1 Dec 2016

Bryan Cranston: A life in parts

From Nine To Noon, 10:08 am on 1 December 2016

Bryan Cranston is an Emmy and Tony award-winning actor, with a long career in showbiz, both on stage and screen.

But the role for which he is most known is Walter White, the Albuquerque high school chemistry teacher, family man in the television series Breaking Bad.

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Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. Photo: Supplied

In that series, White was the Joe Average mild-mannered everyman who uses his chemistry skills to become a meth cook and preside over a multi-million dollar drug empire.

In his autobiography A life In Parts he chronicles his years as a successful character actor, and his rise to worldwide recognition in the defining role of his career so far.

Cranston had a difficult upbringing, which he says ultimately helped him survive the fickle world of acting.

“I learnt from my father’s mistakes, he was an actor and had a typical actor’s life of up and down and down and down, and it drove him crazy because he wanted to become a star and he never did become a star so that crushed him.

“And he left the family and created a chasm in the nucleus, destroyed my mother, she started drinking and so there was a lot of dismay and shaky ground in our family. We had to try and figure things out quickly I was only 11 when it started.”

Despite seeing at close hand how precarious an actor’s life could be, Cranston was determined and embarked on his career in his early 20s.

He says he never had a plan B.

“I went from class to class, and felt that if I avoided my father’s mistakes I could survive. My goal was to make a living as an actor - that’s all.

“Since the age of 25, that’s all I’ve done in my life for a living is work as an actor. To this day professionally that is my proudest accomplishment.”     

Before Walter White came along Cranston was an acting veteran with 25 years under his belt.

In the 1980s he worked steadily as a jobbing character and voice actor.

He had a recurring spot on Seinfeld in the 1990s playing Dr Tim Whatley, Jerry’s dentist, and for six years from 2000 played Hal the father in the hit TV series Malcolm in the Middle.

Cranston says when he read the part for Walter White he immediately had a clear idea how he should look.

“He doesn’t care what he looks like, he always needs a haircut, he has an impotent moustache - one that you look at and just think either grow it or shave - take all the colour out of his face - he was a colourless man – he wears clothes that blend into the wall.

“I felt that Walter White was invisible to society as well as to himself.”