There are midlife crises, and then there are midlife crises. Take Walt White, protagonist of AMC's Breaking Bad, starting its second year after a strike-shortened premiere season last winter. A square high-school chem teacher, Walt decides to use his skills to become a meth dealer (after learning he has terminal cancer), partnering with one of his former students, aspiring thug Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). As embodied by veteran actor Bryan Cranston, Walt is a rational man forced to deal with chaos as he and Jesse confront an ever-rising body count and other nutty nastiness.
The show's bleak humor has won it critical raves, and earned Cranston an Emmy for Best Actor after years of being shut out for his work as Malcolm in the Middle's befuddled Hal Wilkerson. TONY spoke to Cranston on the phone from L.A., where he talked about the benefits of always having a second gig.
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Time Out New York: This is our Secret Lives of New Yorkers issue. Do you have any New York secrets?
Bryan Cranston: I used to live on the Upper West Side in the early 1980s, and I remember going up on my roof, taking gourds and a watermelon, and tossing them into the street.
The old Dave Letterman trick! Why did you do that?
I don't know. There must have been some kind of alcohol involved.
I have a secret. I have a man-crush on Walt White. He's my iChat icon.
I know, it's weird, right?
No, no, I get it...
It has something to do with your evident comfort wearing nothing but tighty-whiteys on every TV show you've ever starred in.
And less than that, if you watch episode three this season.
What is up with that?
I don't know why, but this is the second series that I've been asked to do that. For Malcolm in the Middle, I chose the tighty-whitey underwear for that character because I felt he was still a boy. For Breaking Bad, it was written into the pilot script that he's in tighty-whiteys, driving an RV with a respirator on, and two dead guys sliding around in the back. That's what got me to take the part.
So now you're the go-to guy for that sort of thing.
I once had an acting teacher who used to say, "You have to be willing to be naked in front of people." I thought he meant literally, so I just started taking my clothes off. [Laughs] I'm joking, of course.
At least you didn't do that on the Emmys. By the way, congratulations on winning for this show. It must have made up for all of those times you lost out to Brad Garrett.
Brad sent a truly lovely note to me afterwards, and it really meant a lot to me, because he knew that he beat me out year after year.
Did that ever bother you?
People ask me that. But if it's not Brad Garrett, then it's Sean Hayes. If it's not Sean Hayes, then it 's David Hyde Pierce. How can I really be upset about that? Now, if I'd lost to Carrot Top I'd probably go, Man, that sucks!
And now, you're beating out Jon Hamm! Plus, it looks like you've learned how to cook meth. That could come in handy.
We had a DEA guy come on set, and he showed me. Obviously, when our characters are making the drug, we do it in a montage format, so it doesn't become a how-to video. We don't want to aid and abet.
But in a pinch you could whip up a batch.
Yeah, I could, and do a little side business.
It wouldn't be your first sideline.
I read that you were an ordained minister in college.In the Universal Life Church. I performed weddings.
I did about a dozen. I did one for a couple on a plane. I did one dressed as Elvis. I did one once in a bunny suit. The minimum wage back in 1974 was, like, $1.75. I was getting $150 per wedding, so I thought, Absolutely, sign me up!
Sounds like a good way to make money for anyone getting laid off.
There you go! Either that or professionally throwing gourds off of buildings, if there was ever a need.
Breaking Bad returns Sun 8 on AMC.
Watch the video
Bryan Cranston tells us five things he's learned from playing a high-school chemistry teacher turned drug dealer.