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Opinion | Bryan Cranston Won’t Play Donald Trump

[MUSIC PLAYING] When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

archived recording (noel king)

— your local member station. You can keep the conversation going with us on social media. I’m Noel King.

kara swisher

Enjoying the NPR?

bryan cranston

Yes, I was listening, the last minutes of NPR this morning.

kara swisher

Oh, well, I always know that NPR sound. I don’t have an NPR voice, unfortunately. “Here in the small village of San Juan.” You know, they’re always somewhere beautiful and calm.

bryan cranston

That’s right, and they speak very quietly.

kara swisher

They do and slowly.

bryan cranston

That’s right. Yes.

kara swisher

That’s not me. Sorry. You got the wrong gal here. Bryan Cranston was a working actor for decades before he got his big break, starring as Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” It was a career-defining role but also a potential trap. Where do you go after you play Heisenberg?

archived recording (bryan cranston)

Say my name.

archived recording

Heisenberg.

archived recording (bryan cranston)

You’re goddamn right.

kara swisher

In Bryan Cranston’s case, you go on to play even more powerful men. He was Lyndon Baines Johnson in Broadway’s “All The Way,” and he was Howard Beale in “Network.” He won the Tony for both roles. And these days, he’s New Orleans judge Michael Desiato in the Showtime series “Your Honor.” His character’s son has just accidentally killed a kid on a motorcycle — but not just any kid on a motorcycle.

archived recording (bryan cranston)

The boy you hit this morning is Jimmy Baxter’s son. That’s who you killed. Jimmy Baxter is the head of the most vicious crime family in the history of this city. Do you understand what that means?

kara swisher

Cranston’s character has to decide, does he stand by his principles and send his child to certain death in prison, or does he abuse this position of power to save his son?

Bryan Cranston, welcome.

bryan cranston

Thank you, good to be here.

kara swisher

In “Breaking Bad,” you play a law-abiding chemistry teacher who decides to cook meth to provide for his family. In “Your Honor,” you play an incredibly upstanding judge, and you subvert the law to save your son. The shift to subversion was rather quick for this judge.

bryan cranston

What’s interesting to me about the differences is that in “Breaking Bad,” Walter White methodically planned his next move in life, even though he was given only two years to live. But he designed his future, as short as it may have been. In this story, Michael Desiato has no time. He needs to make a decision impulsively that will alter the course of his life for who knows how long. So he doesn’t have the luxury of time to look back and think, well, wait a minute. If I make this decision now, what’s it going to do? What are the repercussions down the road?

kara swisher

Right. He’s portrayed as such a good guy, and you begin by liking him. But I have to say, I already dislike him because some of the corners you’re cutting and how quickly he went right into criminality, really, just so easily — and sloppily, by the way.

bryan cranston

Let me turn the tables on you a little bit, all right?

kara swisher

All right, you turn the table. Turn them away. Lazy Susan me, as I like to say.

bryan cranston

Yeah, that’s it. What would you do if you felt that your child was under mortal threat? Would you voluntarily become a criminal?

kara swisher

I had that discussion last night. I have two teen sons, and I thought, I would turn him in.

bryan cranston

Now, wait a second.

kara swisher

OK, I know. I know. I feel terrible. I know, to the mobster.

bryan cranston

But if you knew your son was very likely going to be killed in prison, would you still do that?

kara swisher

It was very difficult, but I’d have to say yes. I’m a terrible mother.

bryan cranston

No, first of all, it’s also easy to do it in a hypothetical situation. But in my character’s case, he fully intended to do the right thing, as you saw. And it was that impulsive moment, when he saw that mobster, to alter the course of his life by making that decision.

kara swisher

All right, what would you do? Let me lazy Susan you back.

bryan cranston

I would do the same thing.

kara swisher

Protect your child?

bryan cranston

Absolutely.

kara swisher

Yeah.

