherished rite and that is freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to practice whatever religion you choose, freedom to belong to any political ideology without persecution. That is the foundation of America and any enlightened society. That is what is most important to that society, because almost nearly all of the immigrants that have come to this country have been persecuted in some way or another and that’s why they created this country. That’s what brought them here. If there’s anything to protect in America, it’s that.
In Wakefield you’re a lawyer who has a breakdown–what drew you to the role?
It’s a very interesting sociological study of human beings and how close we actually are between being homeowners and homeless. It’s a very delicate thing. This man, who is a successful man, lawyer, with all the trappings of success, a big house in Westchester County and a summer cottage sort of thing, has a lovely wife and a big home and cars and he’s got to keep on that hamster wheel. He’s got to keep it going. At some point you start questioning, ‘why am I working so hard to maintain something that just I’m not getting that much joy out of anymore?’ So that’s the kind of thing where I read it and I put it aside and I kept thinking, ‘there’s something incredibly interesting about this,’ and I couldn’t get it out of my head.
How does it feel to be artistically and financially free to do projects like this?
The thing is that if you want to be free from that decision-making, money should not come into it, and I don’t mean to sound like money is not important. Money is very important, and I have representation that is incentivized to work the best deal possible, but they don’t dictate what needs to happen and I certainly don’t tell them. In fact I don’t even usually know what I’m working for, how much money I‘m making, I really don’t. Once I let go of the focus of earning money and just focused on my job, I have from that point on made more money than I ever thought I could. By letting it go, it came back. Love is that–let it go. You can’t control it, you can’t hold onto it, it’s got to be free. That’s the way I look at it and it’s worked so far.
How is Sneaky Pete going and what we can expect coming up?
We’re very excited about it. We’re getting the outlines now. We start shooting in February in New York and we’re very excited about the tone and being with Amazon, which has given us free reign and tremendous flexibility and a place where we can go with the storyline that we just wouldn’t have been able to do in broadcast. It’s going to be exciting and I’m going to return. My character, Vince, is going to be in the show and I’m looking forward to that. I just love good stories and I’m really not just a producer and co-creator of Sneaky Pete, I truly loved this story