Breaking Bad’s intriguing drug kingpin comes clean about his addiction to chilies, defends his awkward sex scene with Julia Roberts and gets semitough in the face of Jon Hamm’s Emmy-driven jealousy
PLAYBOY: Breaking Bad, on which you play a meth dealer, is now in its fourth season. At this point, are you experienced enough to build your own meth lab?CRANSTON: I probably could, yeah. We have a DEA chemist on the set. He taught us how to make methamphetamine, which is a very detailed process. I still have my notes. I didn’t want to learn about the back-alley process. I wanted to know how to make it perfectly, the absolute purest meth, and what equipment and chemicals to use, because that’s what my character does. So if I had to, I could make more than just meth; I could make really, really good meth. [laughs] It has created a very healthy sideline for me if this acting thing ever stops working.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever tried recreational drugs, meth or otherwise?CRANSTON: Never meth, but I’ve had several drug experiences. Pot always just made me sleepy. As a teenager I had friends who wanted to get high and go to concerts. But if I smoked a joint, I would pass out before the first song.
PLAYBOY: How about booze?CRANSTON: As I’ve gotten older I don’t even like drinking anymore. I had a big birthday not long ago, double nickels, and the metabolism of your body changes when you get to this age. Interestingly, it’s the exact opposite problem I had with pot. If I have more than just one glass of wine with dinner, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, not to pee but because of the sugars in the wine. Then I’m not well rested and the rest of the day is ruined. It’s just not worth it.
PLAYBOY: Walter White, your character on Breaking Bad, is a former chemistry teacher. Do you have a favorite element on the periodic table?*CRANSTON: *Californium is my favorite. It just sounds fun. [sings] “I came from Californium with a banjo on my knee.” In high school, I remember being morally indignant that the symbol for iron was Fe. I was like, “You’re just trying to fool us! You’re trying to make it difficult!”
PLAYBOY: **The show is shot on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is pretty much in the middle of a desert. How do you entertain yourself when you’re not working?CRANSTON: **One of the best parts about spending any time in this state is getting acclimated to the culture. The biggest question you get when you come here is “Red or green?” That would be chilies, the red and green chilies that are indigenous to this area. I have a fondness for the green. They’re hot, really spicy and go on everything. I put them on my ice cream.
PLAYBOY: Breaking Bad deals with some pretty intense themes. How do you keep the mood light on the set?CRANSTON: We play a lot of practical jokes on one another. I’m always looking for opportunities to goof off. Just last week I was doing a love scene with Anna Gunn, who plays my wife. We are in bed, making out, and I’m naked. There’s a moment in the scene when I get up and walk to the bathroom, and you see my ass. Without telling her, I put on these big adult diapers. After we made love, I got out of bed, and I could hear her laughing behind me. I finally turned around and said to her, “Next time can we try one of my fantasies?”
PLAYBOY: Speaking of sex scenes, you had a memorable one with Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne. Was that thrilling or intimidating?CRANSTON: Oh, definitely intimidating. Before we shot the movie, I went on a diet and bleached my teeth and got one of those spray tans. I wanted it to seem like we were at least viable as a couple. So we’re doing the scene, and right away I’m lying on top of her. I met her maybe a month before, and now I’m lying on top of her. Our noses are touching, we’re waiting, and we hear Tom Hanks, the director, say, “Okay, we need to make an adjustment on the camera. Hang on.” So there I am, lying on top of Julia Roberts, and we’re making small talk. “So…how are you? You have kids, right?” We’re talking about family, whatever, just passing the time. It was probably more awkward for me, because under the sheets, she was wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Tom kept tugging on her shirt. “Aw, Julia, Julia. Come on, we’ve got to show something. We’ve got to show a little skin.” And me, I’m just wearing a cock sock.
PLAYBOY: A cock sock?CRANSTON: It’s a sock that goes over your junk. Literally, you stuff your junk into this sock that’s attached to a string, which you tie around your waist with a little bow. I’ve always been like, “And this protects me how?” I don’t understand how it’s less embarrassing than if I didn’t have on anything at all.