bryan cranston

There’s no question. If I felt, in my heart of hearts, that by doing the right thing, it would put my child in mortal danger and the threat is very real, I wouldn’t put them in it.

kara swisher

I think the damage to your kid is worse, like the guilt that I put on the kid. I don’t know. It’s a really interesting thing that it draws you into. I’ve read that you step into and out of character really fast, and I was noticing that, watching you in this role and then LBJ, especially. And I saw you on Broadway in “Network,” and you were wonderful. Can you talk about how you step in and out of your character? Because a lot of your characters turn dark rather fast and then out of it, into charm.

bryan cranston

I am attracted to characters that are somewhat damaged, I suppose. Those are the most interesting, dramatic characters that I see, as long as you get a sense that they have some level of humanity. Otherwise, they’re unrelatable. You could play a really dastardly character, a vicious killer, but you still need to find threads of humanity to where the audience understands or believes that part of you. That makes it more devastating, to me, about a human being gone wrong.

kara swisher

You describe vulnerability as a power, like holding a grenade. And you also talked about crying on stage in Daytona when you were in your 20s. Can you tell that story?

bryan cranston

I was in Daytona Beach at the Daytona Playhouse. I walked in because I had some extra time. I was traveling at the time. And I was on a motorcycle, and I had to stay for the winter. So I walked in and said, do you need some help backstage — assistant stage manager or props or something? And the person said, “Well, have you acted before?” I said, “Yeah.” And he goes, “OK, you’re in the show.” Apparently, the Kralahome in “The King and I” had just dropped out, and I was instantly cast as the king’s right-hand man. And I had body paint on me every day, and I had this purple eye shadow that stretched the eyes, very politically incorrect. So a friend of mine said, you could put a little thin layer of Vaseline on your eyelids before the makeup, and then the makeup comes off easy. Otherwise, you’re left with a pink tint, and you’re walking around town all day with pink eyeshadow. And so I said, oh, OK. So I put a layer of Vaseline on, but I didn’t know how much. Apparently, I put on too much. So near the end of the play, just as the king is dying — spoiler alert for anybody who didn’t see “King and I” — just as the king is dying and the Kralahome, my character, is hunched over him and distraught about his king dying, I couldn’t help it anymore. The Vaseline has melted so much, to a degree it got into my eyes and created a faucet of tears. Tears are pouring down my face. I could hear the audience going, oh.

kara swisher

Acting, acting.

bryan cranston

Absolutely. It was unbelievable. And I remember how irritated my eyes were. But yet, it was a physical manifestation of the irritation. So that was that. But it also taught me, like, wow, at the right time, if that can happen, how dramatically appealing it can be.

kara swisher

What’s the power you have when you are playing a role? How do you think about that?

bryan cranston

What I realized early on, when you’re in school and someone humiliates themselves or trips and falls or is embarrassed publicly, your age doesn’t permit you to be mature enough to really embrace that person. Instead, you want to distance yourself and laugh and like, oh, I’m glad I’m not that idiot who just fell down or whatever. But once people mature — and I think that’s college and above — and you see someone in a vulnerable situation or embarrassed or humiliated, the great thing about human beings is that they don’t feel they want to point the finger. They don’t want to separate. What they feel is they want to embrace that person. They want to protect that person. And it’s a really lovely human trait. Well, if you can understand that and put that layer of vulnerability in your characters, that will happen to an audience, viscerally, when they sense that. They will emotionally wrap their arms around the character. And so I look for those opportunities to develop sympathies from the audience by way of vulnerability.

kara swisher

So they lean in?

bryan cranston

Yeah, they lean into it, as opposed to distance themselves.

kara swisher

Is that different when you’re on stage, versus in a TV series?

