A Life In Parts

Excerpts from the book of Bryan Cranston

If my dad was featured in a show or movie on TV, neighbors would drop by the next day to report how they felt about his work. “I liked the production value, but all the actors were turkeys.” “The beginning was great . . . but the end was a fiasco.” That was my first brush with celebrity. And critics. There was always a but. Everyone felt entitled to voice his or her opinion. As an actor, you were fair game.

And then I remembered the conversation with my manager. I was going to leave anyhow. Two more weeks and I was giving notice. So why did I feel this way? It was sort of like I was going to break up with a girl and she beat me to the punch. I didn’t want to be the one on the receiving end. I wanted to be the one in control. I wanted to be the one who knocked. It was my ego. My ego had been hurt.

When I started getting a lot of guest-star roles, I’d make postcards and send them to casting directors to alert them. Watch Bryan Cranston in Matlock this week! Don’t miss Bryan Cranston’s guest turn as Tom Logan in Baywatch! Tune in to Amazon Women on the Moon for a special treat: Bryan Cranston stars as Paramedic #3. I knew 99 percent wouldn’t watch, but they would see my name. They would see my face. And they would get the message, even if only on a subliminal level. This guy works a lot.

I was averaging a six-minute mile at mile-marker five. That was too fast. I needed to slow down. Mile ten. I was feeling good! Mile fifteen. Just okay. The course takes you from Staten Island through Brooklyn and Queens, and then back into Manhattan around mile sixteen. Manhattan gave me a boost. Finish line ahead! But “ahead” was actually pretty far away.

By mile eighteen, I was tanking. I was running in mud. I grabbed Dixie Cups of Gatorade from the side of the road, and I tried to give myself pep talks. Come on, Bryan! I said aloud. I tried to absorb the energy of the crowd. They had inspired me at the outset, but nothing could help me now. I obsessively did the arithmetic—how far I had come and how far I had to go—thinking math might somehow ease the pain.

In a training run just a few months prior, I had hit “the wall,” that dreaded wave of fatigue and bodily revolt. I’d ended up splayed on a sidewalk in Santa Monica and had to crawl to a hose bib, lying on the sidewalk with my mouth open to take in a few drops from the spigot. Somehow I revived myself enough to lurch home. I did not want to repeat that experience during the race, so I’d taken every liquid I’d been offered along the course. I didn’t quite hit the wall, but I was dragging. The race was becoming an ordeal. I wondered if I could finish.

The great acting guru Constantin Stanislavski said, “Love art in yourself, not yourself in art.” I think of that often. I try to live by that. Work, hone your craft, enjoy your successes in whatever doses they may come. But do not fall in love with the poster, the image of you in a movie, winning an Oscar, the perks, the limo, being rich and famous. If that is what you’re falling in love with, you’re doomed to fail. Be wary of the rest.

Early in my career, I was always hustling. Doing commercials, guest-starring, auditioning like crazy. I was making a decent living, but I confided to Robin that I felt I was stuck in junior varsity. I wondered if I had plateaued. Ever thoughtful, my wife gave me the gift of private sessions with a self-help guy named Breck Costin, who was really wonderful with actors and other creative people. Breck suggested that I focus on process rather than outcome.

You were rooting for him to succeed. And then all of a sudden rooting for him to succeed meant you were rooting for him to make and sell crystal meth and get away with it. And then—oh God—he killed that guy. But that other guy was going to kill him. Of course he defended himself. You’d do the same.

By the time he let Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, die, you were fighting to spit that hook, but it was too late, it was set too deep. You were making excuses for him. You were equivocating, saying: “What else could he do? Kill or be killed.” You were headed toward the abyss.

It’s easy to take the high road when it’s hypothetical, but Walt was dealing with excruciating questions in real time, and you the viewer were privy to his predicaments. You were inside. So you felt for him. You forgave him—even as he crossed the line, even as he was overtaken by a lust for money and power. Even as it became clear that he was being driven not by concern for his family’s future but by ego.

The day I had to reshoot that scene was challenging. I felt myself reenacting, rather than acting. I remembered what I did the last time and tried to extinguish that from my mind, but it was hard. I needed to find a new path back to those depths, and I couldn’t. But it had to be done. So we did it again. And again and again. As an actor, you have to be able to endure repetition without losing emotion or energy.