Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston talks to NME about going undercover to play customs agent Robert Mazur in true life drugs thriller The Infiltrator, gets excited about his role in the film adaption of Power Rangers and gives hope to fans desperate for Walter White to return in Better Call Saul.
How did you prepare to play a real life customs agent who went undercover to battle drug lords in 80s Miami?
“I’ve played real life characters before (Dalton Trumbo and President Johnson) so I’m used to doing my research but I was able to meet with the real Bob Mazur and get a first hand account of what it’s like to risk your life in deep cover and wear a wire while posing as a money-laundering lawyer. He was meticulous. And meeting his family gave me a true sense of the man beyond the plot lines of the film we were making. Bob teamed with the flamboyant Emir Abreu (played by John Leguizamo) and they became a formidable team assisting with the seizure of millions of dollars of drug money.”
What did the real Bob Mazur think of the film?
“He was pleased with how the creative licence was taken. His book (Infiltrator: Undercover in the World of Drug Barons and Dirty Banks) was very illuminating but it was fact based and full of acute detail. First and foremost we’re making a movie so The Infiltrator has to be entertaining. He embraced that because we stayed as close to the truth as possible.”
The film charts a dark era in Miami’s history when billions of dollars in drug money flowed through the city. Did the rhetoric of then President Reagan’s war on drugs have any effect? Can the war ever be won?
“It’s an emphatic way to put your flag in the ground. I’d equate saying ‘We’re gonna have a war on drugs’ to saying ‘We’re gonna wipe out prostitution across the face of the Earth.’ Both wonderful declarations… But good luck with that! It’s never going to happen. To be realistic, drugs are here to stay. The most important thing is to focus on saving lives. Talk to kids in school as early as possible. But we also need a compassionate society to take care of those that do become addicted and want to turn their lives around.”
The film also stars Jo Gilgun – well known to British audiences for playing Woody in This Is England. What was it like working with him?
“I think he’s a phenomenally gifted actor and a sweet guy too. Really fun, he kept the cast and crews spirits up with his wicked sense of humour. A talented man and a good guy to be around, I’d love to work with him again. You can see him in Preacher, a great new show from one of the former writer/producers of Breaking Bad (Sam Catlin). I can’t wait to see what he does next!”
You’ve also gone back to the 80s with one of your next films. Tell us about Power Rangers?
“It comes out next spring and it’s taken my career full circle. When I was a kid starting out in my acting career I got a job, along with many others, doing voices for the original TV series. That was 35 years ago! But listen, I wouldn’t take a role strictly on nostalgia, that’s a mistake in the making! When I met with the producers and read the script I was impressed. In the movie I play Zordon (the Power Rangers mentor) and we are going to do what the Batman movie series did and move away from the camp comedy of the TV series. The tone and attitude will be completely different. I’m excited!”
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You’ve said that you use a ‘CAPS’ system when evaluating roles. What’s the worst you’ve been offered post Breaking Bad that failed the ‘Cranston Assessment of Projects System’?
“I get offered more terrible than great things for sure. My mind is such that I only have a finite amount of space on the brain so I quickly forget anything that wasn’t up to snuff! I don’t remember the rejects but it’s true that I’ve developed a system to help me analyse what I feel about a project. What are the elements that are strong? You can do a movie like The Infiltrator with a strong story and great actors but it’s still a crapshoot. We don’t know how films will end up or be received, but you have a much better chance of accepting a film if all the most important elements are in place. I look at it like a marriage… What are the five most things I would need from my wife? Those are the same things I ascribe to a movie. Does it guarantee success? No. But I think it increases your odds tremendously and that’s what happened with The Infiltrator and I’m happy to say it turned out really well.”
You made your name on TV in the comedy series Malcolm In The Middle. Are you keen to do more comedies like the forthcoming Why Him? or are there other genres you’re keen to tackle?
“I always look forward to being able to get back and jump into a comedy. Working with James Franco on Why Him? was so much fun. I like moving around. If we’re lucky we all have choices in our lives. You have choices of what you want to eat and we can choose from a myriad of ideas before we select something. Chinese food might be your favourite but you don’t want to have it every day because very quickly it will lose its specialness and won’t be your favourite anymore. A career as an actor is kinda like the same thing. I loved playing Trumbo but then I needed a change… And after the success of working on The Infiltrator, which was a really intense thriller I wanted to lighten things up by doing a comedy. I don’t think about, I hesitate to say it, what fans want to see but think about what I’d like to see and hopefully I’ll go into each new role full of energy and thought and be able to create the best story I can which hopefully an audience will respond to.”
How much does music play a part in your process as an actor?
“Greatly, but I use music more for inspiration when I’m building a character rather than to relax me before I go into character. I’d also be afraid a song might pump my adrenaline and stimulate me in a different direction than I was intending so it might not work. I’m a runner and I also don’t listen to songs when I’m running. A lot of people do but it’s my thinking time. Everything clears out and I gain clarity. Thoughts will come in to my head that may be problems but because I’m running and not thinking about it sometimes that surge of stuff and clutter leaves and all of a sudden a possible solution comes to me…”
Aaron Paul told us about the time an old lady asked him to call her a bitch… What’s been your funniest moment with a fan?
“There was a woman I ran into on the street in New York the other day who stopped in her tracks when she recognised me. She started to vibrate! I mean, her body was shaking, her hands over her mouth. I thought I could either play it cool, nod and keep walking or help her out. So I just told her, ‘Keep breathing, you’re gonna be OK!’ She could hardly speak… I asked if she’d recently finished watching Breaking Bad and she managed a nod. I said, ‘Stay with me. You’re doing great. Don’t pass out. Let’s take a picture together.’ She handed me her phone and I did the selfie for her. It happens a lot!”
How do you feel about reuniting with Aaron on the small screen and resurrecting Walter White for Better Call Saul? Say it will be so!
“The way I feel about how Vince Gilligan and that show changed my life, even if I hated the idea, I feel indebted, so if they wanted to bring me back I’d say yes in a heartbeat. But knowing Vince and Peter Gould as I do they would make sure it’s something interesting, cool and unique. Expect something random…”
The Infiltrator is in cinemas everywhere now