Bryan Cranston

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Driver (Ryan Gosling) is the stoic, deadly hero of Nicholas Winding Refn's "Drive."

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Director Nicolas Winding Refn has spent most of his career crafting delicately paced studies of masculinity that are light on story and heavy on bloody action. His “Bronson” was something of a coming out party for star Tom Hardy, and last year’s “Valhalla Rising” was straight out of an ’80s heavy metal video, dealing with a Norse warrior-slave slaughtering his way through a pre-medieval landscape. However, “Drive” is a step up on every level. It’s a film that is absolutely immersed in style — a masterful exercise in perching an audience firmly on the edge of their seats.

The film’s story practically redefines minimalism, starting with its nameless lead character (Ryan Gosling), referred to only as Driver. Gosling’s character works in a garage run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a sleazy opportunist with a bum leg and some very shady friends, including Nino (Ron Perlman) and Bernie (Albert Brooks). When Driver falls for Irene (Carey Mulligan), a woman down the hall, her deadbeat husband’s (Oscar Isaac) return from prison brings his two worlds crashing together in a big way.

From its very first scene, “Drive” delights in building near-unbearable tension. As Gosling navigates the streets of Los Angeles, avoiding police cars and helicopters, the film’s score takes over in making the audience squirm, each patrol car bringing a whole new wave of suspense into the scene. Even better are the scenes when “Drive” lets this simmering intensity come to a head, often with incredibly bloody results.

Gosling continues to challenge and redefine the big screen persona he’s been carefully building over the last few years, and with his performance in “Drive,” he casts away any and all lingering doubts that he’s nothing more than the pretty boy from “The Notebook.” His character is pure, unshakable control, speaking maybe a page’s worth of dialogue in the entire film, and Gosling turns an inexpressive, stoic hero into one of the year’s most compelling characters.

Refn has stocked the film’s cast with absolute heavyweights, pulling from some of TV’s most acclaimed dramas. Cranston’s Shannon is a light, more relatable twist on the morally ambiguous scumbag he’s been crafting on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” and Perlman’s character from “Sons of Anarchy” is equal parts vulgar laughs and dangerous machismo.

Meanwhile, Mulligan isn’t given too much to do, but her piercingly sad eyes do most of her work for her. Brooks abandons his comedic persona to give a memorable, unnerving performance as a ruthless criminal.

“Drive” may be a bit too slight to be considered a true masterpiece, but Refn combines arthouse flourishes and Hollywood-style bloodletting with polished ease and makes even the film’s smallest scenes practically drip with sleek, retro style. Not to mention Cliff Martinez’s pulsing, ’80s score, which is practically a character in itself. Every choice “Drive” makes from beginning to end is impeccably calculated for maximum effect, be it the film’s few blood-soaked money shots or the few lines of dialogue Gosling is allowed to speak, and as an exercise in restraint, the film is practically flawless. It’s not to be missed, under any circumstances.

TV Tuesday

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul star as crystal meth cookers in AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” (Photo Courtesy of AMC)

Editor's Notes: The following review of the new season of "Breaking Bad" contains spoilers about the next two episodes of season four.

From its very first episode, the Emmy Award-winning drama “Breaking Bad” has been something different. Its pilot instantly joined the ranks of the best in the history of television — an intense, memorable episode bolstered by Bryan Cranston’s career-defining performance. From there, “Breaking Bad” has only gotten better, right through its astonishingly great third season that climaxed with a brutal cliffhanger.

Sunday’s season premiere “Box Cutter” dealt with this cliffhanger, which involved Aaron Paul’s Jesse one trigger-pull away from killing his first man ­— the innocent, nauseatingly cultured Gale (David Costabile) — so he and Walt (Bryan Cranston) could live. In classic “Breaking Bad” fashion, the episode dragged out the tension to almost comical lengths before the normally calm and collected Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) arrived in his multimillion dollar meth lab and brutally murdered lackey Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui).

If there’s one thing “Breaking Bad” does well, it’s the shocking moment — that “holy shit!” plot twist that leaves the viewer’s mouth agape. Ever since the show put Danny Trejo’s severed head on an exploding turtle, it’s taken almost gleeful joy in contorting the audience’s expectations, drawing conflicts out as long as it possibly can before exploding into a burst of sudden violence. While Victor’s murder doesn’t quite reach the heights of the aforementioned Trejo scene or DEA agent Hank’s (Dean Norris) gunfight with cartel assassins from last season, it’s still one of those signature moments. The ones that cause congregations around the water cooler on Monday mornings.

The next two episodes, which were made available for critics, don’t have any of those mind-blowing moments, but are still obviously the work of masters of the medium. Series creator Vince Gilligan, who cut his teeth on “The X-Files,” has made a definite habit of spacing out big events in the story, letting the space between fill with spectacular acting and mood to spare.

