Bryan Cranston: “The ending of Breaking Bad is very unapologetic and exciting”

The star of the cult hit talks exclusively to about the final episodes of the series, living with fame, and how Walter White's life descended into chaos... Hi Bryan. Thankyou for talking to us. Let’s begin. You’re saying goodbye to the show – how does that feel after six years?


Bryan Cranston: It’s been sad and happy because we’ve gotten to tell our story. It’s such a mixture of emotions and quite frankly so many people are asking that question that you wonder if you actually have the time to answer it honestly. It constantly puts you in the head of that question and not the emotion. I did a movie right afterward, so it’s been busy. And now I’m headed off to Boston to do a play. There’s a lot of things going on.

What do you love about the show that makes it a success?

I think above all else it’s honest. The depiction of a man’s decision making that could be relatable to the plight of many a person regardless of where they’re from. Here’s a man who has his familial responsibilities and they’re challenged. His own life is imminently ending. He wants to be able to do something for his family before he goes. He wants to be remembered for something.

Would you agree that by season five, Walt is no longer the hero you’re rooting for? To me he seems massively narcissistic, in a way that means he cannot justify his excuses for doing what he does.

I believe that every single person has the full spectrum of emotions already built in our being, our DNA. The only difference in people in how they behave is how they were raised. If they’re predisposed to a certain condition, learning disabilities, economic status, education, influences and luck. Aside from those, you could be the best of who you are or the worst of who you are. And Walter White had the opportunity out of desperation that allowed him to make a decision that forced him to learn about that other side of him that rarely people have. We come to this world as very self-centered and selfish people. We are taught as babies to behave, use indoor voices, ask if you want the toy, share this. We are very selfish. Later on we’re taught to edit our thoughts and contain our emotions. We’re definitely manipulated into living a certain way that’s acceptable to society.

Has Walter been unleashed from this? From conventional morality? Is he a human who shows us the basest of humanity?

In a way, he allows himself to express himself in a manner that is not acceptable. But out of this desperation, and he certainly knows he has an expiration date connected to him, if he could just hold on to get through the rough parts then he can relax. What he doesn’t realize is he underestimated that the whole rest of the two years is going to be the rough part.

Did your relationship with the character evolve in the way the fans’ relationship did? Can you seperate yourself from Walter and look at him in the way we do?

I can’t really answer that because my job is to not judge him. My job is to justify. Everything I was reading is done through the filter that is Water White and how he interprets them.

Can he have a happy ending?

What is a happy ending? As it was my policy while shooting the show, you never knew. I only read the scripts about five days beforehand to know if there were any questions or concerns, they could be addressed. I was in the dark from script to script about Walter White.

What was it like working with everyone on set?

The only thing you can identify from my end is when something is well written, you do that. There have been plenty of examples where something well written gets messed up in the production end or the marketing. It doesn’t even look like itself and becomes something else. So those kinds of things you have to let go and hope they don’t mess it up and you don’t mess up your part and everybody contributes to a high level and hope for a bit of luck because that’s what’s necessary to have a successful career, let alone a successful experience on any given show. So we got along famously, we all pulled toward the same direction.

Did you feel fatherly towards Aaron Paul?

Very much so. We’re still close now, and we always will be.

Do you think this is your best work in your career?

That’s what people are saying, but I don’t know. I watch every episode once. If it’s an occasion, maybe more than once. But I don’t dwell on the past, I live in the now and experience and get that feeling. You do it and then you move on, just like an interview. I don’t read my interviews because I’ve lived the experience and retold it to the interviewer and I think, why would I go through it a third time?

What is your next project?

I went on and did Godzilla.

Do you have any downtime after this press tour? Are you going to go to a dark room and put a flannel on your face?

You have control over what you say yes or no to. But when you get the opportunities, it’s often not in your control to adjust schedules. Tomorrow I’m going off to go to Boston and start rehearsal of a play where I get to portray one of the most dynamic presidents in American history (Lyndon Johnson). He’s phenomenal; an incredible character like King Lear.

Did you ever see the connection between the show and plays like King Lear…or even in Walt and Skyler, in the Macbeths?

When you look at the core of what Shakespeare wrote about, he wrote about a king of kings and all walks of life. In essence, when it came down to it, it was truly about emotions and how people behaved and felt about each other. That’s what resonates with the audience regardless of the era or setting. It always comes down to how human beings relate to one another and then how it resonates in an audience, or not. And that’s how we judge things. Ultimately it has to have a human component, or else we’re not interested.

What do you do to relax?

I like to create more than recreate. But it’s fun for me. I don’t play golf. I spend time with the family. I go on walks and runs and swim. Vacations, I love to travel to new lands and experience new cultures.

Do you like the fame that comes with your job?

