10 Surprising Facts About Bryan Cranston
By Jake Rossen
It could well be that no matter what parts await Bryan Cranston in the future, he will forever be most closely associated with Walter White, the increasingly vicious chemistry teacher-turned Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad. His Emmy-winning performance on that show—widely hailed as one of the greatest series of all time—was heralded by Anthony Hopkins in a gushing fan letter to Cranston. (“Spectacular,” Hopkins wrote. “Absolutely stunning … the best acting I have seen, ever.”)
We’ll soon see White for perhaps the final time in the final season of Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spin-off that wraps later this year. Until then, take a look at some facts about the man who ignited the drug drama franchise and who, like Walter White, was once suspected of murder.
1. Bryan Cranston learned to cry on cue by working on soap operas.
Born in 1956 to parents Joe and Peggy Cranston (who met in an acting class) and raised in Southern California, Cranston got some early exposure to acting. His father was a part-time actor and director who helmed television commercials and once stuffed Cranston into a full body cast for a nonprofit organization spot. After toying with the idea of becoming a police officer, Cranston opted into the theater scene and began booking commercials, including one memorable spot for Preparation H (which you can enjoy below).
His real break, however, came in 1983 on Loving, the ABC daytime soap; Cranston appeared on the show for two years. He told The New Yorker that the experience taught him how to reliably cry on cue. (Just drink a lot of water in the days leading up to the big scene.)
2. When he was 10, he encountered Charles Manson.
Cranston had a memorable brush with one of the world's most notorious serial killers when he was just a kid. Cranston once recalled that when he was 10 years old, his mother dropped him and a cousin off at Spahn Ranch, the famous lot where a number of Westerns were shot—and where Charles Manson and his harem had set up shop. Cranston said he was on horseback when he saw Manson, also riding, on the trail. Cranston remembered that Manson’s eyes “were dark and black ... and he was just zoned out.”
3. In the 1970s, he was suspected of murder.
In 2016, Cranston told Jimmy Fallon a story about how, prior to earning a steady living as an actor, he took to the road with his brother on a motorcycle trip in the 1970s. One of Cranston’s odd jobs was at a restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida. The owner was allegedly difficult to work for, and his employees would sometimes joke about murdering him. When the man did indeed wind up dead, the Cranston brothers had already moved on from town—a disappearing act that prompted some police suspicion. (Cranston was never charged with any wrongdoing.)
4. He played a lizard on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Before snaring a co-starring role on the popular sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston was a frequent television guest star. Which part is most notable might depend on your demographic. If you’re a little older, you might recall he played dentist Tim Whatley on Seinfeld. If you were a ‘90s kid, you might recognize Cranston as the voice of one of many villains he performed on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, including Snizard. (The actor later appeared on screen as Zordon, the team’s mentor, in a 2017 big-budget adaptation.)
5. He based some of Breaking Bad's Walter White on his father.
After being cast in Breaking Bad, Cranston set about exploring the physical dimensions of the character. After deciding White should sport a thin mustache and a slightly doughy frame, he opted to mimic some of his father’s mannerisms. “I wanted Walt to have the body type of my dad, who’s now 89, like Walt was a much older man,” Cranston told The New Yorker in 2013. “When I was studying my dad, taking on his posture and burdens—I didn’t tell him I was doing it—I noticed I was also taking on some of his characteristics, the ‘Aw, jeez,’ or an eye roll, or when [Breaking Bad character] Jesse [Pinkman] did something stupid.”
As the show progressed and White became more assertive, his body language changed. Shoulders back, grim-faced, White was less a middle-aged father and more a drug kingpin to steer clear of.
6. He wore a Walter White mask to San Diego Comic-Con.
When he went to San Diego Comic-Con to promote Breaking Bad in 2013, Cranston decided to have some fun with fans by donning an eerily lifelike rubber mask of his character—so he was, effectively, in disguise as himself. The ruse worked: Cranston wandered the event floor and took photos. No one seemed to suspect anything until he took off his mask during the show’s panel.
7. He has a Breaking Bad tattoo.
At the conclusion of Breaking Bad in 2013, Cranston decided to commemorate the show and its impact on his life by getting a tattoo of the show’s periodic table-inspired logo. (It reads “Br Ba.”) Cranston was inked up by members of the show’s art department who were also tattoo artists. He opted to place it on the inside finger of his right hand so he wouldn’t have to worry about covering it up.
8. He has won two Tony Awards.
Cranston has been taking his acting talent to the stage in recent years, and the results have been impressive. He won a Tony in 2014 for portraying Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way and won a second one for his portrayal of manic newscaster Howard Beale in a stage adaptation of the 1976 film Network.
9. He directed an episode of The Office.
Cranston’s creative interests are sometimes expressed behind the camera. The actor wrote and directed a feature film, 1999’s Last Chance, a drama he also co-starred in. He also helmed episodes of Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle, and one episode of The Office. “Work Bus,” a season 9 episode which first aired in 2012, follows Dunder Mifflin employees while they toil on a moving bus.
10. He devised a numerical system for deciding which roles to choose.
After the success of Breaking Bad, Cranston was deluged with acting offers. One way of sifting through his options was to incorporate a numerical value points system to each. He dubbed it the Cranston Project Assessment Scale. The director, script, story, cast, and role would be added to the total. A good story counted most, at 10 points, while the cast was a relatively modest two. If the overall number was 17 or higher, Cranston would pursue it. Argo (2012) was a 28; 2014’s Godzilla was, somehow, a 20.