Bryan Cranston, who thrilled and enthralled audiences as one Walter White, the milquetoast chemistry teacher turned turned the sinister and relentless meth drug kingpin Heisenberg on AMC’s Breaking Bad, celebrates a birthday today.
Born on March 7, 1956, the Canoga Park, CA native has dabbled in film productions like Argo and the highly anticipated forthcoming re-re-retread of the Godzilla franchise, but it’s been his television career that has been the benchmarks of his career — two TV shows that sport two opposite ends of the spectrum, and neither could be further from one another: Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad.
On one, the surreal, quirky comedy Malcolm in the Middle, which was a huge success for Fox TV and was right on the crest of TVâ€™s Golden Age, Cranston played a rubbery, jittery, ridiculous man-child patriarch that allowed the actor to comedically stretch from here to the four corners of the earth. He absolutely took every advantage of the field day the character’s foibles gave him, and not only gave the actor a firm and crazily complex character, but also his first success in that medium.
The other show, Breaking Bad, made Bryan Cranston an absolute heavyweight superstar player in the industry. Winning three consecutive Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the aforementioned Walter White (and a probable frontrunner for a fourth award at this yearâ€™s forthcoming Emmy Awards in late Summer), Cranston was able to walk the very narrow tightrope of creating a three-dimensional character in a universe that grew darker and more sinister at every turn. Cranstonâ€™s Walter White went from lightly dilly-dallying with creating a small amount of high quality methamphetamine for low-rent Albuquerque tweekers, to having the entire Czech Republic’s contingent of junkies and meth-heads nosh and nod on his product, making him not only a multi-millionaire, but an absolute force to be reckoned with by other players in this very dangerous game.
At first living under the shadows of his arch-rivals (the-spinning-top-out-of-control-meglomaniac Tuco, the cool-as-a-cucumber-yet-nesting-a-viper-in-his-bosom Gus Fring or the neo-Nazi double agent Jack), White rose from cowering in the corner as a sniveling, wide-eyed wimp, who can’t handle any deviation of normalcy to becoming a sadistic, cunning, manipulative terror, on a level akin to an Al Capone or being side-by-side with one of modern folklore’s most contemporary â€œheroes,â€ Tony â€œScarfaceâ€ Montana. In essence, the individual of Walter White fell and the rise of Heisenberg insured him to become, as one of the most revered lines from Breaking Bad goes, â€œthe one who knocks,â€ and thus, having a major hand, if not a completely direct one (and in Tuco’s case, completely circumstantial, two words that are Breaking Bad‘s stock in trade) in causing the executions of all the aforementioned villains.
Cranston injected humor, pathos, sincerity, and insincerity into the role, creating a smooth talker of a man who uses his bitter insecurities to have his evil alter ego eventually consume the yin to Heisenbergâ€™s yang, and in the process, completely alienates everyone close to him emotional or otherwise, in the process. Sporting a physicality of being bald and with a goatee, it is absolutely gripping, absorbing, heart-stopping and pounding, and ultimately satisfying to watch the entire process of Walter Whiteâ€™s character, evolution and de-evolution, birth and eventually snuffed life, one that even gives the character a final, relieving sense of bizarre closure. What it all amounts to is the genius craft and makes-it-look-more-easier-than-it-is approach Cranston took to the character and to the shaping and direction of the program itself. Having aired its final episode back in September of 2013, Breaking Bad has now moved into the pantheon of putting itself firmly on a marble pedestal in which has the legend carved onto its front which reads â€œOne of Televisions Finest Hours.â€ That kind of term is used much too loosely sometimes, as so much television produced in the last decade has been of an absolute stellar quality, but for sure, the spontaneous abandon, the cinematic touches, the realism, the surrealism, the just-when-you-think-youâ€™ve-seen-it-all moments where you actually havenâ€™t at all by a long shot, will keep Breaking Bad a stalwart of binge watching and multiple watching long after the actual medium of television is long gone, passed into whatever platforms the technological ages have manifested at that point. With Cranston at the helm and a superb supporting cast, Breaking Bad is, indeed, one for the ages.
And it was in the very last episode of Breaking Bad, entitled “Felina,” that White, who had always tried to apply the metaphoric liniment to his weary wife Skyler about why he was involved in the gangster-drug-violence-addled world he was fully immersed in, a world which was a by-product of his product, by telling her that he was doing all of this, which involved the risk factors, the more-than-one-knows-what-to-do-with amounts of money and the sheer raw thrill of it, that he did it for them, for his family. But in that last episode, Walter White finally is able to admit what we suspected all along, that he did all those things for him, when he says to Skyler finally and admittedly, â€œI Did It For Me.â€
For Bryan Cranston and the generosity he has shown the world by giving them a massive glimpse of his massive talents, thatâ€™s something he does for us — all of us. Happy Birthday, Bryan!