Bryan Cranston, the actor who embodied goofy dad Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, is back on TV in the new drama, Breaking Bad. Sure, he’s been cast as a father again, but the similarities pretty much end there. As Walter White, a 50-year-old high school science teacher who learns he has inoperable lung cancer, he is determined to leave his family with a nest egg once he’s gone. So Walter? takes up a new profession, cooking up crystal meth for the local drug? dealer and raking in the big illegal bucks (I’m sure those high school beakers were never used like this!). Bryan took a seat on my couch to give the formula on what makes Walter take such a drastic turn in his life.
You’re playing a man who makes an unusual career move–??
Walter chose the safe route, to teach high school chemistry, and he’s a shell of the man he started out to be. When he gets this diagnosis of a death sentence – two years to live due to inoperable lung cancer – it awakens him and stimulates emotion. Even fear is more acceptable than numbness.
Did you do any hands-on research for the show?
I shadowed a professor from USC, and I had to get reacquainted with the periodic chart and all the symbols. We had DEA chemists on the set as advisors, and they showed me the steps are to make meth. If I had been really paying attention, I could have gotten the formula.
Were you good in high school chemistry class???
In high school, I was looking for the shortcut. I would say in my head, “what do I need to do to get a C?” I was climbing the rung to mediocrity.
You recently turned 50. Any mid-life crisises?
I think I had a midlife bleep. I bought a motorcycle, but I don’t like commuting in the city. A motorcycle belongs on the open road and long highways. We shot Breaking Bad in New Mexico? so I rode out from California to there.
You must still get recognized from Malcolm on a daily basis.
I was on an airplane and sitting next me was a woman watching her video player. She had an episode of Malcolm on. I would look over to her every now and then and she was smiling and occasionally would laugh out loud. That made me feel great.
Ever see your onscreen kids from Malcolm? ?
I hate those kids! I’m so glad not to being seeing them every day. [Laughs] No, I love those kids and I feel parental about them. I’m going to have lunch with Christopher Masterson, and I talked to Justin Berfield a week ago, he’s producing now. I see Frankie Muniz every now and then because he is on the road a lot as a professional racecar driver. I keep up with him at frankiemunizracing.com. I saw Jane Kaczmarek last week when she came to a premiere of? Breaking Bad. We get together for coffee every two months just to catch up. And I just saw Erik Per Sullivan when I was in Boston. He’s a high school junior and intends to go to Harvard. If there’s anything I can take away? from my experience on Malcolm is the joy that knowing these four boys are all good young men. And I am really proud that I had a lot to do with that. But If they ever break bad, I had nothing to do with it!
Do people still hound you about the crazy dentist you played on Seinfeld?
Once you’re on that iconic show, you’re inexorably tied to it. I only did six episodes, and yet it was one of those characters that fortunately for me, pops out for what he was involved in. I dated Elaine, I injected Kramer with numbing gas so he starts to slur, I molested Jerry in my dentist’s chair, I was the regifter and I also converted to Judaism to be able to tell the jokes. Every time I was on the show, it was just for that one time and they kept finding ways to bring me back. It was great fun.
Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.