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A Conversation with Bryan Cranston

By Brennen Matthews

Photographs by Joey L

Bryan Cranston is considered one of America's most versatile actors having conquered film, Broadway, and television to critical acclaim. His ability to develop a character and to morph into the physical and psychological deportments of each role is truly remarkable, causing fellow actors and directors to be keen to work with him. Growing up in southern California, his childhood was chaotic: his father left when he was 11, his mother took to drinking, and Cranston and his brother were left to a hardscrabble life. However, the future thespian’s path was aligned with the stars. While in college studying police science, a chance encounter in an elective acting class changed the trajectory of his life forever. At age 20, while on an Easy-Rider-ish 2-year motorcycle trip across America with his brother, he set his mind firmly on becoming an actor.

The 1980s were kind to Cranston, who had steady work as a young actor on some of the decade’s most popular television shows – CHiPs, Falcon Crest, Baywatch, Hillstreet Blues, Airwolf, but his rise to fame was a slow burn. It was not until 2000 that his career really took off, after he landed a leading role as the jinxed dad in the comedy series Malcolm In the Middle. But it was the year 2008, when he bagged the career-defining part of Walter White — the ordinary, but dying and strapped for cash high-school chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin — in the AMC show Breaking Bad, that magic happened. The show, which was shot in the Route 66 city Albuquerque, developed a cult-like following and has been labeled one of the greatest shows in TV history. Cranston’s embodiment of antihero Walter White and his talent in taking audiences to unimaginable places, not only turned him into a household name, but also into a megastar.

With over 30 movies, including Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Godzilla (2014), Trumbo (2015) and All the Way (2016), and over 20 television series appearances, to his credit, the Academy Award-nominated and multiple Emmy-winning actor, writer and director candidly shares with ROUTE on his turbulent childhood, his life-defining motorcycle trips across America, his favorite places in Albuquerque, and a whole lot more.

Cranston is warm and funny and as we discovered, one heck of a fascinating, nice guy.

You were born in California in 1956, which means that you would have been around 13 in 1969 – ‘the summer of love’. What was it like growing up at that time?

My experience went through the early 60s, where boys wore short hair and this new thing called rock and roll came in, and boy, I remember everybody on the block when the Beatles came to America, and we bought albums and we would get together and put a stack of records on and whenever someone had enough money to buy an album, we all went over to their house to listen to it. We’d study the art on the cover of an album and we’d study the liner notes and we knew the lyrics, because the lyric sheets were involved in it. So, you dove into it.

I think, these days there are so many more distractions going on that it’s harder to dive in past the headlines. I think we live in a headline world now and that’s unfortunate because you don’t get the whole story behind it.

All that being said, yes, I was 13-years-old in 1969, so I was still on the young side. I wasn’t a teenager who was involved in all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (Laughs) I was looking up to it. As with all kids, you are constantly looking 3, 4, 5 years ahead of yourself to see you’re reaching for that. It was bizarre, wild, and the hippies, and the riots, civil rights acts, and all the things that were going on. It was the most turbulent decade, I think you can say that, in our country’s history. It was an amazing time to be alive. Then I became an active teenager in the 70s, which was kind of an aftermath of the 60s. The debauchery of the 60s carried on through into the 70s and was very self-centered, and then it even developed further even into the 80s, the ‘me’ generation, that sort of thing.

When you were 20 you took a motorcycle trip across the U.S. with your brother. Did you have any specific destination in mind?

Only initially. The reason that my brother and I left together is because... I think that we have to backtrack a little bit. Our father and mother had a very nasty breakup and he deserted the family when I was 11, so we didn’t have any father figure, we didn’t have any kind of guidance in that. My mother was deeply depressed and became an alcoholic. She was hurt, deeply, deeply wounded by the abandonment of her husband who she loved. So, she became less and less dependable as a guide. She was still loving, but in much, much smaller compartmentalized times. She wasn’t dependable, and my father wasn’t there, so I think we were lacking strong male role models, and my brother got involved in a Police organization called The Police Explorers, and they traveled quite a bit.

At 16-years-old he traveled to Japan, he traveled to Hawaii, and because we were poor kids growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, I thought, man, the only way I’m ever going to get a chance to travel is to join this group. So it wasn’t that I was interested in Police work, I was interested in travel and getting out and exploring and figuring things out, because I knew the answers were out there somewhere. They weren’t inward, they weren’t going to be found within the block or on my pathway from my house to my high school.