No. I don’t. That doesn’t attract me, really. In fact, it has a tendency to distract from things I like to do. The fans are kind and courteous and I can respond in tune. But there are opportunists and belligerent people who just want to make a profit off of you. I have less and less patience for that. It’s a demand on your time, and I don’t have a lot of that. How you want to spend that very valuable commodity, time, and you have to be very careful with that. That being said, being in this position has afforded me great opportunities to work at a level you only dream about. And I have the fortune of doing that. If there is any ceiling, it’s now gone. And it’s all because of Breaking Bad, and that’s because of the story because it resonates. I was able to get a level of writing that was superb. In that case, actors just need not screw it up.

What’s your next ambition?

I’ve had the role of my life here and I’m about to play another one in this theatrical production called All the Way where I get to play an enormously difficult and complex character again. I think down the road it would be fun to do a Lord of the Rings type trilogy where you’re very involved and I’m able to spend a year and a half to two years in developing and playing a character that’s split up in between films so you can really dive in and experience it. I know some actors who did that and had to move to New Zealand for nearly two years in order to do that. And it’s like, what a great experience.

Do you fear nothing else down the road matching this experience?

In this business, he has the burden and should have the lion share of the praise because he’s the captain of the ship. He’s always been the captain and we’ve always been under his command. He guided this ship. So yes, he had the most anxiety over making sure this story came to a conclusion that was appropriate and exiting and fulfilling to the audience as well as those of us involved.

What are fans in store for?

It’s exactly what he had hoped for. And my hope was that he would be very satisfied with what he’s done. And he is. The ending of Breaking Bad is very unapologetic and exciting. It’s a roller coaster ride.

Do you have a favourite moment from working on the show?

Not really. I think most people like to think that. It’s a six-year experience, so it’s like raising a child. I look at it now from an objective point, and it was that as a whole experience that was truly incredible.

When did you realise this was something special?

I knew we had a good script and a great story. I just didn’t know how it was going to play or if anybody would feel a sense of sympathy and pulling for this character despite his actions. When I saw the pilot I realized that this was special. But then again, I’ve been in the business for a long time and you need to protect yourself. You celebrate that. If it goes beyond that and they want to try to make this a series, you still need a tremendous amount of luck. We did get the luck and the support from our studio Sony and our network AMC. Without that, I don’t think we’d be talking right now.

Is it sad saying goodbye?

You go through a range of emotions. I’m not really sad because I had this opportunity, which not many actors can say they worked on one of the greatest shows in the history of the medium. I really think it is.

How do you watch it?

 I usually watch it with my wife when we’re in the same city at the same time. It’s sometimes so egregious in its approach that she has a hard time watching it at night. I know what’s going to happen in the episode, so I’ll tell her, “This one you maybe shouldn’t watch at night.” But she’ll sit there watching it with me and the character will do something and she’ll fold her arms and go, “I don’t like you anymore.”

I’m still wondering if I’ll be able to root for Walt at the end.

Here’s the thing. Before all is said and done, you will continue to vacillate in your appeal and sympathy toward him and your absolute anger toward him. This is a tragedy. We’re talking about a Shakespearean novel. This is about the downfall of man. The thing that affects people when they’re watching a tragedy whether it’s Shakespeare or contemporary is that the potential of the human being was there and it didn’t work out. If we’re introduced to a character that’s despicable and they continue their despicable nature, we don’t sense that as a tragedy because we hated them from the beginning. They’re just the villain.

The tragedy comes in when it’s like, “If only, if only.” They could have been in love or she would’ve seen that he wasn’t that way. That’ a tragedy. It’s the disappointment in the human spirit, and that’s the effect on the audience. It’s King Lear. I think some will feel that, and yet what is the price that he paid? The splintering of a family and disintegration of a great king and a man to resemble a shadow of himself. I think that’s what makes it. He didn’t apologize, Shakespeare didn’t apologize. I daresay that Vince Gilligan is a contemporary Shakespearean author. I can’t deny that. Shakespeare wrote from what he knew, just like everybody. He was infatuated with certain cultures, especially Italian cultures. It was a very romantic thing to write about. It made everyone get wanderlust from Verona to Venice about all these people traveling and relationships whether it was a comedy or tragedy.

When does Walter break bad? Was there a moment when he finally went beyond the pale?

It’s incremental. But for me it will always be the very first episode, when he did what he did for money.

It wasn’t at the killing of Gael?

He was already on that slippery slope. It was an egregious act, but he was already capable of doing those things. It was the first episode when he didn’t have that and he made a conscious decision to change who he was. He sold his soul to the devil.

Any words to your English fans?

We’re so grateful that England has embraced Breaking Bad.

Did you see Keith Richards at the premiere?

I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but I was looking for him. When I’m at a place like that, my own premiere, I get stopped. If I attempt to make a move, it’s hard for me to travel.

Are there any other famous fans of the show?

It’s very exciting to hear that, and hopefully in the next year or two I’ll be able to make another trip back Britain. Do some Q-and-As and seminars. I think this show has created such a controversy and a fervor that opens discussion. That’s good drama, when after it’s done people can discuss and debate it. And the truth is, no one’s wrong. Whatever you feel about it has legitimacy.

You’ll probably still be doing panels for this in 30 year’s time.

That would be fun. Once I get some distance from it and be able to come at it wit ha more objective viewpoint.