Happy 60th, Bryan! Here’s the Playboy Interview with the One Who Knocks from our December 2015 issue.
Last summer, Bryan Cranston demonstrated why he’s one of the most popular actors in America. And he did it with a single line.
During a Q&A with fans at San -Diego Comic-Con, an audience member from -Albuquerque—where AMC’s Breaking Bad, the series that made Cranston a household name, was filmed—nervously asked Cranston if he enjoyed his time in the city. Without skipping a beat, Cranston replied, “Yeah, I’d go and visit your mother once in a while.”
The audience roared with laughter. Cranston stared back at the stunned fan. And then, with the swagger and sneer of a gangsta rapper, he dropped the microphone to the floor.
A video clip of the exchange went viral, and for good reason. Although he was clearly joking, Cranston had convincing menace. It was the same unblinking stare we recognize from Breaking Bad when chemistry teacher Walter White transforms into Heisenberg, the meth-cooking drug kingpin. It’s a fierce, unrepentant expression that says, “I am the one who knocks!”
There’s also a glimmer of mischievousness in his delivery. It’s a skill he mastered on Malcolm in the Middle, the Fox sitcom that ran from 2000 to 2006. As Hal, the hapless dad, he endured countless indignities for the sake of comedy.
Rarely has an actor lived in both worlds so comfortably. When someone asks, “Remember that brilliant scene Bryan Cranston did in his tighty-whities?” it’s not unreasonable to reply, “You mean the laugh-out-loud funny one or the sad dramatic one?” (Yes, he’s done it twice: once for Malcolm and once for Breaking Bad.)
It has been a long journey for Cranston, one that, in many ways, began in 1977, during a rainstorm in Virginia.
Cranston was just 21 at the time. He and his older brother, Kyle, had come from a broken home in -middle-class Canoga Park, in southern California’s San Fernando Valley. Their father, a struggling actor and former amateur boxer, had walked out on the family when Bryan was just 11. Their mother was an alcoholic.
They spent two years on the road, essentially homeless, finding work wherever they could. In Virginia, a storm forced them to seek shelter. At some point, Cranston began to read Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Something about the play hit him like lightning. He realized then and there that he wanted to be an actor.
Cranston struggled during much of the 1980s and 1990s. He had bit parts on Hill Street Blues, CHiPS and Seinfeld and in commercials for Atari, Preparation H and Coffee-mate. But then came Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, and everything changed.
In recent years the 59-year-old has reinvented himself yet again, this time as a bona fide movie star. His name appears above the title in everything from big-budget monster thrillers like Godzilla to historical dramas like the recently released Trumbo. There’s already Oscar buzz surrounding his Trumbo -performance—to go along with his five Emmys (for Breaking Bad) and his Tony (for a Broadway turn as Lyndon B. Johnson, in All the Way).
We sent writer Eric Spitznagel, who has interviewed Stephen Colbert and Jon Hamm for Plaboy, to talk with Cranston in West Hollywood. He reports: “Cranston showed up looking frazzled and exhausted. He’d been up all night, shooting scenes for the film adaptation of All the Way. ‘This is going to be a terrible interview,’ he growled at me. But it didn’t take long for him to warm up. Cranston is seemingly incapable of having a conversation without performing, slipping in and out of characters. His hands are in constant motion, and he’s quick to jump to his feet, acting out what he’s trying to describe. Also, he does a spectacular Donald Trump impression.”
Breaking Bad has been off the air for two years. Have we reached a point yet when every conversation about you doesn’t need to begin with a reference to that show?
Nope. [laughs] And I honestly don’t expect that to ever happen.
You don’t think you’ll ever do something better than Breaking Bad?
I may do something I’m as proud of, but I thoroughly expect Breaking Bad to be the lead line in my obituary.
“He was the one who knocked” could very well be on your gravestone.
Oh yeah, I would love that. I have nothing but love for the show.
Do you wish it hadn’t ended?
Not at all. I don’t miss it at all.
Because we so thoroughly examined that character and that experience. I miss the people. I miss being around those actors and writers and directors and crew. And I miss Albuquerque.
Didn’t you buy a house there?