So, I joined at 16 and I found out that I had an aptitude for it. I graduated first in my class at the LAPD academy – this is the Explorer Program. I think that looking back in retrospect, I think it was the attraction of a strong male role model. These grown men with authority that carried a gun and had a badge and had a swagger to them, and I thought, ‘wow, that’s masculine.’ That’s what a man is. So I joined, and I was good at it apparently. I went to a Junior college - my plan was to do two years there and transfer to a university, before going into the LAPD. I went to college and did well, and then the second year I took an acting class and realized that girls were so much prettier in the acting classes than they were in the Police Science, and it was like, oh my! Because of that it threw me for a loop and I realized I was ambivalent towards my future plans and I didn’t know what to do. My brother was kind of in the same boat, he could have just become an Orange County Sheriff. He passed all the tests and all he needed to do was pick up his gun and his badge and he was in, but he was hesitating, there was something that just wasn’t quite right. Same thing for me, it just wasn’t quite right, I’m not sure, so we had enough wherewithal to realize, let’s just wait awhile, and instead of just hanging around and getting a job, we decided to travel.

We had our two motorcycles, packed everything up, and off we went. I left California with $117 in my pocket. That’s it, no credit cards. You soon find that it doesn’t stretch very far, even in the 1970s. It was 1976 when we took off. We got jobs in cafes, at carnivals, and any place we could, just to stretch the dollar. We stayed in youth hostels, we stayed in missions, and homeless shelters. (Laughs) We stayed in all kinds of questionable places, just to save money, but when you are young you are much more resilient to all of those things. Our destination was Daytona Beach, Florida. Our cousins lived there, so we went all the way from Los Angeles to Daytona Beach and there we parked for the winter and got jobs and built up our war chest, as modest as it was. Then traveled some more up the eastern seaboard, all the way up to Maine and then back down, spent another winter in Florida, and then we took off again and went all the way through the Midwest, up north, and then angled back down to California. [It took] two years.

How much of Route 66 did you guys get to encounter?

There were [sections] of Route 66 that we did in the early part, but later on... it was always a bucket list [item] for me. Later on — in fact, I was on Breaking Bad at the time — my brother-in-law and I did Route 66, the full Route 66, in 2011, 2010 — something like that. Fantastic. We even did it right, we went from Santa Monica. (Laughs) We wanted... we said, well, we don’t want to cheat. We did it in reverse from the original Route 66 going from Chicago to Santa Monica. We did it in reverse. We went through and stayed on, whenever we saw the sign where we could actually ride on Route 66, and not on the highway — as you know, sometimes it’s not possible, Route 66 starts and stops — whenever we could, we were on it, and it was just fantastic, it really was. I just loved it, and went all the way. We took our time.

Route 66 even dips into Kansas. We were on there, went into Kansas for that little loop in and out of the state.

In Texas, there was a place, the Midway Point, the Midway Cafe...

The Midpoint Cafe?

Yes! So, my brother-in-law and I were there early, because we had stayed in Tucumcari, New Mexico at The Blue Swallow. What a gorgeous little motel that is, The Blue Swallow. We just happened to get up early for some reason and we looked at each other and said, ‘Do you want to hit the road?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, might as well.’

So, we packed up and took off at sunrise, heading East into Texas, got to the Midpoint, and we knew that we wanted to stop, we were going to have breakfast there. So, we stopped, and we didn’t know what time it was. We realized, boy, we are even too early for the Midpoint to be open. So, we walked around. We parked our motorcycles and walked around and then up pulls a truck, and I believe that it was Fran [Houser*]who was in the truck. She gets out and I go, ‘Hey,’-trying to be friendly – ‘When do you guys open?’ ‘Well, it’s going to be a little while... ah no worries.’ So she opened up and a cook came, and if my memory serves me, there was a server who didn’t show up. She started to get busy and I looked around and I’m going man, this woman is inundated with all these people who are just, they just want their breakfast, so I stepped up and said, ‘Do you need some help?’ and she goes, ‘Yeah, ok.’ So, I started waiting tables and seating people and serving them coffee and stuff like that. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. Some people would recognize me from the show or Malcolm in the Middle or something and be freaked out and say, ‘Wait, are you that... you look like...’ and I would go, ‘Yeah, I get that a lot.’ (Laughs) It was a fun experience, it really was, and I think we took some pictures with her there and we did what we could. Hopefully she felt we helped her out a little bit. Then we had our own breakfast and took off. It was fun, The Midpoint Cafe, that’s midpoint on Route 66, so it was a good embarkation on that and away we went.

