Life & Arts
Fri November 15, 2013
‘Breaking Bad’ Star Bryan Cranston on Walter White, LBJ and the JFK Assassination
Bryan Cranston – the Emmy Award-winning star of "Breaking Bad" fame – joined Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan in Austin on Thursday for an event at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum.
Cranston is playing LBJ in Schenkkan's play "All the Way" – which documents Johnson's time in office following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Cranston talked with the media about his interest in the play, his research for the role and the similarities and differences between LBJ and his "Breaking Bad" character Walter White. Click the player, below, for clips from the press conference:
On Why He Chose This Role:
"It was a culmination of a lot of different things but, primarily, it was Mr. Schenkkan's writing that made me want to do this play. Very powerful, evocative, meaningful and important. This play is really important – especially to the younger generations, not my generation who was alive at that time. But you think about what we take for granted now and the rights, the Civil Rights, of a large section of our populous did not have that."
On the Character of LBJ:
"He's dynamic, fascinating, curious, unpredictable – he's everything. As in Mark Updegrove's biography about him, his comments about 'you couldn't select one adjective that fits him, you have to select them all.' And that's LBJ."
On LBJ & Walter White Both Being in 'Unforeseen' Circumstances:
"Both of them made conscious decisions about the position they wanted to be in so you can't completely exonerate their experiences by that because they knew what they were getting into. You could say – Walter White was ignorant as opposed to LBJ. LBJ knew the scope of this office. There's no doubt about it. It's what he wanted and he knew the complexity of it and the difficulty of it and he was ready for it... With Walter White, he was a man who was desperate and made desperate decisions and then got caught up in his own ego and hubris and greed and then got what he deserved."
On the JFK Assassination:
"I was a boy when the assassination took effect and it was profound on me not because I understood directly what it meant but I saw the effects of what it had on all of the adults around me. It destroyed them. These grown men and women just in each others' arms, weeping. And I'm looking up at this effect and realize that what just happened was important and I need to pay attention."
On What Stuck Out to Him on His Research of LBJ:
"There was a letter from Jacqueline Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson about four days after the assassination and, in it, she thanked him and praised him for his courage to walk with Jack during the funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. and he didn't need to do that... and she profusely thanked him for writing to her small children about their father and it really touched. And, from that, it really meant a lot to me because here is a situation where this man just took over the presidency under tragic conditions. And within those four days – he's now the president of the United States – but he took the time to write two individual letters to his predecessor's children. And I thought that resonated – that says something about the character of a man, a person."
On Discovering Something New About LBJ:
"This incredibly dynamic man and aggressive, accomplished, driven man – hated to be alone. Absolutely hated the thought of being alone – needed and wanted people around him... And I thought that was interesting. What you don't really see too often is the vulnerability of the man... When, onstage, when I'm playing those moments, they're precious to me... I so enjoy playing those moments because it gives us a chance, and the audience a chance, to just take a breath and to see the other side of him. Not the driven, accomplishing political machine that he was but the scared little boy that he was as well at times."
Robert Schenkkan on Why Cranston is a Good LBJ:
"You're looking for a transformative actor who can do two things – they have to be immensely charming and appealing and they have to be terrifying. And Bryan has both of those arrows in his quiver. If you look at the range of his work simply on television between "Malcolm in the Middle" and Walter White on "Breaking Bad" – that's a pretty staggering range. And that's what it takes to, I think, to really fill this character."
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