bryan cranston

You approach the character the same way, as far as developmental qualities. You have to be insatiably curious and enjoy the research. You have to have talent to be able to bring it out. You have to use your imagination to string together any elements of a character that you have not had personal experience with. And the last part, the fourth part, is that you must be willing and able to open up the cavity of your own emotions to pull out what is appropriate, and that is to make yourself look good, bad. It’s rage. It’s public or physical vulnerability. Like in “Breaking Bad,” I wanted the character to be soft and pudgy and overweight, so I wanted the love handles to spill out over my underwear. I wanted that. I needed the audience to feel sorry for this guy, that he’s gone to seed, that he’s lost his desire and his hope and his drive. And that’s the whole point of the story is that he gets that back once he makes his decision to do his evil deeds. So he transforms his body and his look and his attitude and his ability to intimidate and his level of confidence, and all those things completely change.

kara swisher

Right, soft to heart.

bryan cranston

Yeah, so that was by design. As far as working on stage compared to film, the work itself is very different. In a play, you go through a beginning, middle, and end every single performance. Whereas in film and television, you do bits and pieces. You might have a day where it’s emotional, and then the next seven days, it’s not. So it’s much more tiring for me to do a play on a long run than it is to do film. You have moments when you can shut down and relax and rest.

kara swisher

So do you have trouble turning it off? I don’t mean going home and doing an LBJ accent. But you ever catch yourself acting the role of Bryan Cranston with your family or friends?

bryan cranston

I suppose you do it, only if you’re really troubled, if you’re having difficulty getting a character to move into you and your soul and your being. That’s a hard way to describe it. But basically, for an actor, when you start developing a character, it’s outside of yourself. And the more research, the more thought, the more attention you put on that, the more you start to understand how he thinks and feels. And then you’re inviting that character into yourself. And then almost like through osmosis, it comes in. And from that point on, you think and feel and act based on the filter of that character. Well, if it’s frustrating for you and it’s not coming, it’s not coming, which happens at times, yeah, I could see you going home and living with it and barking at the dog or whatever.

kara swisher

Yeah. What’s been the most difficult character for you to do that, of the most recent ones?

bryan cranston

I guess the most difficult to date was LBJ. I went down to the LBJ library a couple of times and spent countless hours just trying to absorb the sense of him visually, vocally. There’s copious amounts of books about him, which were all very helpful and endless. So you could just get completely absorbed, and I did. I got completely absorbed in developing the character that by the time I got to the ART in Harvard to do the out-of-town part of it, I was not prepared for the massive amount of dialogue that I was saying. I was so into developing the character that we did the table read, and I read through it, and I went, oh my god, I haven’t started memorizing any of this. And I was panicked. I was really panicked that I wouldn’t get it.

kara swisher

You have a stack ranking of how you decide what roles to take and to turn down, correct? You have a list of how you —

bryan cranston

I do.

kara swisher

A numerical system?

bryan cranston

I do. I give everything a numerical rating. So I actually transfer my emotions into a kind of mathematical equation, which helps me look at it from a more objective viewpoint. Because if you stay subjective to it and emotional to it, it’s hard to make a decision because you might be swayed by the emotions.

kara swisher

Right, right. So you have numbers?

bryan cranston

I do.

kara swisher

Like, 1 to 10?

bryan cranston

No, I give a numerical value to — Number one is the story. I give it from one to five on the value of just the story. Did it move me? Was it important? Did it resonate? Did it stay with me? From there, I go to the written word, which I separate from the story. Because you can have a great story, and you read it, and it’s like, oh, I don’t think the writer really got it. So I have to give that a separate rating. And the third thing is the character because I truly believe that it’s the story and the power of the written word first that inspires a character. And I say this with all great respect to Meryl. I say, if you gave Meryl Streep C-level material, she could get it to a B. Her ability is unbelievable.

kara swisher

I saw her in “Prom,” and I’m like, she’s still fantastic, and this is very light.

bryan cranston

Yeah.

kara swisher

Let me ask you, then, so I can get it with a big role. So LBJ, all the others, this recent one and “Your Honor” and “Breaking Bad,” those are all top numbers, I’m assuming. But I want you to explain how you scored these roles, if you don’t mind, if you’ll indulge me — Rear Admiral Lyle Haggerty in “Contagion,” ramrod straight — by the way, prescient.