*Fran Houser was the owner of The Midpoint Cafe from 1990 until 2012, and was the persona used to create Flo in the hit Pixar film Cars (2006).

It’s funny, because speaking with Fran she had no idea who you were at that time.

(Laughs) I’ve got to tell you, I always gravitate towards people who don’t know me for that reason. First of all, I can trust that our communication is going to be fair and even. It’s not going to be weighted in more attention on me than it is on a subject, so with Fran, it was nice because she didn’t know, and I was just some guy getting up saying, ‘Do you need some help?’ and she probably wondered if I was going to ask for tips or something. (Laughs) No, I just wanted to give a hand. I was kind of surprised that she accepted my offer, but it was fun to do. I remember very well being a waiter for years when I was first starting out as an actor. There’s efficiency to it and there’s a personality component to being a good waiter, so it was fun.

How long did you take on that trip?

I think we took about two weeks or so, maybe a touch less than that to get to Chicago. It was great. On the way back we didn’t retrace our steps, because we wanted to try something new. We took mostly Highway 50, which is dubbed the loneliest highway. It’s a beautiful highway. It goes through really remote rural sections of the country, gorgeous, just really fun. It was really a fun trip. Going through a bunch more states that you may or may not have been to before.

Ironically, there is only one state that I have never been to, and that is the state where there is a big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, North Dakota. I’ve never been to North Dakota. I’ve been to every other state, not just the airport, I’ve been to these states, I’ve been in them, and stayed in them for at least days at a time, if not weeks. I’ve been everywhere except North Dakota. One of these days I’ve got to go to North Dakota, specifically Sturgis to see the rally.

There were times when traveling through Texas on your first trip with your brother when you had no money and found yourselves working at local carnivals. Those seem like places that attract a lot of ‘colorful’ people. What was that experience like for you?

Well, it definitely is colorful and unique for sure. They are transient by nature, and so were we as well. We didn’t have a home and many of the carnies don’t have a home either. They travel with the show and they put it up, run it, pull it down, and move on, but it seems to draw a lot of colorful characters. But anytime we saw a carnival on our trip - and when you are going in the summer and late fall or through the fall you do, you see carnivals setup - we would pull over, because that was a guaranteed job. The colorful characters [who tend to work at the carnie] are not always dependable. People move on when they are supposed to stick around for a while, so my brother and I knew we could always get a job, especially because we had some experience. We didn’t operate any rides, we did do setups and teardowns of the carnivals themselves – the first few days and the last few days. But also, we would run the joints, which is what they called the gaming booths. There were different classifications of joints. One is you’re guaranteed to win, but the prize is terrible. One is the opposite, it’s really hard to win, but the prize is great, and so you can be in any of those, and it’s basically barking, bringing people in, getting people to throw their quarters or something. But we always were able to find a job, and not only were we able to find a job, but we were always able to find a place to put our little pup tents up, so we could sleep there, and be right there on site when we had to go to work the next day. So that was fortunate. And you’re always able to make a buck, and it’s always cash. And when it’s time to leave, you just take off. It worked out pretty well.

During those two years did you have any notable scary or dangerous experiences?

Yeah, we were... there was one time that I wrote about it in my book. I think we were in Little Rock, Arkansas, or something ... we had a policy, which seemed to serve us well; when you are riding on a motorcycle and you are in a city and if it’s a weekday, you look for a church or a synagogue. If it’s a weekend, you look for a school, a private school is better, because it’s not so big. So, you could be driving around and see a little elementary school or private nursery school or something and it’s a Tuesday — err— a Saturday, and you go, ‘Oh, that’s good’ and you’ll usually find a little plot of grass or soft dirt that’s just big enough to put your sleeping bag down or whatever. It happened to be a weekday, so we were looking for a church and it was night. It was about 10pm. We got a late start or wanted to make it at least to that city limits or something.

