Though he’s being kept super busy with his lead role on AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston has still managed to find time to slip a whole handful of films onto his plate. He’s been popping up quite a lot lately and audiences can find him next in the Total Recall remake, which hits theatres this Friday and stars Colin Farrell.
In the film, Cranston plays Vilos Cohaagen, a ruthless corporate leader and the primary antagonist of the story. It’s a role made famous by Ronnie Cox in the original Total Recall and stepping into it, Cranston certainly had some big shoes to fill.
At the film’s LA press day, we spoke to Cranston about the part and about the movie as a whole. Check it out below as we discuss with the actor Breaking Bad, Total Recall and more.
We Got This Covered: What Total Recall implanted fantasy would you like to live?
Bryan Cranston: When you think about it, actors are lucky. We have fantastic adventures all the time. We crawl into the skin of a bunch of different people both historic and non-fiction and that’s our life. So, I think if I were to have an experience, it would be to go back in history to a point that made a mark. American history most likely, because I’m American.
Something around the founding of the country, discussing the Declaration of Independence or something profound like that. Either that or landing on the moon. That experience of being an astronaut and really doing it. I had a little taste of that when I did From Earth to the Moon when I was Buzz Aldrin years ago. You get into that world and it’s completely amazing. I think something like that.
We Got This Covered: What’s the greatest challenge for you as an actor while trying to re-imagine an iconic character like this?
Bryan Cranston: The challenge is just like that of any other character with a caveat: I don’t want to be a derivative of what Ronnie Cox did so well in the original. When I read the script, I realized that it was not at all the same as Arnold’s movie. Because we have Colin [Farrell], it’s going to be darker. It’s going to be deeper and have a different sensibility to it. Then, I wanted to see what Ronnie did so that I wouldn’t just duplicate a performance. You don’t judge the character though. I don’t look at him and see him as doing anything wrong. In fact, my character sees himself as benevolent. Unemployment, under his rule, is zero. You may not like it, but you’ll have a job.
We Got This Covered: Vilos is pretty physical for a politician. How much thought went into to making him a physical rival to Hauser?
Bryan Cranston: We knew there was going to be a combat sequence in the film, so you couldn’t have an antagonist that wasn’t up to the challenge. I wanted to make sure that I was in decent shape. We were fighting for days doing stage fighting and choreographing. From an objective standpoint, you want the viewer to think that my character came from a military background so he has some hand-to-hand combat experience. Given the upper hand, if the younger man is weakened by a wound, then it’s possible for my character to come out on top. You want to leave that possibility apparent.
We Got This Covered: Did you get hurt at all?
Bryan Cranston: I got pink eye in both eyes and had to come back to do the same thing the next day. They had antibiotic drops and the doctor said “Have you been around children?” I said “No, why?” He said “Well, usually pink eye is contracted from children not washing their hands when they go to the bathroom.” Then, I’m remembering “Oh, fecal matter” and he said “Yeah, fecal matter.” That’s why Colin Farrell was squatting in the corner of that pool. It was everybody’s boots going in and out of this thing and the warm water became like a petri dish. The sacrifices you have to make to rule the world as an emperor, right?
We Got This Covered: How is it acting with all the effects and the green screen?
Bryan Cranston: When you sign on, you realize the plot and the special effects are a major part of the movie. It’s a fantasy. Being an actor for so many years, you’re accustomed to having a slice of your conscious decision going “I have to be downstage. I have to hit this mark.” After a while you don’t really think about it though, you see where you need to be and then you let it go.
When you’ve done it for 33 years, it’s just something that happens whether it’s on stage or film. Then, you have to fill the rest of it in with your imagination. In the back of this gigantic set is a green screen and you have to look with astonishment of what’s going to be there, but that’s our job. It’s an actor’s palette to use your experience, your ability to create to fill in the blanks with your imagination. It’s just like children playing, really.
We Got This Covered: Were there any accidents on screen?
Bryan Cranston: You always need to see some spontaneity and extemporaneous behavior. One take, Colin leaped out at me and that wasn’t in the script. My guards had to hold him back and that just spurred the feeling of “Oh yeah, that’s the spirit we need.” Within the context of the character and the script, you always want to get the things you need to get. Len is so secure in his directing that he knows when he’s got something and gives his actors a chance to play, that makes it alive and fresh.
We Got This Covered: Could you talk about how it feels with Breaking Bad is starting to come to a conclusion?
Bryan Cranston: I can’t stand those a-holes at Breaking Bad (laughs). Actually, we have one more season. They said it’s one season of sixteen episodes, but it’s not. It’s 8 episodes this season that have started already and we go back in November to shoot 8 more episodes that will air next July. Right now, I feel fine. Later on, I’ll probably have a different answer
We Got This Covered: Where do you see the character in Breaking Bad ending up?
Bryan Cranston: I don’t know. Since the first season, I’ve never asked our show creator [Vince Gilligan] what’s going to happen. He keeps asking me if I want to know and I keep saying no. I read the scripts about a week before we start shooting, then I find out what’s going to happen
We Got This Covered: You’ve directed Breaking Bad and Modern Family. Are you approachable as a director?
Bryan Cranston: I’m always full of suggestions. In fact, most directors have told me that I’m full of it (laughs). I come to work as an actor doing my work, which is not to show up and wait for the director to tell you what to do. I give him or her an abundance of opportunities. I want to go with I think is my strongest choice. I feel that you have to come in with an idea, not just a lump of clay, but an actual character, a face carved and worked on. Then, the director comes in and says “What if we did this?” You come together. You do a little dance together and you finally get a feeling that you have some cohesiveness and that’s when things are working really well.
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