By Frank Barron
‘Twas the week before Christmas week, and all through Bryan Cranston’s Sherman Oaks house, not a creature was stirring, until the phone rang at 5 a.m. to announce that Bryan was just nominated for a Best Actor in a Drama Golden Globe. A couple of days later he awoke with the news that he got a Screen Actors Guild nomination too.
So Christmas came early for Cranston, the star of the acclaimed drama Breaking Bad. He has already won three consecutive Emmy Awards for his role as the desperate drug dealing chemistry teacher, but he’s not blasé about the honors. He welcomes any opportunity to put the spotlight on the AMC network series, hoping to bring more eyeballs to the show.
“It’s a great feeling to enjoy some attention, that’s part of being an actor, but I’m just as happy when the show is recognized,” he said. “Our entire cast, and everybody with the production is worthy of recognition,” he told me.
My wife Margie and I had lunch in the neighborhood with Bryan and his terrific wife, actress Robin Dearden, before both nominations came out. And he wasn’t taking anything for granted, in fact he mentioned that the Foreign Press didn’t usually embrace shows like Breaking Bad. But they did give him a nod for doing the comedy Malcolm in the Middle almost a decade ago.
Back then, during Malcolm set visits, I first got to know Bryan. He’s one helluva guy, and let’s me ramble on about my Hollywood stories. I’ve discovered he’s got a wicked sense of humor, and is gifted at playing outrageous comedy. Personally, I never would have guessed that the same guy who played Malcolm’s wacky dad could ever give me the heebee-jeebees as the antihero Walter White. Yeah, he’s that good. And Bryan gives credit to the show’s creator-producer Vince Gilligan for “taking Mr. Chips and turning him into Scarface.”
In case you want to get caught up with the show, back-to-back repeat episodes of Breaking Bad have started airing every Wednesday on AMC. All 33 episodes to date will be revisited through March 2011, then season four will start in July.
Although he said it is exhausting to play White, Cranston still found the energy during his Breaking Bad hiatus to do an incredible workload of feature films, and other projects which kept him busy.
“I did six movies, one co-starring with Julia Roberts,” he said. “I wrote a movie, and I wrote a pilot.”
Cranston was bragging, with mocking machismo, about doing a bedroom scene with Roberts in the upcoming movie Larry Crowne, directed by co-star Tom Hanks.
“Yeah, and she laughed a lot,” he revealed, while his sweet wife Robin just smiled and rolled her eyes, knowing how funny her husband can be.
His other upcoming films include Red Tails, a WWII action story from George Lucas; John Carter of Mars, a fantasy-adventure from an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel; Detachment , a drama with Adrien Brody; Drive, an action film with Ryan Gosling; the thriller Leave; and Sci-fi film Contagion with Matt Damon.
They all go alongside his other notable credits, from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, to Tom Hanks directing him in That Thing You Do. On TV he portrayed astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, produced by Hanks. A significant film for him personally was Last Chance, which he wrote and directed as a Valentine’s gift for his wife, who starred in the independent film. On TV Bryan got attention on Seinfeld as Jerry’s dentist, and showed off his versatility in everything from Murder She Wrote to Airwolf, where he first met Robin. Because Vince Gilligan produced and wrote for The X-Files, he remembered Bryan’s guest appearance when casting Breaking Bad, knowing that Cranston could play scary and desperate.
If acting seems to come naturally for him, it’s because he was born into a show business family.
“When I was eight, I did my first commercial,” he said. While in college he said acting became his passion.
Another passion is baseball, and we talked about the great legends such as Sandy Koufax, and the great Ken Burns Baseball documentary. Robin once threw a surprise birthday party for Bryan at Dodger Stadium.
What else is happening in their lives?
“We bought a house in Albuquerque, nine miles from the studio,” he said. “But I prefer coming back to our Sherman Oaks home.”
That’s where Bryan, Robin and their daughter Taylor will be spending Christmas, with a flock of friends and family gathered around.
Giving thanks for the gifts he’s already received, Bryan looked at his wife then told me, “I’m a lucky man.”