Anyway, we found a little church, so we pulled into the back of the church, put our motorcycles deep in the parking lot near a tree so they were unseen, and then we went toward the back door of the church, where they had a little 10x10 patch of grass – perfect - put down our sleeping bags, brushed your teeth, got inside, went to sleep. At some point in the night, we heard a car pull up on the gravel driveway. Now, when you’re awakened in the middle of the night and you don’t know where you are, because you forget from night to night, you’re sleeping in so many different places, it can be disorienting to say the least, and then you wake up and you see a huge tire almost touchable from where you are lying, it was [only] about 5 or 6 feet from my tent. This long, dark, black sedan... I kind of utter my eyes awake a little bit and I see a foot come out of the door. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch on the gravel and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ and I see my brother kind of look up slowly too, and we’re looking at this half asleep, and these two men in dark clothing go into the back of the church. Now, why two men would go into the back of the church in the middle of the night was questionable. That was like, ‘Are they breaking in?’ But they didn’t seem to be breaking in. Maybe it’s an inside job? So your mind is racing. Maybe someone had a key and they are going to go rip off the place, I wonder if we are in danger. It’s like we are trying to look to each other and whisper, ‘What do we do?’ I don’t know if they saw us or not, but before we had enough wherewithal to get up and out of the sleeping bags, the back door opens again, but this time they are pulling out a coffin and now we’re frozen in our sleeping bags, petrified. They take out this coffin and they’re whispering, they’re being very surreptitious. They’re whispering to each other, and they open the back of this sedan and they put the coffin in the back of the sedan and we are lying as still as possible, hoping that they don’t see us. [Afraid] that we’re next, that they’re going to grab us and put us in the coffin. They close the back of the sedan and they continue to whisper, and then they get in and they slowly drive off and my brother and I were like, “Uh, let’s get up!’

We got up and we went over to our bikes and we packed up our sleeping bags, but it was still dark and we didn’t know where to go, we didn’t know what to do, we were still half asleep, so we kind of wandered around a little bit and thought maybe we could find a coffee shop open. We didn’t find a coffee shop that was open and we came back. Now, it’s light, now it’s morning, and we’re now dreary and sleepy-eyed and exhausted and the adrenaline has now worn off, and we are more tired now than we were. We get back to the church and there are two or three cars parked in the parking lot in the back of the church. ‘We better just pack up and get out of here.’ As we start to try and hurry and get our motorcycles packed and ready to go, a guy comes out and goes, “Hey, you guys are up huh?” and we look over and he goes, “You want to come in for some coffee?” I wanted to say, ‘You’re not going to kill us, are you?’ We were leery about the situation, but we went in and in their breakroom they had coffee and doughnuts and were really friendly, and they said, “Hey yeah, Mac and I were here last night and we saw you guys sleeping, so we were trying to be as quiet as we could so we wouldn’t wake you up.” And I’m going, ‘Oh, that’s why they were whispering!’ When they were tiptoeing on the gravel, I thought, they are trying to be quiet before they kill us, and they were trying to be quiet so they wouldn’t wake us up. And it wasn’t a church, it was a mortuary! We didn’t know that when we first pulled in. They had to deliver a body to a church by morning, so they had to pick it up, and had we been fully awake we could have logically put all the sequences together and come up with an answer, but what we went through that night was petrifying.

That’s a really great story. Traveling by motorcycle, were you able to experience the uniqueness of each of the eight states when you were doing the trip?

On a motorcycle itself, it’s like walking fast, you see things that you don’t [normally], you meet people who you wouldn’t otherwise meet if you were in a car. You have a distinct advantage in viewing the topography and feeling and smelling the air, and the moisture or the lack thereof, the morning dew, your senses are heightened on a motorcycle and it’s more challenging. You’re exposed to all the elements, and it will rain, and you will feel that too. It’s not for the faint at heart, but it is for the adventurer, and I’m so glad that my first trip doing the entire route was on a motorcycle.

Did you drive through the Mojave Desert at night or in the day?

Mostly in the morning, we would do that, and we were able to get through it quickly, but there were still places that we wanted to stop, and we did stop. It was fantastic. Places that are no longer, that are boarded up and you look at it and think, ‘Wow, in its day, that must have been something,’ and then the kitschy stuff like the Wigwam Motel and things like that. We made sure we stopped at every site that was listed on our Route 66 maps. I’d like to do it again.