I did, and I still have it. I like New Mexico. It’s a beautiful state with a rich culture, both Hispanic and Native American. They have a rattlesnake museum in Albuquerque. You can go see rattlesnakes on display and learn about the history of rattlesnakes. I just adore everything about that part of the world.
When was the last time you got out there?
I haven’t been in a while, because I’ve been working.
So why not sell the house?
I didn’t feel an urgent need to let it go. I guess it’s my way of mourning. When the show ended, we had to deal not only with the end of this story and these characters, but also an end of the actors seeing each other on a regular basis. We’d become friends, and there were some deeply rooted emotions. I guess I didn’t want to get rid of the house because that meant admitting it really was over. And also, I leased it to Bob Odenkirk.
Oh yeah. He needed a place to stay while he shoots Better Call Saul. Odenkirk crawls into my bed every night.
If the stories are to be believed, you were something of a prankster on the Breaking Bad set.
What have you heard?
You were always willing to surprise your cast mates with an unexpected dildo.
[Laughs] Well, sure. There’s nothing like a dildo to break the tension. I’ve found that’s true in most -situations.
How many dildos would you say you’ve used in pranks over your entire acting career?
So many that I bought a -dildo-manufacturing company. Proudly made in America.
But seriously, what is it with the dildos?
I just think they’re funny. And I think it’s important to examine the tension levels or anxiety levels or exhaustion levels of your cast and crew. Sometimes a release is exactly what they need to propel them through the rest of the day and get the work done.
You go out of your way to make your casts happy. On Godzilla, you brought in an ice cream truck that served Godzilla-themed treats.
How do you know this?
We have our sources.
I do that kind of stuff all the time. I just think it’s necessary to show a little gratitude. It doesn’t even have to be a big gesture. It can just be an acknowledgement. Like last night, we were shooting this big scene in All the Way where Lyndon Johnson wins the 1964 election and everybody’s gathered at the ranch. All these background -players—there are about 150 of them—are in high heels or hard shoes, standing all night, hopping and hollering and dancing. It’s four, five o’clock in the morning, and we’re doing take after take. To not recognize that, to just take it for granted, would be remiss.
Your Breaking Bad co-star Aaron Paul said something curious about you to Jimmy Kimmel once. He said, “Any time he can have the opportunity to show me his ass, he does.”
[Laughs] I guess that’s true.
Just to make him laugh?
Yeah. Like with the dildos, it’s to break the tension.
Do you plan it in advance, or is it a spur-of-the-moment thing?
No, it’s planned. The very last shot we did for Breaking Bad—a flashback of Aaron and me cooking meth together—I’m wearing an apron. I’m supposed to turn away from him at one point, and I happen to be in sweats. So while they’re setting up the shot, I kind of wiggle out of the sweats. I’m wearing the apron, so he doesn’t even notice. But then we start shooting, and I turn around and just flash him my ass.
What a touching good-bye.
It really was. It was the view I wanted to leave him with.
What about in Trumbo? Did anyone in that cast see you naked?
Yeah, I’m fully nude in Trumbo.
As a prank?
No, as part of the movie. It was full frontal.
Is that a first?
I’m pretty sure it’s a first.
Is it a little unnerving?
It can be, but when I talked to the director, Jay Roach, about it, we both felt strongly that it had to happen. A lot of people have that nightmare of being naked in public and being vulnerable. That’s truly what it is, and that’s what we wanted to show. Here’s this brilliant wordsmith and extraordinary writer, a family man and a crusader. And yet, when you take his clothes off, he’s just like any other man.
So it’s not a bedroom scene.
Oh no, it’s humiliating, especially the way it’s treated in the scene, with this dispassionate prison guard saying, “Cough, turn around, spread your cheeks, lift your sack and pull it back.” He’s looking for contraband. “Move on!” Everybody’s the same; nobody makes a distinction between one man and another.
What’s the mood on the set when you’re shooting a nude scene? Is it serious, or do you keep things light?
I remember standing there naked with these three other men in a holding cell, waiting for our turn to come forward. We’re being processed into the penal institution, and we’re giving little looks to each other.
As part of the scene or——?
