Hal, Tim Whatley, Patrick Crump, Walter White… these are just a few names by which you might know Bryan Cranston. For 34 years, Cranston has been lending his extraordinary talents to the big and small screens. He’s worked behind the camera as writer/producer/director, and in front in a staggering number of roles since about 1980. Cranston most recently took home a Tony for Best Actor in All The Way — his Broadway show.
Bryan just nabbed what will be his last nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his exceptional performance as Walter White on Breaking Bad. Though the role of Heisenberg will go down in history as one of television’s greatest, Cranston has delivered remarkable work for years. So why are we just now noticing his prowess? I’m sure there are folks reading this saying, “I’ve known for years and years that he’s amazing.”
Personally, my introduction — or at least what I can remember — came from Bryan’s role as Malcolm’s dad on Malcolm in the Middle. Hal was wacky and accident prone, neurotic and a bit ridiculous, but he was also lovable and endearing. Cranston has a way about him. To see him in a role like Walter White and then to see him making some kid’s whole life by asking a girl to prom for him — it’s like night and day. He seems like the kinda guy you wanna know. The kinda guy you wanna have a beer with.
In 1976, Cranston earned an Associate Degree in Police Science from Los Angeles Valley College, but like so many of us, he went in a different direction. And thank goodness for that. BC got his start at the Granada Theater in the San Fernando Valley. His parents had reservations about an acting career — as they were performers as well (dad Joseph Louis “Joe” Cranston an actor and former amateur boxer, and mom Audrey Peggy Sell a radio actress). But Bryan knew what he wanted and started working regularly around 1980.
I can recall seeing DRIVE in the theater and seeing Cranston appear onscreen. I got the funniest feeling. I was proud of him. I remembered seeing his on MitM and thinking, “Wow has HE come a long way!”
Then, one night, I was at a friend’s place. We were drinking beer and picking from a cheese and meat plate when I heard BC’s voice on the TV behind my head. I turned to see him in a yellow suit of some sort, expertly cooking meth. “Oh, is this that show about heroin?” I foolishly asked the other viewers who were watching intently.
“Meth,” my friend replied and looked apologetically at her friends who were watching.
What I did next started an uproar. I casually shrugged, took a sip of my beer and simply replied, “Oh.” This was taken by everyone in the room as an insult. Apparently this Breaking Bad show was a pretty big deal. I’m lucky I didn’t walk out of there with the cheese knife lodged firmly between my shoulder blades.
Their anger slowly faded to sympathy and they turned off the episode they were watching so that I could watch the pilot. Bryan Cranston in tighty whities, holding a gun he doesn’t know how to use, trying to keep his partner alive. My pulse was racing. I think I finished the entire series in less than a month’s time. I would’ve finished it faster, but I still had to go to stupid work. Ugh.
Don’t even get me started on the adorable friendship between BC and his meth cooking partner/costar Aaron Paul. I never understood all the fuss, but then you watch the show and you want to be a part of it somehow. I wanted to get in on the genius of it. I have about 20 screenplay ideas rolling around in my head at any given moment, and that show always made me think, “I will NEVER write anything this good.”
Despite the constant reminder than I’ll never write a Breaking Bad level masterpiece, the show opened my eyes to the versatility Cranston shows in all of his roles. Wacky, oddball, killer, drug dealer, liar, thief, dad, husband, mechanic… he’s touched so much.
I have a very pure admiration for his work and I hope to continue to see him everywhere. Despite being one of the best actors of our time, he seems like a good dude. He’s not inside his own head all of the time. You know that when his own costars rave about genuinely excellent person that he is, there’s gotta be something to it. Hope to keep seeing your face everywhere, BC!