You should, with your family.

Well if my wife... I’d like to take my wife, but we’d have to go in some different mode of transportation, cause she’s not going to sit on the back of a motorcycle. (Laughs)

As you noted earlier, your dad left when you were eleven years old, and I can imagine what that does to the heart and the psyche of an 11-year- old boy, but at 22, you made the decision to go track him down. What was the trigger, at 22, that made you decide to actually pursue a relationship with your father?

Well, I think my brother and I decided to do it together, and I think that made it easier, so you are not alone. Both my brother and I had experiences with summer music theater in Daytona Beach during the times that we were there, to earn money, and we were going to leave, but then we thought, oh, they are casting for a summer music theater, and we both got jobs in the chorus, and it’s like, oh this is fun, and it was great, and we both had girlfriends, and it was like everything was terrific, and doing plays and making some money, and so we thought, I think this is what I want to do.

Kyle wanted to go back and go to school at UCLA and get a degree in acting, but I was too impatient, I wanted to start right away. I went back and started taking workshops and things in Hollywood. So we were back for a little while and we thought, well, he is around, we keep hearing word that he is around, and he hasn’t contacted us, but he was an actor himself, and a writer and a producer, so maybe that’s a good thing to do... you know I think that was a surface reason, I think deep down inside we were curious as to what happened and who he was now, and how he feels, and try to get some answers as to why he left the family, because both my brother and I remember — this is probably a worse scenario — that my mother and father were very loving, hands-on, fun people. My mother was always a PTA mom, den mother, the mom who made our costumes for Halloween, everybody wanted to come over to our house. My dad was always the coach on any athletic team we were on, so they were hands-on, they were involved. And then they weren’t. It wasn’t as if they were kind of involved, kind of not, and then we didn’t see them, it was like the literal rug pulled out from under you. It traumatized us. I know for me it turned me inward and I became much more introverted in middle school and high school. I was the opposite of the person I was in elementary school. I was a fun kid, gregarious, open to trying things and it just turned me inward throughout those years, and fortunately, those natural points of your life, when you graduate from school and go to another, it gives you an opportunity to reinvent yourself.

So, after high school I realized that the last six years of junior high and high school didn’t serve me well, it didn’t feel right, I didn’t do what I wanted to do. So, I’m gonna try something new. I was open to trying new things. I think when we got back from our two-year trip and I knew what I wanted to do, at least attempt for a living, that maybe it was time to get in touch with our dad and see what went on there.

How did he respond?

Well, he was very grateful, and he felt tremendous guilt and sadness about his actions. He said he was ill, and he was very close-lipped, as were many men of his generation. But little by little he opened up a little bit, not much, a little bit, and you glean what you can from his silence, as much as [from] what he’s offering, and you know, I just think it was a dark period in his life and he was who he was, and he wasn’t going to be capable of real, honest, in-depth father-son relationships, because there was too much of a chasm there, but he presented to us what he could, and so I kind of accepted that and at a certain point I forgave him for the abandonment and realized that he’s fallible, just like any human being.

He failed as a parent in many ways and that’s just my experience, that’s just what happened to and for me. Those are the cards that were dealt for me. But it still strikes me odd; I have a daughter, and it wouldn’t enter my mind to think of that as an option, to abandon her, it’s not real. The only abandonment would be if I died.

Do you feel that it made you more of a loving father? That you naturally compensated for what you lost or what you were looking for from 12 onward?

Well, I do know that it made me realize how tenuous life is. That my father was not in the picture from age 11 to the age of 22, and even then, it was a different relationship from my adult life with my father. In many ways he acted as my son and I acted as his father. He was often destitute, and I would loan him money and things, and you know, it wasn’t the relationship that you want, but it was the relationship that was. At a certain point you just have to say, ‘Alright, well this is what it is, how can we make the best of it?’ As far as how it made me think about being a father myself, I think only in that, I know that I am and want to be, and will be, hands-on, and that was a great experience for me. Our daughter is 25 now, so she’s an adult on her own, and has been for awhile. Just like every parent, you need to learn the transition from being a hands-on parent to being a friend.

It’s tough letting go, isn’t it?

