“Drama, drama, drama, drama, drama, drama, drama.” That’s how Bryan Cranston described the last decade of his career, which included both an Oscar-nominated performance in Trumbo and a starring role in Breaking Bad, arguably one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The 60-year-old has delivered so much drama in recent years that it’s easy to forget he got his first major breaks through comedy, playing Jerry’s dentist on Seinfeld and the dad on the early-‘00s Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle.
With the new movie Why Him? though, Cranston is returning to the funny business, and he couldn’t be more thrilled about it. “I want to do a story that not only can you laugh at when you’re watching the movie, but for me, when I’m making the movie.” Cranston told Yahoo Movies earlier this year. “Because dramas take it out of you a little bit. You have tough days, and they’re emotionally exhausting. Here we just crack up and laugh.”
That was the impression we got visiting the set of the comedy in mid-March, where the production had decked out Torrance, California’s Del Amo Fashion Center in Christmas decorations for a holiday sequence. “Let’s do Secret f—ing Santa!,” hollered costar James Franco to the unaware mall patrons. Franco plays the “him” of the title, an eccentric Silicon Valley “gazillionaire” who’s dating Zoey Deutch’s Stanford student. When she introduces him to her square, Midwestern parents, her businessman father Ned (Cranston) instantly despises the interloper in an R-rated, generational clash directed by John Hamburg (I Love You, Man) that pits Cranston squarely against Franco in the same vein as Meet the Parents.
Even though he plays the straight man to Franco’s wild card, it’s Cranston who was the cause of many of on-set crack-ups. “He’s the funniest guy on the set,” said Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) who plays Franco’s German assistant and who dubbed his costar’s extended improv bits “The Bryan Cranston Show.” Franco agreed: “He’s funny as hell. He’s got incredible comedic muscle.” Added Deutch, the 22-year-old breakout star of this year’s Everybody Wants Some: “I think people my age might not realize what an incredibly talented comedic actor he is, because we see him as Walter White.”
Cranston’s character Ned is decidedly less White, and more Hal, the hapless father from Malcolm in the Middle. “My character just completely doesn’t understand James’s character, and what his appeal is,” Cranston said of his analog man in a digital world. “This is kind of a Hal character 10 years later. Hal was out of sorts, he never seemed like he was comfortable in his environment, and that’s where a lot of the comedy came from. It’s the same thing with Ned — Ned is not at ease…. He’s trying to grapple with losing his relevance as a man, as a businessperson, and he’s introduced to the new millennium of internet games, and it’s going much too fast for him.”
However Why Him? turns out when it hits theaters on Dec. 23, Cranston is ready to continue down this more light-hearted path. Next, he wants to do a quest movie like Kelly’s Heroes or The Dirty Dozen or “a movie like Grand Budapest Hotel: odd, quirky fun, where all the actors and all the crew go to a hotel in whatever country.”
“The older I get, the more I want experiences, and less things,” he said. “And it’s the same thing in my acting career.”
Watch the trailer for ‘Why Him?’