Bryan Cranston knows a thing or two about playing a quirky family man.
In “Wakefield,” a new movie opening Friday, the actor’s Howard Wakefield doesn’t become a drug kingpin ala Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) and he’s not a total goofball like Hal (“Malcolm in the Middle”).
He just moves into the garage attic rather than face his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) and he stays there, in hiding, for months.
“At first, I was kind of repelled by the character. Looking from it from just an objective viewpoint,” Cranston says.
But the six-time Emmy winner found his way into the character, in the movie adapted from an E.L. Doctorow short story, thanks to the metaphor that forms the essence of the story.
“Who among us wouldn’t want to push the pause button in their life at some point? Slow things down,” Cranston says. “... Just to get off the hamster wheel of life.”
“I go to work. I beat myself up,” he adds. “I come home. I have a cocktail. I self-medicate. I go to bed. I get up. ... Is this all there is to life? Is this the definition of who I am, as a person?”
Although the film explores the desperation of a man unraveling with aching poignancy, the Robin Swicord-written and directed film balances the heft its subject’s plight with a sharply comic script that few could deliver with Cranston’s finesse.
“We would always shoot a version that is scripted and then at times, whenever it hit me, if something struck me, I would just put it out there and try it,” Cranston says, when asked how many of the killer lines he mutters to himself were improvised in the film.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you may just stumble on something [and] when those impulses come to you, you have to go with it — as opposed to squelch it and stick to any pre-existing script,” he says.
While the suburbs-dwelling Howard Wakefield is evidently repulsed by New York City, depicted in the film as a sea of “people in endless replication,” it’s somewhere the Los Angeles-born Cranston hopes to spend more time.
“My wife and I recently bought a place in New York again,” he says. “We plan on spending a lot more time in the city because we just love it.”
He first lived in the Big Apple from 1983 to ’89, when he lived on the Upper West Side and acted in soaps.
“I loved it ... My relationship with New York goes back many years. My first job, professionally, was a commercial that I shot in New York in 1979,” Cranston says.
While the Tony-winning actor (for playing President Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way”) doesn’t have plans to return to the stage yet (“I’m looking for all kinds of opportunities”), with three Amazon series in production, the 61-year-old has plenty of local work.
“Two of my shows are being shot in New York. Which I love and I kind of pushed for — ‘Sneaky Pete’ and ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys.’ It starts production in July.”