Bryan Cranston: “I’d like to play Willie Nelson – we’re both old and wrinkled”

The star of 'Breaking Bad' and 'Your Honor' has one of TV's greatest hit rates. He tells us what's next on his schedule

Bryan Cranston loves watching TV. He truly can’t get enough. “It’s like eating a pint of ice cream,” he tells us via Zoom, licking his lips through the laptop screen. “You go ‘OK, just one more dish, just one more episode…’ And then you watch one more, and then another, and you’re like: ‘I gotta go to bed! It’s three o’clock in the morning!”

When he’s not watching TV, Cranston can often be found making it. You’ve probably seen Breaking Bad, the acclaimed crime drama in which he plays a chemistry teacher turned drug lord. You will likely be familiar with Malcolm In The Middle, the early noughties teatime sitcom starring Cranston as a harassed dad to teenage boys. And if you somehow missed those (how?), then you’ll likely have caught his appearances in one of Seinfeld, The X Files, 30 Rock, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Better Call Saul, How I Met Your Mother, Archer, The King Of Queens or Curb Your Enthusiasm. To be honest, it’s probably harder to turn on the telly and find something he’s not been in.

“You can’t just create a masterpiece… the fans always determine that”

Right now, he’s starring in Your Honor. The courtroom drama cum crime thriller premiered its hotly anticipated second season last week, and sees Cranston play Judge Michael Desiato. A widower from New Orleans whose son accidentally mows down one of the local Mafia, Desiato was forced to make some difficult decisions during season one. He lied, cheated and plotted his way into a tricky situation that eventually ended in tragedy. At the climax of the explosive finale, Desiato’s son died in his arms, an accidental victim of a revenge killing caused directly by his dad’s misguided actions. It was incredibly moving, one of the year’s best screen moments for sure.

Season two finds Desiato in an even worse pickle. It opens with the revelation that the disgraced justice went down for his crimes. He’s been impeached and has attempted suicide. Then, out of the blue, he’s offered a chance at redemption by an unexpected figure. That’s Rosie Perez, playing ambitious federal prosecutor Olivia. She’s got some very high profile targets in her sights – and wants Desiato to help her out (or else). Can Michael recover from the loss of his son and get his life back on track? Here’s the TV-mad man himself to tell us more…

Your Honor
Rosie Perez and Bryan Cranston in ‘Your Honor’. CREDIT: Showtime

What is it about playing Michael Desiato that gets you excited?

“I love the premise of this righteous judge who is put in a position where he must change all of his beliefs in order to save the life of his child. He has to lie and manipulate for his son. It’s what any parent would do. I truly believe that.”

Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect your family?

“I would put my life on the line for my daughter. God forbid that would ever come to be – it would be a traumatic experience for everyone – but that’s what you sign up for when you become a parent. I would voluntarily become a criminal if I thought that by doing so it would save my daughter’s life, absolutely I would.”

Your Honor is really good at portraying trauma and PTSD in a way that is understandable to those who haven’t experienced it…

“You’re right. It’s not physically noticeable in many ways, but I think mental health is as important as physical health. Not to be preachy, but hopefully our society will start to embrace that [idea]. Look at all the soldiers coming back from war. We need to assume that they’re suffering at some level – even if it’s not apparent – and give them the tools and the help that they need to become healthy again.”

Your Honor
Bryan Cranston in ‘Your Honor’ season two. CREDIT: Showtime

Is it difficult to get into the headspace of someone who’s suffering so much?

“I’ll go wherever it needs to go. An actor needs to be able to open up their emotional treasure chest and pick out whatever is necessary. Joy, happiness and love, sure that’s easy, but how about the dark side? Jealousy, rage, vindictiveness, sadness, despair, grief. All of those things are tiring [for an actor], but that’s what we do. We exercise those muscles so much that it’s not a chore anymore.”

Tell me about your relationship with New Orleans…

“New Orleans has become such a character in Your Honor. It has a culture and a history that is deeply rooted in music and alcoholic spirits – and other spirits too! Ghostly spirits! It’s a very visceral city with great people. It also has great problems too and you have to embrace all of that just like you would a human being. I’m very grateful to be able to go there.”

Have you had any wild nights in The Big Easy?

“Oh my god there’s so many good places to eat! Any wild nights? I have to be very careful because the food is so rich and they consume a lot of it. I went out maybe once a week during filming. Any more and I would’ve been as large as a house! Brendan Fraser would’ve told me: ‘Oh you should’ve gotten the part in The Whale!”

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in ‘Breaking Bad’ season five. CREDIT: Alamy

You’ve got a huge, bushy beard in this season – GQ called you the internet’s “new beard idol”!

“Did they?! That’s news to me! I did a play in the first three months of last year where I had a beard but it was neatly groomed. I played a college professor. And then once that ended I just let it keep growing so I had a headstart for Your Honor. It took a few more months for it to come out to that bushiness…”

How’d it go down at home?

“It itched my wife when I tried to kiss her! She was grateful when I was able to shave it off. She likes to see my face – how about that?”

Could you write it back in for season three if you miss it?

“I don’t know if there will be a season three! I never look that far ahead. I didn’t know there would be a season two until it was pitched to me by [showrunner] Peter Moffat. It was a really good pitch and I thought ‘wow, that makes a lot of sense. Let’s try it.’ It would have to make a lot of sense again [for me] to do a third series. But who knows? There might be a great idea that comes along…”

Malcolm In The Middle
The ‘Malcolm In The Middle’ cast. CREDIT: Alamy

Can you give me an update on the Malcolm In The Middle revival?

“I can tell you that Linwood Boomer, the creator of Malcolm In The Middle, is interested in developing an idea for a rebooted series or a movie. He won’t do it unless there’s a really, really good idea though. He won’t just do it so that everyone makes a paycheck. And I’m not interested in that either. I’m interested in what happened next. It’s 20 years since we last saw Malcolm! What are the family doing now?”

Now the dust has settled, which do you think is better: Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul?

“That’s for others to decide. I never weigh in on those questions. It’s like whenever I hear someone say, ‘I’m going to create a masterpiece’. I think, ‘oh you’re such a fool’. Classics, whether it’s movies or songs, are never, ever determined by the artist themselves. It’s always by the fans.”

And finally, is there a musician or rock star you’d like to play in a biopic?

“Hmm, that’s a great idea… Willie Nelson comes to mind. The hair and the beard. I think there’s some physical resemblance. He’s very old and wrinkled, and I can relate to that [laughs]. So I wouldn’t have to wear a lot of makeup.

“Willie’s had a fascinating career – as a writer and as a performer, and as a free speech person, being anti-war and on the forefront of hemp [culture]. That’s kind of interesting to me, even though I don’t vibe with that stuff. I don’t like smoking, it just doesn’t do it for me.”

‘Your Honor’ season two is streaming on Paramount+ and NOW

Main image credit: Frank Ockenfels/Showtime

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