PLAYBOY: **Your wife and Tom Hanks’s wife, Rita Wilson, are old friends. Has that made for some awkward dinner parties? How do you not feel as though you’re auditioning?CRANSTON:** It’s never been like that for us. It’s always been very normal and comfortable. I don’t want anything from Tom, and he doesn’t want anything from me. My wife, Robin, and Rita have been friends since college. She was a bridesmaid in Tom and Rita’s wedding, so I was there too. I think actors have a tendency to want to hang out with other actors, and there’s a reason for that. When you’re out there with civilians, you get the same kind of questions again and again: “How do you memorize all those words?” or “Have you ever met so-and-so?” But when you’re around other actors, you can talk about other things. Nobody’s asking, “What’s it like to be in movies?” Because we all already know.
PLAYBOY: You’ve won three consecutive Emmy Awards for lead actor in a drama series. Have you kept all three, or have you sold one of them on eBay yet?CRANSTON:Oh no, I’d never get rid of them. They mean a lot to me. All three are in my office. I walk by sometimes and the glistening gold catches my eye and I think, I cannot believe that happened! Our show isn’t eligible for an Emmy this year because AMC decided to push the premiere of our fourth season to the summer. So now people have been coming up to me and saying, “You can’t be nominated for an Emmy! You must be freaked out! That’s horrible!” And I’m thinking, Are you kidding me? Not being nominated is a relief to me in many ways.
PLAYBOY: A relief because last year Jon Hamm told the press he planned to “beat the shit” out of you if you won any more Emmys?CRANSTON: That’s part of it, sure. Jon’s a younger man, and I’m pretty sure he could kick my ass. Somebody asked me if AMC delayed the airing of Breaking Bad to give Jon Hamm a chance to win an Emmy. That’s such a hilarious conspiracy theory. I can just imagine that secret board meeting: “We’ll take care of Cranston. Tell Jon Hamm to prepare his speech!”
PLAYBOY: Now that you’re so critically acclaimed and award-winning, does that mean you can demand an A-lister’s salary?CRANSTON: I have no idea. Honestly, I don’t have a clue how much money I make. It really doesn’t matter to me. My agents know, and sometimes they ask me, “You want to know how much you make?” I don’t care. I’m sure it’s fine. I mean, I don’t want to sound glib. I know money is important, but ever since I stopped worrying about finances, I’ve made more money than I ever thought I’d make in my life. The fact that I make a dependable income at all is just amazing to me.
PLAYBOY: You were raised in the San Fernando Valley and still live there. The Valley has a reputation for being hot and smoggy and filled with mini-malls. From your experience, does it live up to the stereotype?CRANSTON: Absolutely. It’s exactly what everybody thinks it is. I grew up in Canoga Park, which is in the west end of the Valley. On the East Coast, people had snow days, but we had smog days. I’m not kidding. Every so often there’d be a smog advisory, and parents would get warnings like, “Don’t let your kid go outside!” That’s a weird thing to hear from your parents. Don’t go outside because there’s too much smog. But sometimes we’d go out anyway. We’d put on our big smog shoes and go traipsing through the smog. We’d throw smog balls and have smog fights. Or we’d build smog men, using carrots for their noses. It was great fun.
PLAYBOY: Your parents were both actors. Did that make them more supportive of your acting aspirations or less?CRANSTON: They were both very supportive. As a kid, I used to visit my dad all the time on the sets of TV shows or movies. It was always exciting. My dad usually got roles in which he died. He was the one who got an arrow in his chest as he shouted, “The Indians are over there!” [grabs chest and drops to the floor] And we’re like, “Yep, Dad’s dead again.” That’s how I fell in love with acting.