bryan cranston

Yeah, very prescient. The story was very good. Scott Burns wrote a really terrific script, so that got high marks. The character itself wasn’t as high a mark for me. But then the fourth category, the director, was very high, Steven Soderbergh. So all of a sudden, the collective, cumulative score was very high.

kara swisher

All right, I’m going to give you the harder one, Ned in “Why Him?” And I saw “Why Him?.” I don’t why I watch all of James Franco’s movies, but I do. I cannot explain it to you.

bryan cranston

This was an interesting one. It didn’t make the cut. It didn’t make it. I turned it down twice.

kara swisher

This is a father whose daughter marries a billionaire.

bryan cranston

Right.

kara swisher

I only watched it because I deal with billionaires all the time covering tech, and I know that billionaire, those wacky billionaires.

bryan cranston

So you have a situation where the premise of the story is that a father doesn’t like his daughter’s boyfriend, and that’s it. It’s so thin.

kara swisher

“Father of the Bride,” whatever.

bryan cranston

Yeah, it was too thin. And I thought, well, this is not right. But I knew that I needed to do and wanted to do a comedy. I was doing drama after drama after drama. And my whole structure of my approach to the career, long term, is to keep twisting and turning — do comedy, do drama, do stage, do film, do adult theme, do a children’s show, whatever. So I knew I needed to do comedy, and it was time to do a big studio comedy, where I’m one of the two stars. But this was just so thin. I thought, I don’t know. So I actually called Paul Rudd, and I said, “Paul, the premise is so thin.” He goes, “This is the way those comedies are.” When you get on the set, they rely heavily on improvisation. You get these people together, and you start improving and improving and improving. And they cull the story out of that. And he said, I think you’ll have a great time. And I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve had a better time on any film set than “Why Him?” in my career. It was hilarious.

kara swisher

I’ll bet. I’ll bet, actually. I thought you were just going to say, I needed to buy a second home, or something.

bryan cranston

No, it was about that, and I was glad I did it.

kara swisher

So you came to success relatively late. You were 43 when Malcolm in the Middle started — I really enjoyed “Malcolm in the Middle” — 51 when “Breaking Bad” came out. How is that, coming to the success at your age? You’ve been in tons of movies and a character actor before that, but how do you look at the trajectory of your career?

bryan cranston

I was a working actor since the time I was 25. I made a living as my career. That’s the professional achievement I’m most proud of is that I crossed a threshold — somehow, some way — when I got a job in New York City, moved from LA to New York to be on a soap opera for two years.

kara swisher

Was it “Loving?”

bryan cranston

Yeah. I don’t know why, but it just made me feel that, oh, I could do this, and I belong. And anything beyond making a living, to me, was gravy. I still feel that way.

kara swisher

Were you a bad guy and then became a good guy or good guy who became a bad guy, or what was your character?

bryan cranston

No, in soap operas, they pretty much were white hat, black hat.

kara swisher

Yes, they are, but they sometimes shift when their twin shows up or their —

bryan cranston

Oh, that but that’s another person. That’s another person. A twin, the evil twin — it has to be another person.

kara swisher

So were you good or bad? Were you good? I didn’t watch “Loving,” I’ll be honest with you.

bryan cranston

Of course, good. Yeah.

kara swisher

You were the good, and you stayed good. Never amnesia or brain surgery that caused you to —

bryan cranston

No.

kara swisher

All right.

bryan cranston

In fact, I had to fight it a little bit. One scene where Patricia Kalember, who played my girlfriend, was cheating on me.

kara swisher

Oh, that’s a shock.

bryan cranston

Yes, terrible. And I visited my mom, and she was saying, “Do you want some coffee?” I go, “No.” “You sure you don’t want coffee?” I said, “No.” You know, I snapped at her. And they stopped the tape, and they said, no, no, no, you shouldn’t do that. You’re good. You’re nice. I go, yeah, but he just broke up. Snapping at someone you love is real and honest.

kara swisher

Oh, no, no.

bryan cranston

It was tough to fight those battles.

kara swisher

You moved into a color when they want black and white in that situation.

bryan cranston

Yeah. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute.