It is, because it’s habit. It’s thinking that my job for so many years was to guide her away from or into areas that I think would either be harmful or helpful to her. Now, you kind of have to just be reactive to things. At some point, I’d love to be a grandfather. That would be a nice thing.

Do you feel 62, or do you find yourself asking, ‘How in the hell have I gotten here?’

I think most people do, don’t we? I don’t know how... it is remarkable when you think back, and you go ‘It does go by so fast!’ No, I don’t think of myself as 62, but sometimes I’ll catch myself in the mirror and I’ll go, (laughing) ‘What happened to you?’

When a career really takes off at 40, there’s more maturity, more of a seasoning perhaps, than when at 16 or 21.

I think you’re right. When I got Malcolm in the Middle I was 40, 41, and had been a working actor since I was 25 years old. [I was] a journeyman actor working fairly regularly and steadily, and paying my bills, along with my wife who was working as an actor at the same time too. We were doing fine, but you do, you grow, you mature, and then if something changes drastically in your life, as it did for me at that age, you are much better equipped. I was already a father, a husband, a homeowner, I knew what was important, I was thinking every time I got a job — when Malcolm in the Middle hit — it’s like man, I was socking away that money. We didn’t go out and buy anything, we were just putting that money in the bank, putting it in a 529 plan for our daughter to be able to go to college, so all that stuff was happening. I think then, per your earlier question, that too had an effect on me when my family blew up as a boy, and I realized, ok, that’s not where I want to go. I’m not going to drink excessively, I’m not going to do drugs, I’m going to save money. I’m not going to let ego drive me, I’m going to let logic and passion drive me. Then you have things in order.

Albuquerque is an integral part of Route 66, but I feel like Albuquerque in itself was essentially a character in Breaking Bad. What are some of your favorite places in Albuquerque?

There [are] several. I have a house in the Nob Hill section of Albuquerque, which is a really nice [area], very convenient and has great walking streets in Albuquerque. There was Gruet, and there were a couple of places, Standard [Diner], The Grove, a lot of different places I used to go to. I’m even forgetting some of the places I went. Oh, The Church Street Cafe in Old Town was a haunt of mine, great wine margaritas, great New Mexican food. I just really enjoyed the people, the city, and what it represented to me. It was the huge breakthrough for me creatively and professionally, and it opened up a huge, huge boulevard of opportunities for me afterward. I make no bones about it, it was a great time.

Breaking Bad, it was... I think it will be the opening line of my obituary, and I’m proud of that. I tell people all the time, I was able to do Broadway four years ago in All the Way, and now I’m doing Broadway this season in Network, and I know very well... I walked past the Belasco Theater yesterday, because I wanted to see how long it would take for me to walk home — each day I’ll walk to work and walk home — and I wanted to see how long it would take. I look up and I see what is every actor’s dream, I see the Belasco Theater sign and next to it is this electronic sign that says NET WORK, and above NET WORK in bigger letters is my name that will soon be lit up, [my] name in lights on a Broadway marquee. I stood there looking at it going, ‘Wow, that is really something. Look at what I get to do.’ And it’s all because of Breaking Bad and I’m forever grateful for that.

I was reading that they originally offered John Cusack and Matthew Broderick the role of Walter White, is that accurate?

No, it’s not true. Their names were on a casting list.

I did an episode of X-Files that was written by Vince Gilligan, and that was back in ’98, and that went well, met him, that was great and moved on. In ’99 I got Malcolm in the Middle, and so for seven years I go do that. Just as Malcolm ended, I get a call from my agent, “Do you remember Vince Gilligan?” “No.” “He wrote the X-Files,” ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I kind of remember that guy.’ So I went in to meet him on this thing called Breaking Bad and he was my champion to get the role, just like Linwood Boomer who created Malcolm in the Middle was my champion to get that role.

You need champions in this world. Those two men were my champions and I owe them a great deal. To have their support and to go to bat for me and to say, this is the guy who can do this, and this is who I want, and fall on their sword for that, that means everything to me. So those other guys, I had heard that their names were on the list, but you know, it’s a competitive world, so I feel fortunate that I was the one who was able to step in and grab that role, the role of a lifetime.

