Bryan Cranston: TV's ‘Bad'-Est Actor Reinvents a Movie Heavy

The "Breaking Bad" star heads to the big screen in "Total Recall."

Segueing seamlessly from his blistering, thrice-Emmy-winning turn in the recently launched fifth season of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” as the increasingly irredeemable high school science teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White, Bryan Cranston steps into the big-bad role of Cohaagen, the heavy in the Len Wiseman-helmed remake of the ‘90s sci-fi thriller “Total Recall.”

And as Cranston reveals to PopcornBiz, he doesn't need any fake "Recall" memories. He's pretty happy with his actual life as a career character actor who’s suddenly achieved a stardom that allows him the luxury of choosing the roles that most intrigue him.

Having graduated to leading man status on TV, did the “Total Recall” role appeal to the character actor in you??

I wouldn’t say that I’ve ascended to leading man status. I’ve always been a character actor at heart. I think that’s the most attractive thing to me. Would I want to play a leading man in a romantic comedy? Sure, because that’s another area, another aspect that changes things up. You know, the question has come up: what kind of Recall would you like to have? I said ‘My whole life’s a Recall.’ Every time I work, I’m taking on a different character. I’m slipping into that guy’s shoes and figuring out what makes that guy work or the fantasy of it all, like this character. So it’s all over the place.

How did you arrive at how to play Cohaagen? Especially given that Len Wiseman wanted a total shift from the way the original kind of played out?

I didn't want him to be over the top. There's a certain flamboyance to Cohaagen, but mostly, I felt, he was grounded in what he wants. And he wants those two things: he wants Hauser to come back into the fold and be my right hand man again, because I love him like a son; and he wants to stop the Resistance from [ruining] my agenda, which is: if you just give it a chance it will be for the greater good. So those are the two things, and that drove me through. I didn't feel that it should be a mustache-twirling [approach], because the nature of the script didn't say that.

It was darker, more serious, with Colin [Farrell] taking over. If it was Arnold again. If you were doing an Arnold movie and it's kind of kitschy and fun, you could twist it a little more. Then the tone can rise to that. One of the characters that I've always loved is Captain Hook from 'Peter Pan'. And because of the nature of that story, to make him more of a mustache-twisting villain, it made him more comical and therefore safer for the general family audiences. And more appropriate. Equally dynamic and wonderful to watch, but more appropriate for what you're trying to achieve.

No mustache, but you do sport a nice wig in the role – how much of that is practical because of having to be actually bald to play Walter White on “Breaking Bad?”

Yes. You see, Walter White is bald and I want to reserve that look for him, so I don’t want to be bald in other things I'm doing – unless I shave my head in the middle and have like a Larry Howard kind of a baldness for a character. And I would do that! When I shave my beard and I leave like a Fu Manchu with a little patch, I am treated differently. And that's the way I knew it to be. That the world sees you differently when you look different, and so Walter White and his look with the Van Dyke and the bald head, that's for him. And once I say goodbye to Walter I'll say goodbye to that look. And I don't really intend to repeat that ever again.

You are existing in an actor's sweet spot right now:  you've got a great comedy performance behind you on “Malcolm in the Middle,” you're in the midst of a great dramatic performance on “Breaking Bad,” and then you get to go and do these films, pop in, do your thing, own a couple of scenes and get back to work as you need to. Is this how you feel?

Yeah. I find myself there. And I'm on a wave. I had no idea this would happen. The fact that 'Breaking Bad' has opened these doors is just a joyous, wonderful, embracing experience for me. And when it ends I don't want to think, 'Oh my God – what happened?' No, every day I'm thanking my position and enjoying the time. When I'm at 'Breaking Bad' I'm not thinking of other things. I'm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. No one talks about the business there. Everything is a little slower. And everybody talks about, 'What do you want? Green chilies or red chilies?' And I love that. 

And then when it's over, it's over. And it's time to say goodbye. And, in a way, it'll be a death. I'll mourn the character and mourn the loss of the family that we developed there. And then you recover, time heals, and you move on.

You told me how it's the material, the script, the story that you're looking for now, the thing that engages you. That said, is there a type of acting that you haven't gotten to display that you're interested in finding the right story to do that?

Yeah, that would be something along the lines of when Nicholson gets to do a romantic comedy. He's kind of irascible and older now, and early in his career he was playing the oddballs and the weirdos. And then as he got a little older then he started playing romantic leads. And I would love to play a romantic lead, a sweet character – funny or odd in some way.

As we get closer to the conclusion of 'Breaking Bad', I think the assumption is the end is bleak, more likely than not. Do you see any  redemptive elements that could come into play? Are parts of Walter still salvageable as the end is nigh?

Maybe after he's dead they can harvest his organs and give it to someone who could actually put it to good use. I think that would be the only redemptive thing left with Walter White. He sold his soul in a Faustian deal that was made. And I don't know how it's going to end – I honestly don't – but it occurred to me that, you know, how can he do this? And I go, ‘Well, maybe the happy ending is that he does die. And maybe that's fitting.’ However, maybe it's even more fitting that he creates such toxicity around him and everyone else perishes. Or he loses them in some way. And he's left alone in this cesspool that he's created. Maybe that's the fitting ending, you know what I mean?

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