If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit Subscribe. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with actor and director Marielle Heller, and you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Bryan Cranston after this break. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Cranston grew up in a show-biz family. His mother quit radio acting to raise him and his siblings. His father had small parts on lots of TV shows but never quite made it.

So did your father’s trajectory influence your career?

bryan cranston

My father’s dubious acting career did influence, to the point where I wasn’t going to be an actor. I was going to be a police officer, going into college. But it was an acting class in college that changed my mind back to acting because I felt I had an ability. But I think because of my father’s struggles as a professional actor, I didn’t set my sights on being a star. My dad needed to be a star, and anything less than that was failure. And so he experienced failure.

kara swisher

Well, thinking of this, you once said Walter White was going to be the first line in your obituary, and I think you’re probably right — maybe not, who knows yet. Do you worry about that all? Because you’ve gone on to do other things, obviously.

bryan cranston

No, no. I’m not a worrier by nature, so I don’t focus on any of that. It’s just a reality. I’m very proud of “Breaking Bad,” of course, and it changed the trajectory of my career. And so I’m exceedingly happy that I did it. And what a great series. No, if that is the pinnacle of my career, as far as what the critics and the audiences know, then I’m perfectly happy with it.

kara swisher

What would you think the greatest strength of Walter White is? Because I’d love to go through some of your recent characters like that.

bryan cranston

I think his power was determination. He’s faced with the idea of his demise within two years. He has a son with special needs. He as a child on the way and a wife, and he has no means of supporting them. When he’s on his way out, his body will diminish. His wife will have to wipe his drool and empty his bedpan. His children will only know him as that skinny, sickly man in the other bedroom, and then he’s gone. And that’s just not what he wants. So his determination to change the text of his life was what drove him. And then what he discovers, purely accidentally, is that he’s really good at it, and his ego came in and took control. You played the clip where he says, “Say my name” — and you’re goddamn right. He’s now fully embraced with that new persona. It was dormant within him, apparently, and that had awakened.

kara swisher

It’s an interesting dichotomy because I want to talk about Lyndon Johnson, then, in “All The Way” because he was blocked everywhere he went. It was different groups pulling at him at all sides. So what was your approach to figuring out his power?

bryan cranston

Well, he had tremendous goals and ambition to do right, to do good, to leave a legacy. Conversely, he also suffered from deep depression and tremendous insecurities, and so he would swing widely — all the way up, “We’re going to do this, nothing can be stopped” to “I can’t do this, I’m going to go home.” And his Lady Bird was absolutely essential to his success. Without her, I do not believe he would have been as prolific in his work and accomplishments as he was.

kara swisher

I found him to be a very sympathetic character, which I did not expect. I think that’s the part I was surprised by because he’s such a cartoon character of kind of a bully, but he really isn’t, in a lot of ways.

bryan cranston

But remember, the sympathetic part is that he has this tremendous ambition to do good, to be a righteous man, and remember what you talked about, his deep insecurities. Well, doesn’t bullying come from insecurity, really? So that’s where that stems from, his fear of failing and oh my god, I’m going to be known as the worst president. It drives him to force his will upon people and give him what was called the Johnson treatment.

kara swisher

Now, Howard Beale is very different. I saw you in “Network.” I loved it. I was not sitting on the stage. My mother was sitting on the stage for one of the performances — she loved. He’s a newscaster who famously said, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore. It was a very famous movie. He threatens to kill himself on live TV. Tell me about Howard Beale’s relationship to power because he’s powerless at the beginning of the show, really. I mean, he’s been this newscaster, in a traditional sense, and has to shift.

