Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston now gets recognised everywhere

Bryan Cranston (right) and Steve Carell star in Last Flag Flying as Vietnam veterans, one dealing with a son's body after his death in the Iraq War.
Bryan Cranston (right) and Steve Carell star in Last Flag Flying as Vietnam veterans, one dealing with a son's body after his death in the Iraq War.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Actor Bryan Cranston, who found fame on Breaking Bad, says he is no longer able to observe people for work without them noticing

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston last took a road trip around 2011 or 2012, jumping on a meaty motorcycle and riding up the famous American highway Route 66. He rode with his brother-in-law, travelling from Santa Monica on the Californian coast to Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. The journey took them 31/2 weeks.

"It was amazing," says the 61-yearold actor. "We took a different route back, doing some of Route 50, which is also dubbed the Loneliest Highway. You are going through stretches of flat land, farmlands and silos and it is fantastic with all those small towns."

Part of the appeal of that particular trip, Cranston notes, was the anonymity.

Fame found him late in life. He appeared in Saving Private Ryan (1998) and was known for his recurring role as the father on sitcom Malcolm In The Middle (2000 to 2006), but it was the phenomenal success of Breaking Bad (2008 to 2013), in which he played the iconic Walter White, that pushed his name into the celebrity stratosphere.

"Recognition is a by-product of what I do," he says. "It is not what I seek. I am not particularly comfortable with it, to be honest with you. And on that road trip, it was lovely because there are fewer people, so fewer people recognise you. Now, when I am out, I always wear a cap or something."

His discomfort stems from the fact that his renown interferes with his process. Before he was famous, he would sit in a coffee shop or a bar with a newspaper and observe.

"If there was a couple arguing, I'd be looking over the paper watching their behaviour and, if they happened to look over, I'd just lift the paper a bit. Or I'd do it with earphones. I put them in with no music and I will just be sitting and I am able to eavesdrop. But now it is different, I can't do it anymore because people notice me."

Since his time on Breaking Bad, Cranston has remained busy and continued to earn praise for his portrayals.

In June 2014, he won a Tony Award for Best Actor In A Play for his portrayal of former United States president Lyndon B. Johnson in the Broadway run of All The Way. He reprised his role in the television film of the same name, which debuted on HBO in May 2016.

In 2015, he starred in the film Trumbo, receiving a nomination for an Academy Award. He has worked voraciously, enjoying roles in a string of notable movies, including Drive (2011), Argo (2012) and Godzilla (2014). He also co-created, produced and took a supporting role in the Amazon original series Sneaky Pete.

We catch up at the Soho Hotel in London, where he has been staying while acting in and executive-producing a sci-fi television show, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams.

This month, he is back on the big screen with a road-trip movie, Last Flag Flying, the latest film from American auteur Richard Linklater.

Cranston shares the screen with Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell, all turning in nuanced performances as Vietnam vets as they tell the story of a man, Doc (Carell), whose son's body is returned after his death in the Iraq War. The film opens here today.

Doc forgoes a Marine Corps burial for his son at Arlington cemetery and, with the help of his old friends, takes the casket on a trip up the East Coast to his home in New Hampshire. What follows is a bittersweet journey as the trio wrestle with the legacy of war, both past and present.

Cranston plays Sal, the most rambunctious of the group, a man ignoring the dignity of age as he bids to carry on living his salad days.

"Sal is the kind of guy who says yes to everything," explains Cranston. "He is the kind of guy who, if I said, 'Sal's coming over,' you would go, 'Oh God.' He wants the girl, he wants the food, he wants the booze, he wants the pills, he wants a fight. But his salvation is that he is someone you can really count on."

The film is not only full of comedy, but is also punctured with a clutch of moving scenes, not least an emotional moment when the trio first confront the casket containing the body of Doc's dead son.

"It is daunting," Cranston says of that scene. "It really is. It brings your energy down - in a good way for an actor."

He adds: "Ever since becoming a father, the only thing that I pray for, or have wished for, is the health and safety of my family. I will not ask for anything else. I swear to God, nothing. Just that. You give me that and I'll take care of all the rest."

Cranston has a daughter with his second wife, Robin Dearden, whom he met on the set of the TV series Airwolf in 1984.

Taylor Dearden Cranston was born in 1993 and went on to study theatre at the University of Southern California. She appeared as an extra in the Breaking Bad episode No Mas, which Cranston directed, and took on the role of vigilante Ophelia Mayer in the TV series Sweet/Vicious (2016 to 2017).

Cranston says neither he nor his wife had any qualms about their daughter following in their footsteps. "She is not only smarter than I am, but also better than I was at that age," he adds. "And I am sure that she will progress and surpass me. I would love nothing more. When I have finished my career, I want people to say, 'Oh, that's Taylor Dearden's dad.'"

Cranston went through police training before taking up acting full time. "I did not know what else made me happy, except acting," he says. "I really didn't. I loved doing it. I still love doing it. I've been doing it for 40 years."

And there are surely many more years to come. The tornado of publicity he endured with Breaking Bad is calming down, "though it is still spinning".

He muses: "Earlier today, I walked by a T-shirt shop on Shaftesbury Avenue and I saw my face in three or four different places. I am like, 'Well, I didn't do too bad.'"

• Last Flag Flying opens here today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Cranston misses anonymity'. Print Edition | Subscribe