He played murderous Walter White in Breaking Bad. But Bryan Cranston has a reputation for being one of the nicest men in showbiz. We did this interview before he picked up a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Trumbo, in which he plays legendary Dalton Trumbo, the scriptwriter behind Spartacus and Roman Holiday. An eccentric genius, Trumbo spent 11 months in prison in 1950 after refusing to turn in colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Breaking Bad made you famous in your 50s. Would fame have ruined you in your 20s?
Fame wasn’t important to me. I just wanted to be a good working actor. I had a few lucky breaks. But yes, I think it is better this way. It’s harder for people in their teens and 20s. They don’t have the life experience. They haven’t done the really bad jobs, had the frustration that goes with struggling for a dollar, paying rent. Life. There’s a Chinese proverb: may you find fame and fortune early in life. And it’s meant as a curse! It will be taken away and you’ll know what you’ve lost.
Your parents were struggling actors. What on earth made you want to take it up?
I actually never wanted to be an actor. I was going to be a policeman, but in college I took a course in acting and after my first scene I was hooked.
You must have had loads of scripts landing on your doormat after Breaking Bad. Why did you want to play Dalton Trumbo?
He is so flamboyant and dramatic. He has a big life, a big ego. But he had a true heart.
He was the highest-paid writer in Hollywood. He could have kept all of that. What made him stand up to the House Un-American Activities Committee?
His innate sense of right and wrong. Freedom of speech was a hard fought victory. People died for that victory.
Do you find being famous annoying?
I’ve gotten used to it. Fame is not something I enjoy so much, but it comes with the territory. And with it came opportunity that I never had before. It is a willing trade-off. What I crave is a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me at all.
Is that even possible anymore?
Yes. If I’m in an airport I’ll find a seat next to old people. People who are older than me. They’re less likely to know who I am. I don’t want the conversation to be about me.
You have a reputation as the nicest man in showbiz. You insisted on the set of Breaking Bad being a decent place to work. Why?
Don’t you want a nice, comfortable, working environment? I do. I’m in the position now of being offered the lead in a movie or TV show. I thought: I’ve been in bad environments where everyone’s nervous, walking on eggshells wondering if the star is going to be happy today or if the director is going to scream at people. I don’t want that in my life. I want the drama to be in the show.
Trumbo is out in cinemas across Dubai on Thursday February 25.
Three top Cranston moments
Malcolm in the Middle (2000)
Playing dad Hal, the sitcom was hugely popular in the US and UK in the early ’00s. Watching Cranston play Hal seems a million miles away from his Breaking Bad broodiness. Catch some of the vintage episodes and scenes on YouTube.
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2015)
Cranston lends his vocals to the Dreamworks-animated Li, Po’s (voiced by Jack Black) biological father. The character makes a brief appearance in Kung Fu Panda 2, but we’ll have to wait until Thursday March 17 to see the third instalment, where Li and Po are reunited.
Starring alongside Ben Affleck in this political thriller, Cranston shows his flair for tension in his role as Jack O’Donnell. The film won Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the 19th Screen Actors Guild Awards.