Everybody’s favourite meth-dealing TV dad talks about joining the CIA for Ben Affleck’s Argo and playing guys who aren’t Walter White.
The man knows how to get around.
Though he’s had steady gigs on screens large and small ever since the early ’80s, the 56-year-old L.A. native has been working harder than ever since his role as teacher-gone-bad Walter White on Breaking Bad earned him mass adulation and a trio of Emmys. Cranston can now be seen in Ben Affleck’s new political thriller Argo, the latest in a string of similarly memorable showings including recent credits like Drive, Rock of Ages, and Total Recall—the latter of which brought Cranston to Toronto for most of last summer. He was happy to be back for Argo’s premiere at TIFF, saying, simply, “I love this city.” Indeed, he proves it by citing his favourite mode of local transportation: Bixi bikes. The ever-present threat of streetcar tracks gave him some worries, though. “You’ve got to make sure the thickness of your tires is bigger than the groove of those tracks,” he advises.
He gives credit where it’s due.
Cranston’s also proud of Canada’s prominence in Argo, which recounts the rescue of six American embassy workers from revolutionary-era Iran who’d been hiding out in the home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor. Affleck got some heat for a postscript that belittled Canada’s contributions to the covert scheme (it’s since been modified). But Cranston—who remembers hearing about the true-life drama when the story broke in 1979—thinks that the subsequent revelation that the CIA orchestrated the rescue doesn’t devalue this country’s role in what was known as the “Canadian Caper.” Says Cranston, “I don’t think that the true story diminishes the heroic nature of the acts of several people, the foremost being Ken Taylor. He literally put his life and his wife’s life on the line by harbouring these fugitives. If they’d been found out, they would have all been executed. So it’s quite a tale.”
He understands why intelligence work is an incestuous business.
In preparing for his role, Cranston met with several active and retired CIA officers. One thing he noticed was the “incestuous nature” of people who work in the field. “A lot of couples get married within the company, and that makes sense when you think about it,” he says. “It’s pragmatic because they can then go somewhere together as husband and wife and be very familiar with each other even if they’re under assumed names. The other is that if you’re married to an outsider, the friction created due to the level of secrecy might be enough to undo the marriage.” Cranston knows the value of marrying within the business—he met his wife Robin Dearden when they starred in the same episode of Airwolf.
Don’t expect him to play a pot-dealing gym teacher anytime soon.
With Breaking Bad slated to conclude in an eight-episode season next summer, Cranston will soon be done with the role that many viewers would consider one of TV’s most complex and vivid characters. But he’s already trying to diversify when it comes to the people he plays. “I can tell you I won’t be looking for anything that’s Walt-like in the future,” he says, “or at least the near future.” He says he also had to fight typecasting when he finished his run with Malcolm in the Middle in 2006. “I had a couple offers to do silly, goofy dads and I realized I would just be derivative of myself,” he says. “Interestingly, ironically, you get burned by your own success. So Walter White will come to an end and I’ll be able to erase him.” That said, he’s kind of looking forward to shaving his head again for the role. “I embrace that idea because it makes me look different,” he says. “And it makes me look older, with the glasses and the Van Dyke and all that.”
Argo opens in theatres on Oct. 12.