bryan cranston

I think we all make compromises. Certainly, in journalism, social graces force you to adjust. You’re at a holiday dinner table, and what you feel is the direct opposite of what this person’s saying. Do you open your mouth? Well, maybe. Sometimes restraint is the better part of valor, and you pick and choose when to fight your battles. Howard Beale has been toeing the line for a long, long time. And it got to a point where it became intolerable, and he had a breaking point and then realized, I just don’t care anymore. And he decides, to hell with it, I’m going to say exactly what I feel when I feel it. When I think it, I’ll say it with no filter. And it has a resonance to Donald Trump’s reign in some ways. And in other ways, Howard Beale had a lot more content.

kara swisher

Tell me about the resonance because there’s a lot of prescience in that play, too, of where we are today, where cable has gone and where news has gone. Explain what you meant by close to Donald Trump and yet not.

bryan cranston

Donald Trump tapped into that. He did tap into that. Some people felt it was the right thing to do, to say, and they followed him by the millions, as we find out. However, when you look at it and assess it — and I think history will be accurate in this — they will realize that there was emptiness to Donald Trump’s words. There was impulse to it but not strategy. There was hyperbole without wisdom. And I think that’s what will be his legacy. Whereas Howard Beale spewed emotional frustration and intellectual thought and then let the chips fall where they may, and I think that’s the difference.

kara swisher

Would you like to play Donald Trump?

bryan cranston

I mean, as of right now, no. He’s too much in the public eye. Every single talk show host does an impersonation of him. He is ubiquitous to the point of overkill, and that’s not good for an actor to take on a character that’s so indelible. I was once offered to do the Scarecrow, a play version of “The Wizard of Oz.” And I thought, oh my gosh, that’ll be exciting. How fun will that be? Until I thought about it and realized, wait a second, that character is so specific and indelible in the minds of everyone who’s ever watched “Wizard of Oz.” If I didn’t do an impersonation of Ray Bogler doing the Scarecrow, I’d be booed because people would go, oh, that’s not the Scarecrow. So it didn’t leave any room for the actor to carve out my impression or my sensibility of where the Scarecrow could be. You had to stand in line and march exactly to the drumbeat of what that movie role did. So then I realized, oh, no, that’s a trap. I don’t want to do that role. And I think the same thing is right now for Trump until 10 years from now. If you ask me that five to 10 years from now, hopefully when he’s no longer in the public eye —

kara swisher

Then is there any other public figure you’d like to play?

bryan cranston

I’m not sure. There are certain goals that I have. I want to do a Broadway musical. I want to do a one-man show at some point. But it has to be the right character, the right story for me to get excited about doing that and putting that work in.

kara swisher

A musical? You’re going Hugh Jackman on us here? What do you want to do? What musical would you like to do?

bryan cranston

I can assure you that Bryan Cranston will never be a Hugh Jackman. He’s phenomenal. No, because I don’t consider myself a singer. I’m not trained in that area. But I think I’ve been a moth to the flame on a lot of the things that I’ve done in my career. Anything that kind of scares me, I’m attracted to. And being on stage and singing is a fearful position to be in.

kara swisher

The Scarecrow role still is there, you know. You could redefine it. We’ve forgotten about Ray Bogler.

bryan cranston

(SINGING) I would while away the hours, conversing with the flowers, consulting with the rain.

kara swisher

Oh wait, you can sing. What are you talking about?

bryan cranston

[WHISTLING] Oh, in the comfort of my own home. It’s like a shower singer, you know.

kara swisher

Yeah, all right. Tell me how Broadway is going to come out of the pandemic, if you’re talking about a musical. It’s closed down. And how will it be different?

bryan cranston

Well, the one thing I know for sure is that human beings love being told a story. And whether you’re two or 102, you want to be told a story. You want to be taken away.

