Bryan Cranston Talks 'Wakefield,' His Walter White Disguise, and Whether He'd Do a Superhero Movie

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Kevin Polowy
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In Wakefield, Bryan Cranston plays a successful New York lawyer, who, upon returning to his perfect suburban home one night, decides to take a nap in the attic above his garage. He doesn’t wake up until morning, and decides to make it a full day away from his wife (Jennifer Garner) and twin daughters. Days turn then into weeks, and weeks into month, as Howard Wakefield scavengers food from the trash, grows out a scruffy beard, and spies on his family from a rear window — all the while dissecting the trivialities of his seemingly idyllic (but clearly not idyllic) life.

It’s a tough act to pull off: How can we feel for this guy who would put his family through this type of ordeal? But then again this is the man who played of the greatest antiheroes in TV history, meth king Walter White in Breaking Bad. Cranston doesn’t want you to think about Walt while watching Wakefield, and the characters couldn’t be more different.

But we’ve been through this sort of emotional grinder with Cranston before, and he once again proves a master of bringing honesty and complexity to his characters. In a candid interview with Yahoo Movies, the 61-year-old actor talked about why he could relate to his misanthrope from Wakefield (written and directed by Robin Swicord and based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow), his go-to disguises, his desire to do a comic-book movie, and more.

Obviously this scored high on the Cranston Assessment Project Scale, the formula you’ve said you use to choose roles. Where did it spike in the algorithm?
I ran it. It was very high on the story, very high on the screenplay, very high on the character. And high, once I talked to her, on the director. So the first three were killers. Bang bang bang. The character — oof, wow. But the story itself really makes you think. It’s relatable. Who hasn’t thought, “I would love to take my own day and not have any responsibility, not have any phone calls or texts or emails. I would love to just check out.” And Howard Wakefield does. But moment to moment. I just need a few hours. I don’t want to confront this issue right now. I don’t want to get into a fight. I’m tired. I’ll just deal with it in the morning.

Like when you get the flu and go, “Well, this is kind of nice not to have to do anything.”
Yeah. If it’s not too bad. I’m watching a movie and I’m eating chicken soup. Mmmm. It’s not terrible! My wife is waiting on me. Have you ever faked that you are sicker than you really are?

Probably, yeah.
[Laughs] It’s like [in a whisper], “I don’t feel well, I just don’t feel well.”

What’d you find particularly juicy about Howard?
Well, I related to him. I knew what that was like. And then I discovered that this was originally a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne back in 1835, in England.

That then was adapted into a short story in the New Yorker by E.L. Doctorow.
Yes, so this sensibility of feeling pressured and wanting to take a break has been with man probably since the beginning. Can you imagine the caveman going, “F–k, if I fight another mastodon, I’m going to scream. Can I just lay down the sand?”

Howard ultimately ends up looking like a caveman.
You see! Nice little come-around. But funny you should mention that because he does get down to a very basic type of animal — an animal who is concerned about food, shelter and clothing.

There’s an ongoing dialogue in the screenwriting community about the challenges of telling a story that features an unlikable, or questionably likable, main character. Did you find Wakefield likable? Do you think he has redeeming qualities?
I think that’s a misconception. I think we’ve been groomed to think and to accept like dogma that you have to have a protagonist and an antagonist. You have to like this person and dislike this person. Really? And every rule is made to be broken. I think it’s a false premise. What I think the screenwriter or storyteller has to do is to create an honest depiction of a life, a plausible life, and leave it up to the audience to decide if they like him or if they don’t. If you are able to convey vulnerability, sensibility and honesty, some people will like you. Because they believe you: “He’s being honest.”

And human.
“He’s human. He has frailties. And he’s feeling pressure. I get it. I like him. He’s me.” And then that character can turn. And then your allegiance to that character can drop. But it doesn’t mean you’re less interested in that character, or less invested in that character. It’s just malleable. It fluctuates.

Breaking Bad was a very good example of that. Something [changes], and then it’s like, “No, Jesse’s the one [who I like].” “Well, I still think that Walter…” This is real life. Do we always love the people we know? No. There are days when our affinity toward someone is lower than others. It’s honest. So I think we’re giving the audience respect and allowing them to feel what they are going to feel.

Breaking Bad definitely transcended the idea of heroism. People still debate whether Walter White was a hero or a villain. Do you think the audience could give Wakefield more leeway because they’ve seen you pull that balancing act before?
Well I hope they don’t. I hope they take it on face value of what we’re presenting in this new story and not bring any baggage from previous. That’s the goal. You’re still you. There are elements of me on screen in everything I do that you say, “Well, that’s him.” But that’s the glorious thing about human beings, that we so want to be told a story that we’re willing to suspend belief.

Have you ever gotten sick of fame to the point where you’ve wanted to pull a disappearing act?
Yeah, I do… What gets to be an imposition is if I’m out with my wife and daughter and all the attention from other people goes to me at the exclusion of [them]. So now the dynamic has completely shifted. It could be weird. It’s something that I’m learning and I’m getting more accustomed to because apparently it is what it is. And it’s not something I ever wanted or dreamt about. It’s a byproduct of what I do, and I have to accept that.

But I don’t want to make it sound like, “Oh, what a burden it is to be famous.” It is a condition that you make adjustments to, just like anybody. But I’m thrilled when I meet people where the work has brought them some kind of joy or togetherness or they bonded with their mom or dad over something. Like “I just loved watching Malcolm [in the Middle] with my kids.” That’s really great, and I really appreciate that. It’s just the constant attention toward me. I get bored with talking about that. What about you? I want a more well-rounded experience.

Have you ever gone out in disguise?
Mmm-hmm. Usually I just wear a baseball cap and some glasses but very seldom does that really work. I walked the floor of Comic-Con in my own Walter White mask. And that was fun. Because I got some attention, but I didn’t get the level of attention I would have if I would’ve been just myself…

Do you still have your Walter White costume, did you keep that?
I do. I have the mask and the clothes. I have the Heisenberg hat and the sunglasses.

But you never wear that out in public.
I would never. I don’t think so. Talk about drawing attention to yourself.

People loved you in Power Rangers. I know that franchise holds a special place in your heart since you did some early work on the series. How was the homecoming?
It was fun! Because it was a much more sophisticated approach to the storytelling. And I appreciated that. It wasn’t like, “BOW! ZING! Let’s get him! I will stop you, Rangers!” It wasn’t corny. This was a fully realized concept that really caught the imagination.

I worked on it two days. One day was all the stuff in the spaceship with the head. I had to keep my head on a cradle. I couldn’t move or my face would go out of focus. I never left that cradle. So to this day I haven’t met those other actors. I never met them. And then the other day was being in that costume, which was four-and-a-half hours of makeup. Crawling through the mud and singing in a foreign language. It was a challenge, but fun.

Are you still angling to play the X-Men villain Mr. Sinister?
I’m not angling to do anything. Someone brought that to my attention and I looked into it. But I would love to play a character that has not been done before, that I can put my stamp on and create that character from the comic book to the screen. Mr. Sinister seemed to be a good option. Like “Oh yeah, I could play that role. That would be interesting.” But I’m not against playing a hero, either. Whatever may come up. But I would like to do a fully realized action film, either Marvel or DC or whatever.

Wakefield is now in select theaters. Watch the trailer:

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