Bryan Cranston talks “Argo,” calls it “my proudest moment in motion pictures”

By Sean O’Connell Walter White is sitting six inches away from me. Not just Mr. White, though. It’s Heisenberg. His gripping gaze fixes on me. The timber of his commanding voice sends chills down my spine. I’d dash for the room’s exit, if I weren’t so fascinated by this man.

In truth, it’s hardly Heisenberg, but rather Bryan Cranston – the warm, inviting and candid actor who brilliantly portrays a ruthless drug kingpin on “Breaking Bad,” the greatest television program since HBO’s “The Wire” (which routinely alternates with “Bad” for the title of Best TV Show of All Time). Cranston meets with me to discuss his role in Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” a hostage thriller masquerading as a heist picture that’s too crazy to be true … except for the fact that it’s based on actual events that were classified by the government until recently.

Cranston plays Jack O’Donnell, a CIA executive working with Affleck to free U.S. embassy workers during a difficult siege in Iran at the close of 1979. Their plan has holes. The “Argo” screenplay – credited to Chris Terrio – does not. I start our discussion with the quality of scripts Cranston is offered in the wake of his acclaimed cable drama.

This is an “Argo” question by way of a “Breaking Bad” question. Because you’ve had access to what many of us consider the cream of the crop in screenwriting, have you created this unfortunate problem now where scripts you are offered don’t live up to your own standard because you know they can be better?

I do that all of the time.

Do you?

Yes. I work a lot, but I turn down far more than I accept because they don’t pass muster. And now, doing “Argo,” setting a tone and setting a bar for films, and having “Breaking Bad” in television … you know, they will be different genres, and I’ll end up looking for different things. And you can never know for sure how something is going to turn out. The only think you can govern as an actor is identifying well-written material and gravitating toward that. And then hope for the best.

And put your trust in a filmmaker like Ben.

Right. And “Argo could have gone terribly wrong. Like the mission itself, it could have gone terribly wrong. [Laughs] But like the mission itself, it succeeded.

That’s interesting. Could you point at something that you guys kept going back to on the set to say, “Let’s do this again, and make sure we get it right, so that this doesn’t go off the rails.”

That’s all in Ben’s head, and in the discussions that he had with us. And that happens early on. So in essence, the director started directing us long before the cameras started rolling. And he just wanted to know that all of his actors were on the same wavelength and heading in the same direction that he knows is needed so that this piece can fit here and that piece can fit there. He’s building a puzzle, and he has to understand the exact shapes, and what’s going to lock in.

Affleck has talked about the influences of 1970s cinema, and we can see shades of tone and mood in the way he composes scenes. From an actor’s perspective, how have methods changed since the 1970s? Are there things you can pull from when you go back and watch the films Affleck says helped him shape his vision for “Argo,” or are their approaches vastly different?

Not so much in the 1970s because that really gave us the Realist movement, as far as acting is concerned. What actors have done over the decades, as I have done, is taken what you think you can use – different styles and different performances – and make your own bouquet of how you think it can work best.

Every time I start a project, I disassemble that and I have to start anew. [Laughs] But it’s just a wonderful gift to be a working actor to begin with. And then, to be a part of something as good as “Argo,” it’s my proudest moment in motion pictures.

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” opens in theaters on Friday, Oct. 12.

Read more of our exclusive Awards coverage:
Our “Silver Linings Playbook” review
Ben Affleck tells us about his ensembles
“Argo” scores raves in Toronto
Amy Adams lends strength to “The Master”
Producer Harvey Weinstein

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