kara swisher

Do you think there’ll be fewer theaters? Obviously, the economics have been hit incredibly hard. Would it be a different experience?

bryan cranston

Well, I don’t know if the experience will be different. I think writers would then write with the knowledge of COVID and what that’s done to us in current times. Actors have to feel comfortable in that intimacy on stage. And maybe even more importantly is that audiences need to feel comfortable in sitting shoulder to shoulder again with strangers and 1,000 people in an auditorium and watch stories.

kara swisher

I have a feeling people will forget that and then be right back there after a while, once everyone’s vaccinated and the pandemic has ended or is close to ending.

bryan cranston

Well, I hope so.

kara swisher

I’m curious if producers be less willing to take chances on risky plays. That’s where I see the thing. And a friend of mine just told me they thought that there’d be more frivolity and sort of vapid fluff because playing it safe and fun. After this era of both Trump and the pandemic and all this partisanship, they might play it safe with revivals and shows based on pop music and lighter fare.

bryan cranston

That’s probably a good assessment. I think that’s probably right. And then, as you said, people will forget, and they’ll come back in. And then they will demand more weighty storytelling.

kara swisher

Yeah, I think that might happen. We might see a lot of “La Cage aux Folles” or something like that. But you would be good in that. You would be very good, if you want to sing and dance.

bryan cranston

I’m right at the age for a revival of “La Cage.”

kara swisher

“La Cage,” you would be good.

bryan cranston

I loved that play. It was a great play.

kara swisher

How do you see TV changing in the next decade? And what are you worried about, and what are you looking forward to?

bryan cranston

I’m a little worried that there’s going to be too much content. And by having too much content, the bar of high-end storytelling will be dropped because they need more product on these platforms. Yeah, they’ll just say, that’s good. Bring it in. We need it, we need it, we need it. Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on. On the other side, that kind of thirst for product gives unproven writers or new writers a chance to shine. And there will be exceptional writers that will come out of that. And like my experience on a soap opera, they will say, well, I’m doing this kid’s series on Disney+. And it’s not tremendously challenging, but man, it started my career. I think what you’ll see is the further erosion of broadcast television and the platform scenario, that when you turn on a television, it’ll all be just platform. It’ll be like, you have to go to Warner Media. And then you go, oh, let’s go to HBO.

kara swisher

Right. How do you look at the controversy right now? I just interviewed Jason Kilar. It caused quite a stir. What are messages you’re getting from your agents?

bryan cranston

You know, just being in touch with it and having my own television production company for seven years now and realizing that it’s shifting and adjusting. And the business will always shift and adjust. I hope that we don’t see the end of movie theaters. They’re on life support right now, understandably, and I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want it to only be the big superhero movies are in the theaters and everything else is on your home screens. That experience of witnessing a story being told in a cinematic way and you’re in a room with a bunch of strangers is really rewarding, and I hope that comes back in the movie theaters and on Broadway.

kara swisher

I take sort of an opposite side because I think it’s a little romantic on Hollywood executives’ part because they make more money doing that, also. And it’s also sort of a faint because most consumers really do like watching limited series. They like binging. They like their home things. Consumers seem to be saying a different thing. If anything this technology has taught us is they will get what they want when they want it and where they want it. Is that a problem for you, from a creative point of view?

bryan cranston

No, I don’t think so. If you look at what’s happened, the reason that home viewing has exploded, not just because of COVID —

kara swisher

No, it was before that.

bryan cranston

— exacerbated because of COVID —

kara swisher

Accelerated.

bryan cranston

Yeah, there you go. You have the technology caught up. The screens are phenomenally clear and beautiful. They’re much cheaper. And the sound in the scale of it — you’re watching from your living room — it’s almost the same scale as if you were in the theater.

kara swisher

Would it offend you to know I watched the LBJ — though I had seen it on stage — on my iPhone in bed, the whole thing.

bryan cranston

Ouch.

kara swisher

It was fantastic.

bryan cranston

Ouch.

