Bryan Cranston is in the peculiar and challenging stage of any deeply successful actor’s career, coming off a long run playing his most iconic role and facing the proverbial question: What’s next?
The answer for the “Breaking Bad” star appears in part to have been to turn toward the past.
The 59-year-old performed a Tony-winning run as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way” on Broadway (and reprised the role for an upcoming HBO feature), and now stars as the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in the biopic “Trumbo,” out in theaters Friday.
amNewYork spoke with Cranston about playing the writer of “Roman Holiday” and “Spartacus,” who won two Oscars under pseudonyms during the blacklist, and about the future of Walter White.
Trumbo could be considered the most “American” of American heroes, standing up to the proverbial man by continuing to work under a front. Do you think about him in those terms?
It’s funny, because now I’m able to look at it more objectively. When you’re approaching a character you don’t want to do that. I don’t want to have that overview from the outside. And now I’m just starting it. Getting to know the kind of person he was, he would not have considered himself a hero. Are you a hero if you defend your personal freedoms? No, you’re just defending your own. If you defend others, well I think some people would say that. Yes, by his actions he was able to accomplish a great deal and contribute mightily to the fall of the blacklist. … At the time, it wasn’t a hypothetical to him.
Do you think a story like this needs a waiting period to be told — in this case more than half a century — or can you make an effective historical film more instantaneously?
I think the story itself will demand if the people will want to see it. You have Steve Jobs, you have all these things. I think it’s just timing. The origins of this movie, John MacNamara started eight years ago. … Even “Argo” took seven years to do and George Clooney was attached as the producer. George Clooney! And it still took seven years.
Was the research process made easier because there are still people alive who knew Trumbo?
There’s an advantage to this because Trumbo’s daughters and his daughters-in-law are still alive and well. And they were extremely helpful getting me to an essence of that father, from their perspective. They all had different points-of-view because they were different ages. You take that in and you have to distill it in your own sensibility to the Dalton Trumbo character that’s within me. And then it comes out.
What’s your favorite Trumbo movie?
Before I would have said “Spartacus” and I still might, because I think it’s ironic that was the movie that Dalton Trumbo first saw his name on-screen again after 13 years. And the subject of that movie, about oppression and how a simple man was loved by many, I think there was something about Dalton that he saw himself in Spartacus, not just him but it represented every simple man.
If I were a betting man, would I bet on Walter White showing up in “Better Call Saul”?
I think you should. You should do it, yeah. I would do it. I honestly don’t know if that’s ever going to happen but because of the construct of it that I could show up, I think they would try to figure out how they can logically and justifiably make sense of it. Knowing Vince Gilligan as I do, and Peter Gould, they’re executive producers on it, they won’t do it as a shock, stunt cast thing. There has to be some point that’s like, “Oh my God, that’s perfect. Of course. Yes. That’s perfect.”