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In the first part of Bryan Cranston's chat with fans, the Breaking Bad star discusses the importance of the show's cancer plot line and how he makes his crazy chemist believable. Click here to read Part II of the chat.
coco1997: What role are you most recognized for, and what's it like to go from playing a goofy character in Malcolm in the Middle to such an overly dramatic one here?
A: I'm still mostly recognized for Malcolm in the Middle, and now Breaking Bad seems to have taken over second place. Last year it was Seinfeld second, King of Queens third and then Breaking Bad. And now Breaking Bad has jumped over. As far as playing roles, there are silly parts and there are sincere parts of a person's character, and sometimes you are very funny and sometimes you're not. Actors are no different. So if you've been doing a comedy for seven years like I did, you look forward to a way to change that up.
chamat: I'm always curious about the method great artists use for their craft. Could you tell us about your own personal recipe?
A: Actors' basic tools are observation, imagination and experience. So if you can draw upon a personal experience, that helps. But I'm not a chemist, I've never killed anybody. So for Walter White, you have to be able to use your imagination of what it's like, and then your ability of observation of people who are in that environment: Chemists, professors; their manner is more orderly. Their whole world is constructed in a sense that there's a mathematical answer to every question. Everything is exact and precise, and so too the people tend to be. So you just watch people. As I've always said, actors should never be bored. There's always some work to do. I used to go out with my wife shopping. She would shop and I would sit in the mall and watch the behavior of people -- people having a good time, people having an argument, the frustration of people, people scared -- you're watching and looking at all that behavior and you file that away, because at some point in your career you're going to use it.
zekenzoey: Have you thought about what would happen if Walt had time for introspection, time to confront the consequences of his actions?
A: That's a great question. I've thought about that. He's a bright man, he's a scientist, and certainly capable of deduction and assessing what he's doing. And quite frankly, he doesn't want to know. I've played him where I want him to be selfish. And this is an interesting role, because I have to let negative characteristics seep into this guy. Your impulse as a human being is to fight that -- to do the right thing. I have to allow these dark sides of a character to come in and play, and one of them is selfishness: "I want to make as much money as I can before I die, and I want to keep these blinders on. If I look peripherally at what I'm doing to society, I could talk myself out of it, and I can't afford to do that." And so that's how he justifies it. And it's a very simple, honest human emotion. He's saying, "I know it's wrong, but I'm doing it anyway."
DRKellogg: What would be the worst part about Skyler finding out?
A: Well, Walt's point of view is that she would never know. Because I couldn't answer that question -- I couldn't tell her where the money came from because to me it's a deal-breaker. Adult relationships are all conditional in that when you meet your mate, you're weighing them, and you accept the given set of circumstances that each person brings to a relationship. But if all of a sudden she finds out that I'm a criminal -- a drug dealer and a murderer, to me that's a deal-breaker. To me, she couldn't live with that and we'd be done. I can't afford to have her find out. It would be the end of everything I've worked for.
Richard Mansfield: In preparing for this role, did you research meth? Do you have a personal position on it?
A: I restricted my research to chemistry. The production made it available for me to learn more about crystal meth and its effects, and I said, "How much would Walt know about this?" He knows the chemical aspect of it -- he also has an opinion on it. If you were to ask him before all of this, he would say it's a devastating, destructive drug and you're a fool if you ever start using. I, Bryan, would echo the same thing, and would say that while crystal meth raises the stakes in our show, it's an incredibly destructive scourge on society. We're not glorifying the use or making of it. We're looking at this the same way that Clint Eastwood looked into violence in Unforgiven. In order to show the cruelty and the depth of how destructive violence is, you have to go into that world. And that's the same thing we're doing here -- we're putting up a mirror to society.
Clemmiedane: Do you ever wish Breaking Bad's plot didn't have a built-in end date based on the terminal illness?
A: No. I think it makes it more real. It sets up a doomsday clock. And that puts pressure on the show, puts pressure on my character: The clock is ticking. It raises the stakes. I have to get this done in a timely period because at some point, even if I don't die right away, my body is going to start breaking down and I won't be physically able to continue.
Come back tomorrow for Part II of Bryan Cranston's chat, in which the actor likens Jesse's relationship with Walt to that of a puppy and its owner.