kara swisher

Why ouch? Bryan, come on, why?

bryan cranston

Because you are then hyper-focusing on a very small screen.

kara swisher

You were up in my grill. I loved it, the whole thing in the dark. It was fantastic.

bryan cranston

You millennials, I tell you, you are so —

kara swisher

I’m not a millennial. I’m older than you. I think I might be older than you, or very close. I am no millennial. I’m millennial thinking is what I am.

bryan cranston

That’s what you are.

kara swisher

That’s what I am. I had a very profound experience watching it. It was mostly because everyone was asleep, and I didn’t want to make noise. I watched your other one on the big screen in my home, which was great, and with a great sound system.

bryan cranston

OK, well, good.

kara swisher

But do you think it’s going to affect Hollywood itself? Because these streamers are where things are going.

bryan cranston

Well, it already has. Everything is going to go streaming. The studios know that. The networks know that.

kara swisher

Does that affect your income, this idea of Netflix started it by paying people up front and then moving on?

bryan cranston

Personally, I don’t really focus on making money. I have more money than I ever thought I would have. It’s certainly not what motivates me to work. But I don’t want to sound flippant because money is important, and it’s great. I have been very, very poor in my life, and it’s not as good as being wealthy.

kara swisher

Yeah, yeah, true, fair.

bryan cranston

So I have agents and lawyers who look out for that. They’re incentivized to do well by me, and that’s great. But I certainly don’t make my decisions based on financial considerations.

kara swisher

But in Hollywood in general, everything will have to be renegotiated, every single contract?

bryan cranston

Yeah, when you’re talking about box-office bonuses and what’s reported. Yeah, that’s all shifted now. So now, negotiations, going into that, would have to be an exceptional upfront money or some other matrix, some other way of —

kara swisher

Subscription matrix.

bryan cranston

I guess, yeah, something. But the platforms don’t want to reveal those numbers.

kara swisher

No, and sometimes they have other motivations Amazon is to get Prime bigger. Google is not yet into this, but Apple wants to sell more phones.

bryan cranston

Well, and speaking directly, I was told that subscriptions for Showtime has really risen a lot because of “Your Honor.”

kara swisher

Should you get a vig?

bryan cranston

A little vig, a little taste?

kara swisher

Yeah, a little taste.

bryan cranston

A little slice? Come on. No, I’m happy for that, and I know Showtime is happy for that.

kara swisher

You need a vig, just so you know. You need a vig. I will give you a word, rundle. Do you know that?

bryan cranston

A runde?

kara swisher

A recurring revenue bundle. You’re part of a recurring revenue bundle, which is a rundle. It also sounds like an Amish practice before marriage, but it’s not.

bryan cranston

That’s like a cleaned-up version of “West Side Story.” Let’s get into a rundle.

kara swisher

Oh, you could be on that.

bryan cranston

[WHISTLING]

kara swisher

Nice, nice. You’re good with the whistles. All right, last question, then. You articulate a lot of characters who are middle aged, unhappy. Like you talked about, you represent people who have been frustrated, which is happening in this country, which is an interesting juxtaposition. Do you have any advice to them?

bryan cranston

Keep moving. Be kind. My mother-in-law said that to us once, and I thought, that’s a great aspect of life. Keep moving and be kind. That kind of says it all.

kara swisher

All right, perfect. That’s a perfect way to end. Mr, Cranston, thank you so much for doing this. It was a really fascinating conversation.

bryan cranston

Well, thank you so much. [MUSIC PLAYING]

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Matt Frassica, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Vishakha Darbha. Edited by Paula Schoeman with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Erik Gomez, and fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Renan Borrelli, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast, so subscribe to this one. If you’re listening on the Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” until you’re mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, download a podcast app like Stitcher or Google Podcasts then search for Sway and hit Subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening. Now, I’m going to go make sure my sons don’t commit any crimes so I don’t have to turn them in — but I would.

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