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As seen in the Spring 2013 issue.

Bryan Cranston:
The Secret Life of Walter White
By Andy Jones | Photos courtesy Frank Ockenfels/AMC

With the final installment of primetime's killer series set to resume this summer (August 11), Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston reflects back on the evolution of Walter White, the most badass science-teacher-turned-drug-dealer in modern television history.
 

TFP:  Do you think you could cook crystal meth, based on your working knowledge from the series?
BC:  Yes, absolutely. I was taught how to make it way back in the first series by the drug agency chemists. The art department for the show also knows exactly what materials, what test tubes and beakers and things to get to make it look believable. I have to tell you though, that it is so difficult to make -- the specificity of it is so exact -- that if you dont follow it exactly you will blow yourself up. Weirdly, most of these people who are making it are the meth heads themselves, and they are doing it whilst they are high or on the comedown, they miss a step -- put two volatile chemicals together -- and they blow themselves up.

TFP:  Do you have a sort of respect for people who can make crystal meth, then?
BC:  I don't know about respect. It's strange, these people don't normally make themselves known to me. I might be walking out and about and some kind of crazy-looking character will give me a knowing look or a wink.

TFP:  Who is the best at making fake crystal meth - you or Aaron (Paul, the actor who plays Jesse Pinkman)?
BC:  Who's the best? Oh please! I taught him everything he knows. When we do the montage sections on the show, where we explain how to make it, we purposefully leave out elements or put them in a different order so as to stop people replicating the process at home. We never want to make a 'How To' video for people.

TFP:  Breaking Bad is always obsessed with detail. How to make the drugs, how a drug bust might happen. How important is science in the show?
BC:  It's important to see that science from time-to-time in the show. Viewers need to see the "sweat equity" -- the hard work that goes into making this awful drug -- it takes an awful amount of time. But, also because it reveals so much about Walter's character. He doesn't want to cut corners, there are no adulterants. He doesn't want to be a drug dealer, but if he is going to be, he wants to make the purest, most scientifically beautiful product he can make. That's why he wants the best equipment, the best ingredients, the most meticulous process. That's where a lot of the drama and comedy is spring from: Walter being this science teacher, yet trying to be the most rigorous dealer there has ever been.

TFP:  How hard is it to play a character like Walter: he's part drug dealer, part teacher, part family man?
BC:  It's a transformation really. It's as much a surprise to him as it is to anyone else. He's this meek, milquetoast, depressed, middle-aged man. He has to get a second job because his son, who is disabled, needs more therapy and the US government because of its health care system won't pay for that. He takes a crappy job washing cars where he gets humiliated in front of the students he used to teach. Then he gets terminal lung cancer. It's like, "You poor bastard!" Anyone who watches it would have sympathy for him. Then what he decides to do next is do something risky. He's never ventured into that arena before in his life. He realizes the time is now to change it up. It's a male thing where he is proud and doesn't want to end up having his child and wife remember him as this shriveled old man who dies and leaves them penniless. It asks the question, could you leave your spouse with no money and having to bring up one disabled child and another baby on the way? It asks, what would you be prepared to do to see them safe? In the beginning it is very altruistic. He just wants to do something good. He missed out on a lot of other things for his family, but this final time he can just say, "Don't ask where this came from, but I have provided for you.

TFP:  Do you want Walter to succeed in his goal of securing the money he needs for his family?
BC:  Yes, I have to. I am now Walter. I have to imagine myself as Walter, otherwise I would have to step outside and be a viewer and then I can't do that.

TFP:  Did you worry that people might lose sympathy for Walter as he got more into meth dealing?
BC:  Morality is subjective. It isn't one size fits all. After all, people might have lost sympathy with him the moment he starts going crazy and cooking his first batch of crystal meth. People might think, 'I'd never do that,' and turn their back on him from the off. That's why it is such a great show, because it is always asking the question, 'How far would you go?' Could you kill somebody? Walt was never a bad guy but he is faced with this dilemma -- and he says to himself, 'I will do whatever it takes, in however long I have got left, to provide something for my family when I am gone.' I am willing to be a dangerous, criminal man for that period.

TFP:  Are you amazed by how Walter's character has developed?
BC:  If someone showed him a picture of himself from a year ago, where he is just this straight edge teacher in a classroom teaching, I doubt he'd even recognize himself. But Walt doesn't have the luxury of looking back. Hes on a timeline of making money before his own death.

TFP:  Do you think the public likes Walt so much because he has a little bit of good and bad?
BC:  Yes. Audiences are so sophisticated now. They demand that characters aren't black and white when it comes to drama. They don't want to see a guy and say, "Ah, he's the hero," or "He's the villain." They want to be asked questions all the time.

TFP:  Do you think it might be the case that Walt is actually be a drug dealing bad guy, but was living a facade as a science teacher before?
BC:  What I have learned playing Walt is that every single person has the capability to become dangerous. If the right set of circumstances happen, a perfect storm like it did for Walter, the cancer, the depression, his money worries, then, boom, you can make a decision to go nasty. People pop out of their normal rational way of thinking and can do something outrageous. It's like those stories you read about where a mom can suddenly lift the whole weight of a car if their child is trapped underneath it. Where does that come from? That's us working at the very height of our ability, either for good or for bad, where we operate on a different level.

TFP:  How do you play a character that needs to push himself like that?
BC:  I draw upon an experience I had. A long time ago, when I was 26 or 27, I was dating this woman who was a drug addict. One night she was hammering on the door, trying to get in and it was terrifying. She was out of her mind and threatening. At that point I felt very capable of having her hurt or killed. Every time I heard her name it would send a jolt through me. I'd actually cower. This time she was pounding on the door. I would agonize about it later on that if I had let her in we would have had an altercation and I would have killed her. That was absolutely clear to me. I was hyperventilating and could have done it, but instead I called the police. But at that point, like Walter, I could have stepped out of the comfort zone and done something that -- at any other time -- would have been repellent to them. You see it all the time, people acting in a moment of madness and ruining their lives and others. That makes me human. It doesn't make me proud or cool, it makes me honest. As an actor it is a job to experience or witness things, then file them away and use them when your character calls upon them.

TFP:  Are you enjoying the cult following the show has given you?
BC:  I love it privately, I hate it publicly. By that I mean if I am having a private conversation with somebody about their favourite moment or bit of script, or they want a photo, that's great. But it can get strange. For instance, if someone recognizes me in the airport and wants to talk to me, then other people come over and demand, "Who is he, who are you?" Then suddenly you are explaining the show to people who have never watched. Then I just want to go away and hide.

TFP:  You used to play Hal, the dad in Malcolm and the Middle. Who would you rather have as a dad, Walt or Hal?
BC:  Hal, definitely Hal! Walt, though he means well, has put his whole family in danger. If that happened in Malcolm it would have been by accident. That did happen occasionally, but Hal had a sweet nature and he was a sensitive, loving, caring man. Walt is on a mission against his own death, so it'd be difficult to stand in his way.

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