PLAYBOY: You studied police science in college. How close did you come to being a cop?CRANSTON: Shockingly close. When I was 16, I joined the LAPD Explorers in the West Valley. Then I went to L.A. Valley College to study police science, and my counselor told me I needed to take some elective courses. So in my second year, I took classes in acting and stagecraft. On my very first day, I walked into class, and there was this 17-year-old girl sitting on the floor, wearing only a tube top and hot pants. I was like, “Oh…my…God.”
PLAYBOY: **So you became an actor for the girls?CRANSTON:** Yes. From that moment on I was done with police work. The girls in theater arts were so much prettier. I changed the course of an entire life based on the libido of an 18-year-old boy. During my first acting class, I did a scene with a girl—a girl I’d never met before—and we were supposed to be making out on a park bench. I was really hesitant about it, but she attacked me. She wasn’t just kissing me, she was deeply tonguing me, arms and hands everywhere. I was so flummoxed, I forgot my lines. Afterward, I was thinking, I need to ask this girl out; she’s obviously really into me. So during the break, I asked her if maybe she wanted to go out sometime, get some lunch or dinner. And she looked at me as if I were a puppy. She was like, “Ooooh, sweetie, no, no, I have a boyfriend.” I was devastated, but at the same time, I was like, What a great actress! She totally had me fooled.
PLAYBOY: You and your brother spent two years riding motorcycles around the country. Were you just young and bored, or were you on some kind of Jack Kerouac–esque quest?CRANSTON: It was just two confused boys running away. My brother was on the verge of becoming a deputy sheriff, and I was grappling with whether I wanted to be a police officer or an actor. So we got on our motorcycles and just left California with no plan. I had $70 in my pocket, and that soon ran out. We got odd jobs wherever we could. We worked at cafés, in carnivals, at beachfront hotels selling suntan lotion, earning just enough to get back on the road. We camped everywhere, the cheaper the better. Just a patch of grass was all we needed. A few times we stayed at midnight missions, in Texas and Louisiana, and those were always scary. They were like prison.
PLAYBOY: Are you being hyperbolic? How was sleeping in a mission like prison?CRANSTON: Well, I’ve never been to prison, so it’s just a guess. First of all, they take all your clothes, because they don’t want you to leave before the sermon. You’re standing naked with all these alcoholics, getting a cold shower with a bar of soap the size of a quarter. Then you’re given a blanket and a bunk, and you try to get some sleep in a room full of people with the worst gas in the world. All night they’re farting and belching and coughing up blood. The next morning, you get your clothes back, but they all smell like booze and shit. And then you listen to proselytizing while choking back melba toast and canned orange juice. Honestly, after sleeping in a mission, I bet prison would be a breeze.
PLAYBOY: This may be unrelated, but you’re also an ordained minister. Please explain.CRANSTON: When I was in my late teens I spent my summers on Catalina Island. I met this guy named Reverend Bob, an older guy in his 40s who made a living doing wedding ceremonies. One time he said to me, “Bryan, I messed up. I booked two weddings on the same day. Would you help me out?” I jokingly said okay, and he typed up a certificate and sent it to the secretary of state, and just like that, I was a minister. Since then I’ve married maybe a dozen couples.
PLAYBOY: Probably your most iconic scene from the Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, on which you played the father for seven seasons, was when your character danced in his underwear in front of a mirror, pinching his flab and celebrating his middle-aged body. Have you personally experienced a moment like that?CRANSTON: Oh yeah, all the time. Yesterday on Breaking Bad we were shooting a dangerous driving sequence, and I met my stunt double. I was like, That guy looks way too old to be playing me. He’s like somebody’s grandfather. And then all day, people were coming up to me and saying, “Bryan, your stunt double looks exactly like you! He’s a perfect match.” Talk about a slap in the face. So then I looked at the stunt guy again and it was like, Wow, okay. That’s what people see when they look at me. They see this old bald guy. Oh my God, that’s who I am! It was a very existential moment of self-realization. It was a very similar experience to being in your underwear, accepting who you are and who you’ve become.