No, just as people, as actors. You may take a glance at what the other guy has, just for comparison.
How did you stack up?
You’re grateful sometimes and sometimes a little disappointed. So we’re standing there, naked and quiet. Normally in this type of situation you don’t talk much. But I went the opposite way and talked way too much. It’s a defense mechanism.
What did you say?
Just the first thing that came to my head. I said, “How about those Saints?” And they just looked at me like, “We’re really going to have a -conversation?”
Nothing wrong with that.
What’s the big deal, right? Just some guys talking about football.
Who happen to all be naked.
Being naked or seminaked on camera is not exactly new for you. You have a history.
I was naked a few times on Breaking Bad. And I’ve been in underwear a lot, for one desired effect or another, either comedic or sad. I also drop trou in a scene in All the Way. Lyndon used to go to the bathroom and [slips into a Texas accent] still be in a conversation, and he’d just start taking a shit. People would be backing away, and he’d be [leans over, pretending to be on a toilet], “What the hell are you saying? Get over here!” I went all out with it, just dropped my pants and underwear and sat down on the toilet.
In terms of mortifying things you’ve had to do onscreen, nothing comes close to Malcolm in the Middle.
Yeah, we had some good times on that show. I told Linwood Boomer, who created Malcolm, “I’ll do anything, as long as it makes sense to the story.” I had 30,000 bees on me at one point.
Did you get stung?
Once on my shoulder and once on my balls.
You got stung on the balls? How does that feel?
Not terrible, in the sense that it was very informative to me. If a bee stung you right now, it would be [slaps neck], “What the hell?” It would be shock and surprise, and it would hurt more because of that. But if you’re standing with 30,000 bees on you and are surprised when you get stung, you’re an idiot. When I got stung, it was truly like, “Hmm, I think I got stung.” It was that! Then the guy runs over with a credit card to scrape the stinger out.
You had a guy for that?
Oh yeah. You don’t cover an actor with 30,000 bees without having somebody on the production staff on bee duty.
And you really took it on the balls?
The balls, baby.
Why did it have to be the balls?
I guess I turned too fast and there was a bee up in my inner thigh who was like, “It’s too crowded in here.” I said to the guy with the credit card, “I got stung.” He ran over, really enthusiastic, “Where, where?” And I’m like, “On my balls.” And he’s [backs away slowly], “Sorry, man. You’re on your own there. Wish I could help you.”
For some reason we can see you being the class clown in school. True?
Not at all. I was introverted in high school. I was unremarkable. There was nothing special about me, nothing unique.
That’s hard to believe.
I was trying to fly under the radar. I had a bad situation at home. My father disappeared when I was 11, and I didn’t see him again until I was 22. My mother was an alcoholic. I was reeling from all of it, because up until the age of 11, it was a good childhood. Then the rug got pulled out from under me. I lost the mother to alcoholism; I lost the father physically; I lost the home. Our house went into foreclosure. So then I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
You thought if you weren’t noticeable, trouble couldn’t find you?
Exactly. I was too shaken to be assertive. It felt safer to keep my back against the wall, to just observe.
How did your dad disappear? Was it one of those “he went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back” moments?
No, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was more like being weaned. Every day we saw a little less of him.
Where was he going?
I’m still not sure. There was alcoholism and probably some drug abuse and just abject depression from never becoming the actor he wanted to become and whatever fights he was having with our mother. He had a lot of issues, a lot of anger.
He was a former boxer. Was he ever violent around you?
Not toward me, but yeah, I’ve seen him hit three different people in my life. Once when he was driving, some guy cut him off in a hot rod type of car, and my dad was pissed. He pulls up next to him, starts honking the horn, yelling at him. And the guy shouts back, “What are you going to do about it, old man?” My dad had salt-and-pepper hair by the time he turned 30, so he looked older than he was. My dad yelled at him, “Turn the corner, I’ll show you!” So they pulled over behind some stores. My brother and I are in the backseat, terrified, in each other’s clutches. We’re little boys. My dad gets out, and the other guy is leaning against his car, being all cool about it. And he’s a big guy. My dad was five-10 at his tallest. He walks over to the guy and slugs him in the face. The guy hit his car and fell to the ground, and there was blood everywhere. My dad gets back in the car and is like, “It’s okay. Calm down.” And as we’re driving home, he says, “We don’t need to tell your mom about any of this. It’ll just make her worried.”
