If you thought you saw Walter White around campus this week, it might not just have been your Breaking Bad withdrawals.
Bryan Cranston has been in Austin doing research for his role as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way,” a play by UT alumnus and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkan.
The play, which is moving to Broadway after a well-received run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., begins just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an event Cranston remembers from his childhood.
“I saw the effects it had on the adults around me. It destroyed them, grown men and women just in each other’s arms weeping,” Cranston said.
Cranston was only seven years old when the assassination occured, but knew it was an event worth his attention.
“That was my introduction into politics,” he said.
Cranston drew directly from that moment in bringing LBJ to the stage.
“Knowing that impactful nature it had on me, I was looking forward to being able to dig in and present this,” Cranston said.
Cranston said he relishes the research process and loves the ritual actors engage in of “voluntarily putting ourselves in the position of beginner, time and time again.”
“You want to be able to get the sensibility of the man,” he said. “The more that I read about him and the further my research takes me, and the more that I talk to people that knew him, I glean a little bit more each time.”
Cranston was also able to make a physical connection to his character by way of some of the museum’s artifacts.
“The ranch, the cars, the bed — what he wanted around him and what he felt, from a material sense, represented him — that’s very informative too, of a character, to see all the different articles he had around him,” Cranston said.
The 57-year old won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Walter White on the just-concluded series "Breaking Bad" but didn’t worry about being restricted to similar roles in the future.
“Walter White, and the work behind it, has given me tremendous opportunities, so it’s up to me now to change the tide,” Cranston said. “When I left 'Malcolm in the Middle' I had two offers to do television pilots — sweet, goofy dads — which I did for seven years, so I easily turned them down. If I decided to take that, it’s my own damn fault for pigeonholing myself.”
Cranston wanted to make a similar move after "Breaking Bad" to avoid Walter White type roles for the rest of his career.
“If I took on characters like Walter, then it’s my own damn fault for getting back into that comfortable ruck, perhaps," Cranston said. "So you want to keep changing the direction and challenging yourself and trying things you may not have done before, that you’re intrigued about, or even scared about.”
When asked about the similarities between his two most recent characters, Cranston noted that although they were both presented with extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, both of them made conscious decisions about their roles.
“Walter White was a man who was desperate and made desperate decisions, and then got caught up in ego and hubris and greed, and then got what he deserved,” Cranston said. “You could say that Walter White was ignorant, much more so than LBJ. LBJ knew the scope of his office — no doubt about it, it was what he wanted and he knew the complexity of it and the difficulty. And he was ready for it.”