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'Breaking Bad' Star Bryan Cranston on Walter White: 'He's Well on His Way to Badass' (Q&A)

In an interview with THR, the actor opens up about shooting six movies during hiatus, his "Contagion" and "Rock of Ages" roles and going back to writing and directing.

Bryan Cranston
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Season 4 of what The Hollywood Reporter’s chief television critic Tim Goodman called “one of the greatest dramas ever on television” Breaking Bad kicks off Sunday night on AMC, with Bryan Cranston’s Walter White gunning and running more than ever. THR’s Merle Ginsberg talked to Cranston on the eve of Season 4 of one of TV’s true cult hits.

The Hollywood Reporter: You won the Emmy for best actor in a drama series three years in a row, but this year Breaking Bad wasn’t eligible due to when it started airing last summer. How did you feel about being out of the running?

Bryan Cranston: At least I was able to sleep in! There was no 5:30 in the morning phone call. Every time I’ve gotten that phone call, all I could think was, “Oh my God, someone’s dead.” It’s usually bad news early in the morning. But I’ve won three times – I’m still shocked about that! I was raised in the lower middle class economic status, so I had no level of  expectations, no entitlement complex. I never thought about winning anything. The fact that I’ve been given this opportunity to play for a living, travel, and meet creative peopleis just a blessing. I appreciate it more all the time. And I still drive a thirteen year old BMW. Why not? It runs perfectly. I’m more interested in experiences at this point than things. Money has never been my primary goal.

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THR: Speaking of money, it looks like Walter White is going more into badass crime and money territory this season from the promos.

Cranston: Well, I think Walt’s figured out it’s better to be a pursuer than the pursued. He’s well on his way to badass. If you remember, last year, Walt ran over two child murderers. The way we shot that scene was he gets out of the car, one man is dead, and he sees the other man badly injured. He looks at Jesse and laments the fact that there’s no choice for him, he has to kill him. The way Vince Gilligan edited was that I did not hestitate at all, I just shot him. I was shocked. I recoiled, watching that. Then I remembered that Vince’s credo for Walt is that he’s Mr. Chipps turning into Scarface. And I thought, Vince is further down the line with Walt that I am. He’d gone further toward Scarface than I had. Is it over when Walt is Tony Montana? I’m not sure!

THR: What do people say who see you on the street? Are they scared of you now?

Cranston: No, they come up to me all the time, mostly with superlatives. As we get further down the line, people are really loving the show. Maybe that’s because all the actors on it love the show. When you get cast with people on a series, you really hope you like them – they practically turn into your in-laws! If you like them, it makes life a lot easier. And if you don’t, it shows. The Breaking Bad cast is tolerant, forgiving, and there for you. I really really love Aaron Paul.

VIDEO: 'Breaking Bad's' 'Walt Is the Danger' in Season 4

THR: You just played a bad guy in Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts -- and it seems like you’ve done a lot of other movies in your hiatus ...
 
Cranston:
We had a full year off last year, so I shot six movies. And I’ve just  started the new version of Total Recall. I play the bad guy, and it’s so much fun. It’s always about the writing. That’s what attracting me to all these films. I’ve said no to more films than I’ve said yes to. I’m spoiled by Vince Gilligan - he set a bar and I intend to drink at it.

THR: And you’re in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion.

Cranston: Yes; Soderbergh’s fantastic, he’s a guy who is so at ease with himself and his actors. The set was really calm, he sets that tone. If you have a screaming angry director, everyone else will be panicked as well. No names will be mentioned. As I get older, if I’m going to be spending 14 hours with these people everyday, I want it to be healthy. Put the drama in the film. The cast of this movie is pretty awesome – Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard -- and it’s because they love Steven. If he called me, and said “Hello, Bryan,” I’d say yes -- to anything. He doesn’t have to finish the sentence.

VIDEO: AMC Announces 'Breaking Bad' Season Premiere Date, Releases New Trailer
 
THR: And you’re in Rock of Ages with Tom Cruise?

Cranston: Yes, it’s very funny. It’s a cameo. We shoot soon. It’s a comedy and a period piece set in the eighties, with fun clothes. The director said to me, “You’ll be mayor of Los Angeles, and you’ll be the husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones.” So I said, where do I sign up? I don’t even think about the money when I consider roles, I turn it over to my agency. Money will come. I respect it but I don’t thirst for it. I wish American’s thought more like Europeans when it comes to money and work. They take time off, they do what they love. We think work is the most valued commodity. Really the most valued commodity is time.

THR: So you’re going to write and direct a movie down the line? And star in it?
 
Cranston:
That’s the plan. It’s called Meet the Murphys. About 10 years ago, I wrote and directed a little romantic drama film called Last Chance; it was a gift to my wife. I raised the money and just went out and shot it. That’s independent filmmaking. And I had a blast. That’s what I want to do again. Just the experience of getting all these people together to create something that’s a thought in my head was amazing. I’m also interested in producing tv projects, film projects, I’d also like to write a play at some point. I want to perform and do more theater. A lot of things are happening, and they’re all good. I don’t really relax. When I sleep I relax. I don’t have hobbies, I don’t collect things. I enjoy creating.

THR: You’ve sure come a long way since Malcolm in the Middle.
 
BC:
Well, all I can say is, I was just married to Julia Roberts in a movie, and now I’ll be married to Catherine Zeta-Jones. How cool is that? I think what will help me in Rock of Ages is if they would write a love scene for Catherine and me; it would help my process. She can tell Michael that this is purely work. Yes, a torrid love scene, it will help all of us.

Breaking Bad returns for Season 4 on Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC.