Up Close and Personal
With Bryan Cranston
His Personal & Professional Journey
Part 1: Genesis of "The Infiltrator"
& Becoming a Character
L-R: Bryan Cranston plays Robert Mazur, a
federal undercover agent with John Leguizamo his partner Emir
in Brad Furmans The Infiltrator. Photo:
Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
ryan Cranston could easily be described as an actor's actor. He is
a master of the art of acting whether he is performing on television,
film, or stage. For his riveting performance as Walter White
in "Breaking Bad," Cranston won four consecutive
Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
He also received five Golden Globe nominations, with four wins,
and six Satellite Award nominations, garnering four wins. His
versatility as an actor earned him Broadway's coveted Tony
Award for his brilliant portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in
"All The Way," the same role, which he reprised for
the HBO television film. Other notable television roles include
playing Hal, the dad in the sit-com "Malcolm in the Middle,"
as well as appearances on "Seinfeld," "The
King of Queens," "How I Met Your Mother,"
as well as playing Buzz Aldrin in "From the Earth to
the Moon." His next big film was "Trumbo"
in which he played the blacklisted film writer, Dalton Trumbo
and for his performance, he received an Academy Award for Best Actor.
He also had roles in many other films such as "Saving Private
Ryan," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Love
Ranch," and "Argo." He worked with director
Brad Furman in "The Lincoln Lawyer," which brings
us to their collaboration on Furman's latest film, "The
L-R: The three federal undercover agents Bryan
Cranston as Bob Musella (Mazurs undercover name,) John Leguizamo
as Emir, and Diane Kruger as Mazurs girlfriend" Kathy
in Brad Furmans The Infiltrator.
Photo: Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
The screenplay, based on Robert Mazur's book,
was written by the director's mother, Ellen Brown Furman, and
is a true story about the undercover work of federal agent Robert
"Bob" Mazur. He represented himself as Bob Musella,
(Bryan Cranston) a businessman in the money-laundering trade.
With nerves of steel, he becomes good friends with Roberto Alcaino,
head of the Colombian drug cartel (Benjamin Bratt) and
his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya). Eventually, with the help
of his undercover partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo)
and a rookie agent, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger,) 100 drug
lords, as well as the corrupt bankers who "wash" their dirty
money, are captured in one of the most unique busts ever orchestrated.
Other members of the cast include: Amy Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Elena
Anaya, Jason Isaacs, Yul Vazquez, Simon Andreu, Ruben Ochandiano, Joseph
Gilgun, and Juliet Aubrey as Bob's wife Evelyn.
A most charming, articulate Bryan Cranston
recently sat down with a select group of journalists to discuss "The
Infiltrator," as well as frank revelations about his personal
journey and his philosophy on acting.
The following has been edited for content and continuity
for print purposes.
L-R: Matthew McConaughey and Bryan Cranston starred
in Lincoln Lawyer, directed by Brad Furman.
Did director Brad Furman contact you about starring
in this film?
Cranston: Yes. Brad directed "Lincoln
Lawyer" and we became friends. We wanted to find something
we could do together. I think it was two years ago or so and I was doing
a play in New York. He said: "I have it." I asked him
what he had and he said, (holding up a script) "My mother
wrote this." "You're mother wrote this!? (Laughter)
"Yeah. She's a good writer." So I said: "Ok. Alright."
It's almost like my mother has a barn and my sister has costumes. (Laughter)
But, then I read it and said: "You're right. She is good."
In reading the book what aspects did you want
the screenplay to highlight?
Cranston: The book, from Bob's point of view,
is focused on the operation, which is very detailed. Anytime you take
something from one medium and go to the next, you have to take the original
material and put it through a juicer. It takes a big bag of oranges
to get a glass of juice. A movie is like juice. You have to take what
you consider to be the best elements of the book because you cannot
film it in its entirety. The element I really want to bring out is Bob
Mazur the man the husband, the father because that's
what fascinated me. As an actor slipping into a character and playing
him is commonplace. I've been acting for almost 40 years and
if a scene doesn't work, you just do another take. But for him, if he
makes a mistake, there aren't any do-overs. He can be killed. With that
kind of tension, coming home every night, how does that guy become Bob
Mazur the dad who is asked to help his daughter with math homework?
Or make sandwiches for the kids' lunches? Or sit down and have a glass
of wine with his wife where she might ask him: "How was your day?"
He can't say a word. All he can say is "It was good," even
if it wasn't. He's constantly taking in information, stress, and tension
and not able to release it. Thank God he was a runner, which
was the way he could get it out. I needed this film to show more of
the emotional stakes at home. Brad and Ellen agreed that
element should really be brought out so that we would have a solid foundation
of the plot and the emotional inherent risks.
L-R: Bryan Cranston as undercover agent Bob Mazur
with Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino, notorious head of the Colombian
Photo: Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
Bryan Cranston played Lyndon B. Johnson in
All The Way, winning Broadways Tony Award for
his performance. Courtesy Photo
Did you listen to any of the tapes of conversations
Mazur recorded while undercover?
Cranston: Yes and it was fascinating. They were not
the best quality and you're leaning in desperately trying to understand
the conversation as the tapes were always shrouded in a suitcase or
in a planter or something. (He changes his voice and muffles it
Laughter) It's like listening to something in a barrel
and you can't listen to it too long because you're concentrating so
hard on trying to understand everything. Basically, I was fascinated
with the depth of informality that Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt)
and Bob had ribbing each other and acting like good friends.
However, Bob never lost his frame of mind which was that
even though he was acting like his good friend, he was going to arrest
this guy. For the sake of the movie, theatrical license allowed Bob
to relax a little bit of his doggedness as a law enforcement officer
and expose more of the fragility of a human being living a dichotomous
life. Although he was doing his job, which he knew was right, his body
is saying, "But I like him. I feel for them. (Alcaino's family)
I don't want to hurt them." You can justify what you're doing intellectually,
but emotionally it's a battle.
What is your yardstick for knowing when your character
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking
Bad, a role for which he won multiple awards. Courtesy
For his riveting performance as Dalton Trumbo, Bryan
Cranston won an Academy Award for Best Actor. Courtesy
Cranston: The actor's job begins when you read a script.
I first read a script from an objective viewpoint because I haven't
said yes yet. If you're walking around during the day thinking about
the story, that's a good sign because it's staying with you.
If the character starts coming to you, and you start
imagining what the character looks like, that's a very good sign as
it means that the character is seeping into your life. That's what happened
with Walter White ("Breaking Bad,") Dalton
Trumbo, ("Trumbo,") and Lyndon B. Johnson
("All The Way"). My receptors are open to those
things that I can identify in well-written material. When something
resonates, and if something seems honest to me, and if I can bring honesty
to that story, then it's a very good sign.
What was unique in developing this character?
Cranston: It's very easy for me to get into being another
character. What I learned from Bob, and what I had to take on,
was the specificity of what he had to do. He is a guy, as you see in
his manner and demeanor, who is a triple check, quadruple check kind
of person crossing all the "t's" and dotting all the
i's" which was nice as his partner Emir (John
Leguzamo) was the opposite. He was an impulsive, spontaneous
guy and together they made a very interesting team and are friends to
this day. We have that relationship in our movie where they are kind
of knocking heads a little bit, which is a more interesting dramatic
structure. The truth is they got along and formed a bond pretty quickly,
realizing that each one brought a specific set of abilities that the
other one did not have. Emir, being that 'let's get into it'
kind of guy, was the perfect person to lure the bad guys in. We were
fishing and reeling them in slowly, slowly, but like fishing, they could
spit the hook and if they did that, after two-and-and-half years of
undercover work, we're in trouble. We could also be dead.
Undercover agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) arrives
in Colombia with drug runners for a meeting to discuss money laundering.
Photo: Courtesy of Broad Green Pictures
What kind of undercover guy do you think you'd
Cranston: Now I think I'd make a pretty good one. (Laughter)
Oh. You meant for real! (Laughter) If I have a bad day
I go home and moan about something like "We're going to have to
reshoot that scene because it just didn't work." That's the repercussions
of my world and I can fully divulge everything to my wife, whether she
wants to hear it or not. (Laughter) However, as we know,
Bob didn't have that luxury.
With all the characters you've played, was there
one that was particularly hard to purge from your psyche?
Cranston: It's interesting the way film works. We shot
"The Infiltrator" over a year ago so you have to reacquaint
yourself with the story for publicity purposes because you're onto other
projects. But yes. Some characters grab a hold of you and don't want
to let go. You enjoy being in their shoes especially like LBJ
for which I did five months of performances eight shows a week
on Broadway. Then we reworked the script and I slipped back into
those shoes for the movie. It was fun. It was fun to stay in that character,
in that era, in that sensibility, and how the sexual politics were at
that time. (He speaks like LBJ) "I like that dress
you're wearin'. (Laughter)
You're a very strong lead. Do you ever have to
tone down your performance in an ensemble situation?
Cranston: What you do first is to make sure you understand
the story. From there, you compartmentalize it and ask yourself what
is my contribution? If it's the lead, you have a larger overview, but
if it's an ensemble piece, then you figure out what your character brings
to the story.
What kind of actors do you prefer working with?
Cranston: I like active actors. I don't like to work
with actors who walk on the set and go: "Okay. Where do you want
me to stand? What do you want me to do? I come in going here's what
I've been thinking. Here's what I would like to try. It's a collective
and a true collaboration when everybody charged with the story telling
process is involved. That extends to the crew as well who could make
a suggestion that helps tell the story. So you encourage and embrace
everyone and that's how it really comes together.
PR Person enters at this point to end the session.
I moaned "I had one more question" and gracious Bryan looked
at me and said what's your question?
When asked about the key to his long marriage to
Robin Dearden Cranston said: "I think its balance and the
other thing is marrying the right person." Courtesy
So many Hollywood marriages collapse. What is
your secret recipe for balancing home and career?
Cranston: I think that's it. It's balance. It's not
allowing yourself to get unbalanced for too long. However, it's never
balance in the sense that every day is completely balanced. It's finding
the right combination over the course of time. The other thing is marrying
the right person.
Thank you so much for a really fun interview.
Cranston: It's been a pleasure.
Watch for Part 2 of my interview
with Bryan Cranston in which he talks about his childhood and his path