Whether you are a fan of the series or not (and who isn’t?), Breaking Bad is truly something special. And undoubtedly the main reason for that is Bryan Cranston, an actor previously best known for his comedic television roles who has completely reinvented himself as Walter White, the meth-dealing high school chemistry teacher. Of course, although the series is winding up its final episodes Breaking Bad has finished filming and Cranston has moved on to his next role, which is playing president Lyndon B. Johnson in All The Way at Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater — a run that has already been sold out each performance in its entirety.
In an interview with Radio Boston, Cranston spoke at length about preparing for his latest role after completing what will likely be known as one of the best television series of the decade.
When asked how he prepares himself to play a historical figure like Johnson, Cranston replies, “When you first start out, the character is outside of you because you haven’t done the work to bring him in. And the more you read not just the text but also biography, which I have, and other biographies written by other people who have written about him, you get a sensibility of the man. And then pretty soon, hopefully, you start to pull that character inside of you. And then, you start filtering your thought process through that filter of him. And, at the same time you’re working on the Texas accent and his speech pattern and how he talked all the time, and he was a good old boy, and he’d have that kind of twang and drawl. And it’s fun to play with and you live with it for a while and pretty soon it just gets into the fabric of that character.”
On the energy he puts into the role, he adds, “If I don’t bring everything, every bit of my sense on stage, I will get lost. Yeah. And it kicks my ass! I’m telling you. We haven’t even opened yet and just the rehearsal process, is just — it’s so intense. You know, we have one day off a week — technically Mondays is our one day off — but there’s no day off for me.”
Cranston points out that even if viewers are still immersed in the final episodes of Breaking Bad he’s hard at work preparing to play a former president. He points out, “I’ve got a nose in a book or the script and you’re always developing. I just don’t feel I have any time to let that go. And we won’t know until after the first few shows that we have with an audience that I feel like, OK, he’s deeply rooted in there and I can completely relax and allow what I’ve worked on to come out.”
He also notes that he has an affinity for theater since it involves working without a safety net. He explains, “That’s a saying we have: ‘Ah, I made some new mistakes today. That was good.’ That’s the one thing ’bout live theater that you cannot compare to anything is, is that, here it goes. It’s a slingshot and once that fires you’re off and running. Whatever happens happens. And hopefully you know the text and the character so well that it’s second nature, that the work you’ve done and where you’re physically supposed to be on the stage at any given point is just automatic, you just go there like a homing pigeon and you don’t have to think about it.”
In the end, Cranston’s main goal is to simply not screw it up. He confesses he doesn’t want anything to derail his on stage performance, admitting, “I didn’t want anything to interrupt my need to have full focus on this. So I can’t get sick. I’m loading up on my vitamins. I’m eating really well. I don’t drink and I’m going to bed early. And by doing so I’ve lost some weight, which is good for me as a performer because then I feel stronger and it will support me through this venture.”