It really was crazy. These kinds of things happened before he left, when I wasn’t even 11 years old yet.
You finally reconnected with him when you were in your early 20s.
Yeah. We tried to talk about the past, about why he disappeared, but he wasn’t interested in talking about it. He’s of that generation that just likes to forget the past. “It was a bad time,” he’d say. We kept trying, my brother and I, but we eventually realized he’d gone as far as he was willing or capable to go. So that was it.
Have you forgiven him?
To a point. I think so. -[pauses] My father passed away last year, in October. He was 90. The night before he died, he found a scrap of paper and scribbled out in his shaky handwriting, “The best part of my life is when my children forgive me for the worst part of my life.”
Did that surprise you?
No, I knew he felt that way.
But were you surprised he wrote that for you?
He didn’t share it. We found it. I think he wrote it recently, because it was out. It wasn’t in a drawer somewhere; it was out. He knew the end was coming. He was feeling so awful. He died of congestive heart failure. He was in a bad place. I think he knew it was going to happen.
Didn’t you base Walter White on him?
On the physicality of him. My dad had Walter’s body shape. He carried the burden of missed opportunities on his shoulders, and therefore they were rounded.
Did your dad know?
Yeah, I think I told him a couple of times. It wasn’t insulting, because he’s 30 years older than me. I wanted Walter to have the body of a man who was much older than him.
Did your dad watch Breaking Bad?
Did he like it?
He loved the show and was very complimentary about it.
In his younger days, your -father not only wanted to be an actor, he was desperate to be a huge celebrity. You got the fame and adulation he always wanted as a would-be actor, but you did it by not chasing fame.
I guess it’s a little ironic, but I really think it’s true that if you want something too much, it stays away. I was never the person giving an acceptance speech in the shower. That wasn’t me. I think what broke my father’s spirit was how much he really wanted stardom. That was always what my disgruntled, heartbroken mother talked about when she discussed our dad. He wanted to be a star; he always had to be a star. You either hit it big, or what’s the point?
You never felt that way?
I wanted to be a working actor. That is still, to this day, my highest professional achievement. From the age of 26 on, that’s all I’ve done for a living. And that means a lot to me.
You gave yourself that goal during a cross-country motorcycle trip when you were in your early 20s.
That’s right. That’s when I realized it. But at the time, it was mostly about running away. I didn’t want to stay and fight for something I wasn’t even sure I wanted.
You were on the verge of becoming a police officer, right?
I’d taken police science -courses in junior college and was doing well. I was going to transfer to a university before going into the LAPD. That was the plan. My brother was pretty much in the same position. He passed all his tests. He was very close to being an Orange County sheriff. All he needed to do was literally go down and pick up his badge and his gun.
What made you both change your minds?
We just had doubts. It’s interesting, because I think the great majority of people don’t.
Don’t have doubts?
I think if they have a talent, friends or relatives or whoever give them affirmation. They’re like, “Yeah, you’re good at that. You’re good at roofing. You could make good money as a roofer.” And they just fall into it.
They don’t realize they’re making a decision for the rest of their lives.
I think people kid themselves. They’re like, “Okay, I’m going to do roofing for five years, save some money and then quit and go right into making music full-time.” And what happens 15 years later?
They’re still a roofer.
And then they’re like, “I’ve still got time. I’m in my mid-30s. I’m good. This is the new plan.” But then 20 years have gone by, and they’re 45 or 50, and they’re like, “I’m a roofer. I guess that’s who I am.”
So are you saying young people should get on a motorcycle and ride around the country for two years to figure out what they really want to do with their lives?
I don’t think that’s a bad idea.
How much money did you have when you left home?
I had $170 in my pocket. That was it.
How long did you think that was going to last?
It didn’t matter. We knew we could get jobs in coffee shops and carnivals. We could pick up jobs that paid in cash. “You want to work? Sure. Rake those leaves and I’ll give you $50. You can sleep in the barn.” Okay, thanks, man.