From the pilot episode, Bryan Cranston has been an unstoppable hurricane of acting, blowing away co-stars with ease in every episode. He commands his every scene, and even while Walt scrambles to survive. Cranston performs with a fearless confidence that marks his Walter White as one of the all-time great television anti-heroes.

Not to say the rest of the cast is slacking. Aaron Paul nailed the multitude of monologues Gilligan sent his way last season, and as he recovers from his first murder, he does equally riveting work with significantly less dialogue. Dean Norris, who shone in the early half of Season 3 before being sidelined for its home stretch, is very strong as a bullet-riddled Hank attempts to get back on his feet (literally). Meanwhile, Bob Odenkirk’s smarmy lawyer remains a fountain of hilarious one-liners and Jonathan Banks’ cop-turned-assassin gets a welcome increase in screen time without robbing his character of his dangerous mystique.

And even if the cast was weaker, “Breaking Bad” would still be the prettiest show on television. Director of Photography Michael Slovis has made a habit of coaxing some downright dazzling imagery out of the show’s harsh New Mexico landscape; and Vince Gilligan’s glacial pacing is hypnotic rather than frustrating, keeping audiences hooked with bread crumbs of greater things to come, rather than frustrating them with the fact that there’s not a huge amount of story movement.

With its second season, “Breaking Bad” became the best show on television. With its third, it became a worthy challenger to enter the realm of the all-time bests, up there with the likes of “Deadwood” and “The Wire.” And now, with its fourth, it’s primed to solidify its place among the greats, and it’s only becoming more and more addictive to see what dark, violent places “Breaking Bad” and Walter White will go next.

TV Tuesday

Season Four of the acclaimed AMC methemphatamine-dealing drama, "Breaking Bad," is definitely well worth watching this Summer.

Photo Credit: AMC | Daily Texan Staff

Unlike the bountiful lineups of fall, summer TV offers slimmer pickings. That makes it easier to decide what’s worthy of your time after a day of summer fun. Here are the most high-profile new and returning shows, from most to least promising.

 


 

Most Promising

Breaking Bad
Premieres July 17 on AMC
Chemistry teacher-turned-meth-cooker Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has gone deeper into a moral nadir over the course of three seasons. Season four looks to see if he can continue to compromise his own morality (and mortality) for his murderous enterprise.

The Closer
Premieres July 11 on TNT
It will be bizarre to see a summer season without Kyra Sedgwick’s southern drawl as she plays the preternaturally persuasive police officer Brenda Johnson. The seventh season of the Los Angeles crime procedural will be its last, although a spin-off starring Mary McDonnell has already been planned.

Ludo Bites America
Premieres July 18 on Sundance
Acclaimed and classically-trained French chef Ludo Lefebvre explores the country with his wife and business partner to reinvent classic American dishes by helping out struggling eateries hungry for fresh ideas.

“Take the Money and Run”
Premieres Aug. 2 on ABC
Details on this new competition reality series are scant at the moment (the show was held from an April premiere date), but the log line alone is intriguing enough to at least catch the premiere: contestants do as the title says, try to outwit and outrun investigative professionals for a plum cash prize.

Torchwood: Miracle Day
Premieres July 8 on Starz
Transported from its original home on BBC to America, the cult sci-fi drama, starring the never-aging alien Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), portends to be as surprisingly mature in its storytelling as it has always been. When everyone in the world stops dying, causing massive overpopulation problems, Harkness and his team are dispatched to investigate.

Wilfred
Premieres June 23 on FX
Based on an Australian series, Elijah Wood stars as a depressed loner who takes an interest in his beautiful neighbor but sees her dog as a pot-smoking, wisecracking man in a suit. Is Frodo going crazy? This promising comedy intends to find out, but it will be even more impressive if the show manages to sustain such a high-concept premise.


 

Least Promising

“America’s Karaoke Challenge”
Premieres Aug. 8 on ABC
This is not the next “American Idol” knockoff. Instead, this reality show appears to be a slightly more humble chronicle of the Karaoke World Championships USA, where a king and queen of karaoke will be crowned.

Falling Skies
Premieres June 19 on TNT
This Steven Spielberg-produced, post-apocalyptic alien-invasion thriller starring Noah Wyle (“ER”) boasts creepy child exposition, grungy generals barking orders “to do whatever it takes” and alien-human shootouts. It might be the best video game you’ve ever watched.

Unleashed by Garo
Premieres Aug. 9 on Sundance
If Bravo still had a reality show about a “Project Runway” contestant, it would be like this. The show follows couture fashion designer Garo Sparo, who in 2003 designed a gown for a Vatican wedding, as he takes on three clients per episode to design clothes that match their personal stories. Sequins have a co-starring role.

Teen Wolf
Airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on MTV
Based on the 1985 Michael J. Fox film, this modern retelling of an unfortunate teen’s run-in with a werewolf applies more hair gel, abs and swaps out basketball for lacrosse. It could either be a pop culture-savvy exploration of lycanthropy as a metaphor for raging teenage hormones or a shameless cash-in on the supernatural teen melodrama craze.