The Triple Threat

Anya Chibis

Bryan Cranston (6 noms, 3 wins)

Not since Bill Cosby stunned the business with three consecutive Emmy wins for I Spy during the late 1960s has an actor's domination of a category been such a shocking surprise. Bryan Cranston's out-of-nowhere lead drama actor win for AMC's Breaking Bad in 2008 broke every rule of expectation: The series wasn't nominated, the network was barely on anyone's radar, the actor was mostly known to TV audiences as the goofy father on Fox's Malcolm in the Middle and smarmy dentist Tim Whatley on Seinfeld, and the Bad role -- cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned meth cooker -- was so dark, it made Tony Soprano look like Mister Rogers. "I knew it was going to change my life, and it has," says Cranston, 55, who gives full credit to series creator Vince Gilligan's vision for Bad's slow-buzz cult following. "To start a show with a family man, who never got a parking ticket, become a hardened criminal was something no series had done before, he adds. "He changes from Mr. Chips to Scarface." Cranston's recent Emmy kudos also have given his film résumé a serious jolt: He has 14 movie roles slated through 2012, including playing military official Lyle Haggerty in Contagion. "I'd always wanted to work with Steven Soderbergh," says Cranston. "It turns out he was a fan of Breaking Bad."

Photographed by Anya Chibis on Sept. 10 at the InterContinental hotel in Toronto.