That sounds dangerous.
No, it’s terribly exciting.
We’re sure it’s exciting. But “sleep in the barn”? That’s how people end up disappearing.
Well, I suppose. You’re safer in numbers, and I was always with my brother. We depended on each other.
Is this something you’d recommend for your daughter?
Working at a carnival?
Escaping. Driving around the country with no money and no plan.
Absolutely. And she did it, in her own way. When she was in her junior year of college, she went abroad for half a year to study. She blossomed over there. You have some structure, but you’re in a foreign country. She went to Berlin and Prague and Scotland and Budapest. That was exactly what she needed to do.
Just hit the road with no plan?
Go with girlfriends or boyfriends, and get lost. Figure things out. Go to youth hostels. Count your money out, share it, figure out what’s fair and how to keep each other safe, and explore everything. Grow up! Figure things out.
See what you’re made of.
My daughter’s generation, unfortunately, was raised with this world of instant gratification and immediate information. It’s not to their advantage in many ways. When I was a kid, I remember being in the backseat of my parents’ car and just being bored.
No cell phones, no tablets, no DVD players.
None of that. And you’re like, “Arrrghhhh.” You feel you could literally die of boredom. You either fall asleep or your brain kicks in and you start seeing shapes in the clouds. Or you come up with stories in your head. It’s the mother of invention. You need to entertain yourself. When you let these little electronic devices create that entertainment for you, you lose something.
What will a generation raised on iPhones and tablets be like as adults?
I think we’re going to have a generation where imagination isn’t valued. Artists will have less competition because there will be fewer truly imaginative people in the world. There will be more workers, more followers, more watchers, more information-driven people as opposed to substantive-driven. In this culture now, we’re more informed, but that doesn’t mean we’re wise. We’re less wise, more informed.
There was a moment during your motorcycle trip when you and your brother were trapped in a rainstorm.
In Virginia, yeah.
You were reading Hedda Gabler, and you had a moment of revelation: This is what you want to do with your life. This is where your passion was.
That was it.
Fast-forward to a few years later, and you’re doing Preparation H commercials. You’re getting paid to say things like “inflamed hemorrhoidal tissue” and “oxygen action.” This isn’t what you wanted to do.
It is what I wanted to do.
But it wasn’t Henrik Ibsen or any other play. It wasn’t immersing yourself in a complex character. It wasn’t the vision of your future you had daydreaming in a Virginia rainstorm.
It wasn’t not the vision, though. My goal was to make a living as an actor. That’s all I wanted. I wanted to be able to say, “This is my profession. It’s what I do for a living.” I’m very pragmatic. I don’t fool myself. I’m not delusional. When I was doing a lot of commercials back in the early 1980s, I welcomed it, because it was doing several things for me. It was giving me the money I needed for rent, for acting classes, for head shots. It was creating a foundation for my health coverage and was contributing to my pension. It meant that I didn’t have to look for a civilian job.
Not every struggling actor would feel lucky to do hemorrhoid commercials. They’d be like, “I’m an artist! Why am I doing this shit?”
You don’t get to be creative with everything. These commercials, they were perfunctory. You’re there to deliver a task. You’re there to do something specific and sell this product. If you can find an iota of creativity to infuse in this message, then great. But don’t be disappointed if you can’t.
Do you feel it was fortuitous that you didn’t get any real attention as an -actor until you were in your late 40s and early 50s?
It happened the way it should. It would have been very different for me if I’d been thrust into the limelight when I was in my 20s. It was better to wait for it and to be able to recognize how much luck was involved. I got lucky. That’s the one thing I always say to young actors. A career in the arts will not happen without a healthy dose of luck.
You’re living proof of that. You got cast as Buzz Aldrin on the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon -only because the original actor was too fat for the spacesuit.
That’s right. Tom Hanks, who was the executive producer, called me up and said, “Are you still skinny?” I got the role just -because of that.
You have to be ready when the opportunities come.
That’s exactly it. You can’t plot for that. You just have to be open to luck when it happens. You have to be good and you have to be persistent and you have to be patient.
