Success as an actor part luck, part chemistry

Acting lessons from Breaking Bad teacher Bryan Cranston

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LOS ANGELES -- You have to admit: this actor has range.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/08/2012 (3838 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LOS ANGELES — You have to admit: this actor has range.

Bryan Cranston played a wacky, fun-loving dad in the series Malcolm in the Middle, and he plays a corrupt tyrant in the newly released remake of Total Recall, opposite Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel.

But the role that has truly defined Cranston’s career has been in the series Breaking Bad, now in its last season. Cranston dropped all his goofy Malcolm charm for the role of Walter White, the chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer, becomes a meth cook in a twisted effort to leave a legacy for his surviving family.

Bryan Cranston as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle.

Cranston shows up at the Total Recall press conference eating an omelette and cracking jokes. But even if Walter White has long given up the teaching career, Cranston still has a few hard-won pearls of wisdom for anyone looking to make a career for themselves as an actor.

On what to look for in a script:

“The best thing they can learn is to identify well-written material. The writing in our industry, in a story, is the most important element, bar none. It is always about the writing first.

“So what I’ve been able to do… the thing I’m good at, really, is to identify well-written material.

“Now that doesn’t mean the product is going to end up that way. It’s a recipe, and sometimes it doesn’t work, and you’re thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I had all the ingredients, how did this happen?’ That’s going to happen.

“But if you start with something that has good writing, you at least have a shot. If you start with something that is not well written, you have no shot of making something good. The best actor in the world can make C level material C-plus-level material. Maybe B-minus. That’s it.”

On getting a shot:

Postmedia Ursula Coyote/AMC Walter White (Bryan Cranston, left) and Gustavo (Gus) Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) in Breaking Bad.

“The only thing that an actor really yearns for in a career is opportunity. We don’t ask to be given roles, just give me a chance to get in the room, (or) we have no shot.

“What I try to teach young actors is: Please know that without a healthy dose of luck, you will not have a career. How do you do that? I don’t know. Just keep working, keep working hard, have faith.”

On giving yourself a time limit:

“Don’t give yourself some arbitrary number: ‘I’m going to give it a year.’ Stop now. Go back to Idaho. Make some really nice potatoes. People will appreciate that.

“You’re either in this or you’re not in this. So that’s the first thing I say.”

On making a strategy if you get lucky:

Michael Gibson Columbia Pictures Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston, left) and Lori (Kate Beckinsale) in Total Recall.

“If you’re on a hit show, you better save your money. You better, because you need to say no to those tempting offers of dollar bills to do the same thing you just did.

“To me it was no temptation. I just said no. But you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I was very fortunate.”

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

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Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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