Vince originally wrote Breaking Bad to take place in Riverside County, California, a rural area of Southern California but the studio said look, there’s no rebate in California at that time but why don’t we move the show, we need to shoot it in Albuquerque to save money. 25% of everything that we spent in New Mexico was credited back to the studio, so that’s a considerable — that even includes those salaried workers who reside in New Mexico, — an enormous amount of money, so it allowed us to spend less money or take that money and put it up on screen so the move was designated, we’re going to New Mexico, so Vince in his wisdom decided not to try to say it was still Riverside California, let’s just say it’s Albuquerque and you’re right, to get back to one of your earlier comments, it did play a character, an important character in Breaking Bad, Albuquerque was absolutely an important character and I just adore those people and all those who worked with and the cooperation from the Mayor’s office and the film department and just the great people in New Mexico and I look forward to getting back there and visiting again and saying hello and having the chilis.

Does it surprise you that the show actually resulted in very popular Breaking Bad tours in Albuquerque?

Yeah, it is surprising, it could not be predicted. When we first started the directional signs that tell the actors and crew where to park their cars to go to work on location, they just said Breaking Bad with an arrow. I knew that we were starting to get recognized when all those signs started to be stolen. (Laughs) Then they just used BrBa and those were stolen, and I thought, ‘Oh, we’re becoming a hit.’ [After that] they would tell us what the road signs were going to be and they would change them up like, ‘mayonnaise commercial this way,’ so that we could figure out where to park our cars. (Laughs)

It came as a surprise, and boy had I known, you know, speaking of the name Fran [Houser], there are two people, Fran and Louis, who own the house where Walter White lived in Albuquerque, and... remember the episode where Walt comes out and he throws a pizza on the roof? That was a very fortunate thing for me because it was a very big pizza and I took one take at it and made it up on the roof, and I remember our director saying, “Alright, on this next take...” and I go, “Next take, you said it was perfect, lets count our victory and move on.” But little did Fran and Louis know, they thought this will be fun, this TV show wants to use the exterior of our house to shoot, it will be fun, but little did they know that every single day, without exaggeration, every day, there have been people who would come with pizzas and they would throw pizzas on the roof, then take a picture of themselves in the foreground with the pizza on the roof, but they wouldn’t retrieve the pizza and ants, and roaches, and birds, and rats would come. It was really, really terrible, and it’s just unfortunate that they had to endure that.

With Breaking Bad in mind and looking at the realities of what’s happening in the world today, what do you think is behind the enormous uptake in the national opioid crisis?

I think it’s a combination of two things: Despair, which always points a person in the direction of looking for something that would soothe that condition and whether you self-medicate with narcotics or alcohol or whatever you find. That’s a basic human trait, you want to adjust the way you feel, and if there’s disenchantment and disenfranchisement with a large swathe of the population due to unemployment, due to any number of things, opportunities, you are going to find an increased number of people looking for some kind of way out, a temporary way out, but for them, temporary is all they can think about right now, so that’s one thing. The other thing is the radically irresponsible nature of the handling of drugs and the drug culture in our country. The doctor who has no qualm of writing a prescription for these very serious drugs to whomever, based on a comment they make; I can’t sleep or I feel anxious, ‘Here try this.’ It’s just irresponsible, irrational and tremendously unfortunate.

I think it all stems from the lack of a clear plan from the government, this idea that healthcare should be a privilege and not a right is the basis of this thinking, that’s my belief. I believe in socialized medicine, I do, I don’t think it’s a privilege, it’s a right, and it should be granted to everyone and I’m willing to pay more in my taxes to ensure that. So if there was any echoing of that condition in Breaking Bad, maybe it brought some illumination to the fact that the healthcare system in the United States is poorly constructed and needs a complete overhaul, and perhaps the other outlook on that was that teachers are so poorly compensated in general, not if you’re a coach of a football team at a big college, but if you’re a teacher, you often need a second job. You see teachers working summer jobs all the time, they have to, they don’t have supplies, they are spending their own money to buy supplies because the districts won’t give it to them, and Breaking Bad sort of brought that to light as well. And if that stimulates the conversation in our country, I think it’s beneficial. It certainly wasn’t intended to be a social commentary, it was intended to be a piece of entertainment, but perhaps a happy accident [that] it could have created a secondary conversation as well.

Check out Bryan Cranston’s Memoir “A Life in Parts” (2013) in bookshops nationwide and don’t miss The Upside hitting theatres in January 2019 and The One and Only Ivan on screens in 2019.

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