A cancer-ridden science teacher transforms himself into a sinister meth lord in “Breaking Bad.” An elaborate metamorphosis is also behind the story of how Bryan Cranston became TV’s greatest leading man. With the final episodes of the hit show approaching, GQ’s Brett Martin catches up with Cranston to find out how he was able to turn into Walter White—one of the most affecting, challenging characters in TV history—and how he’d like to see “Breaking Bad” end.
Photo credit: Nathaniel Goldberg / GQ
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Bryan Cranston on how he first envisioned Walter White:
“I actually thought of my father, how he stands hunched, burdened. We didn’t have Walt stand erect until he became Heisenberg. I said, ‘I want his mustache to look impotent. I want people to look at it and go, Why bother?’ I thought he should wear clothes that blend into the wall: beige, sand, taupe, khaki. His hair should be a mop. Nothing’s remarkable about this man.”
…on Walter White’s transformation:
“What happened to Walt is something I related to, if I’m truly honest with myself. I’ve come to realize that I think everybody is capable of that. If you came into a condition where you were under tremendous stress. And if I knew what buttons to push that threatened you and yours… You could become an extremely dangerous person.”
…on having violent urges of his own:
“I had one girlfriend I wanted to kill.”
It was a woman he dated after his short-lived first marriage. She was a drug addict, terriblyunstable, and she followed Cranston to New York when he left L.A. to work on the soap opera Loving. She stalked him, leaving messages on his answering machine: “I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna cut your balls off. I’m gonna have your dick sawed off.” Finally, one day, the woman showed up at Cranston’s Upper West Side apartment, banging on the door.
“And I envisioned myself killing her. It was so clear. My apartment had a brick wall on one side, and I envisioned opening the door, grabbing her by the hair, dragging her inside, and shoving her head into that brick wall until brain matter was dripping down the sides of it. Then I shuddered and realized how clearly I saw that happening. And I called the police because I was so afraid. I was temporarily insane—capable of doing tremendous damage to her and to myself.”
…on how he’d like to see Breaking Bad end:
“I had notions. Like, ‘What if he created this toxic world around him and, because of his actions, everybody he loved died and he had to stay alive?’ But then I’d think, ‘He’s wrought so much, he has to die. Doesn’t he?’ But if he dies, what does he die of? Maybe he dies of cancer. After all this other danger! But my true answer of how I wanted it to end, my honest answer, is this: however Vince Gilligan wants it to end.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan on Cranston’s on-screen presence:
“He’s telepathic. I can’t tell you how much dialogue we’ve cut out of this show over the years in the editing room, stuff that we wrote and really liked, that when we got to the editing room and wesaid to ourselves, ‘You know, we don’t need this line. It’s not necessary, because I see exactly what he’s thinking.’ ”
…on his inspirations for the show’s ending:
“I keep coming back to M*A*S*H. From the first episode, these people sit around and say, ‘All I want to do is go home.’ So of course they all get to go home in the final episode. Sometimes the best moment in a TV show is an unpredictable moment, but sometimes it’s actually being predictable.”
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