Do you believe in fate?
So it’s not entirely in your -control?
I think it’s a combination. Fate is one half luck and one half -determination.
What about true love? You’ve been married to your wife, actress Robin Dearden, since 1989. Does a marriage work because two people are meant to be together or because they work their asses off to make it work?
I don’t believe in either one of those. I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s conditional. Love for a child, that’s unconditional. I will always love my child. I may not like the decisions she makes, but I will always love her. I would die for my child. I would die for my wife too. But it’s conditional.
How is it conditional?
It’s conditional for both of us. If I found out she had this secret life as a prostitute, or if she found out that I do in fact murder people, yeah, I think that’s a deal breaker. But we don’t work our asses off to keep the marriage going. I think if you have to really work, work, work at it, there might be something systemically wrong with the marriage. There has to be some ease.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
I don’t know if that’s always the case, but I certainly had that with Robin.
You met her on a job, right?
Yeah. We were doing a TV show called Airwolf, with Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine and a helicopter. It was a terrible show, but I’m grateful for it because I met my future wife there, and that was 20.… God, that was almost 30 years ago.
You’ve rarely talked publicly about your relationship with Robin, but you shared something really sweet about her with the blog Humans of New York.
Oh God, what did I say?
You told them your favorite thing about her is that “she still gets giddy when she sees a firefly.”
That’s true. She sees a firefly and she’s like a child. It’s mystical and magical. She’s well past middle age, but she still retains a sense of girl-like wonder. I love that about her. She has never lost that sense of wonder and joy at the simple things. She’ll see a sunset or a dolphin swimming by, and she’ll be like, “Look, look, look, look!” It may seem a bit saccharine, but when you live with a person like that every day, it’s an upper.
Was that what you first noticed about her on Airwolf, her childlike wonder? Was that the reason you were drawn to her?
No, I just wanted to bang her.
What? I’m being honest.
No, no, that’s sweet, in a weird way.
I was a young guy and she was hot, and I wanted to take her clothes off. We’ll have time to discover all the other stuff later, after the banging.
That’s how guys operate.
That’s right. It starts with “Wow, she’s hot.”
You start at the boobs.
It starts there, right? We’re simple beings. Women are so clearly the superior sex. Men are simple people. You put food in front of us, we’ll eat it. You show us cleavage, you’ve got our attention. If you see a woman scratching her leg, and she pulls up on her skirt in just the right way and you catch a glimpse of her calf muscle, oh my God, you just lose your mind. You see the smoothness of it. I’m powerless against that.
You’re going to be a great dirty old man.
Absolutely. What I love and appreciate about my wife is that she still takes really good care of herself. And I’m still very sexually attracted to her. She has beautiful legs, an amazing body. I truly -appreciate that. I think she wishes it was reciprocal. [laughs]
You don’t return the favor?
Well, look at this. [grabs his belly and jiggles it] I gained 15 pounds to play Lyndon Johnson. I’m not padded; that’s really me.
And Robin doesn’t appreciate that?
She looks at my stomach, and she’s like [sighs], “Boy, that’s uh…that’s not good.” I just pat my belly and say, “This is work, Robin. This is my investment. This is how important my work is to me. Okay? More cheesecake, please!”
But you’re not being flip. You are doing it for work.
Exactly! Will you talk to her? Robin and I were discussing another project I’m considering, another movie, and she said, “You know, in that movie I think the character would be in great shape, don’t you?” [laughs] And I was like, “I think you may be right.”
During your Emmy acceptance speech last year, you said that acting is something you’ll be doing till your last breath. Do you still feel that way?
Well, my daughter always tells me, “You’re never going to stop acting.” But I don’t know. My mother died of Alz-heimer’s. If I ever struggle to remember lines or get confused about what’s happening in a shoot, like if I can’t remember the names of the other characters, that might be enough to make me stop. The minute it stops being fun, I’m out.
Would you rather go out like Redd Foxx?
[Laughs] Just drop dead in the middle of a rehearsal?
People would think you were doing a bit.
Or maybe go out like Dick Shawn.
How did he go?
Onstage. I think he was in San Diego. The story I heard was that he was doing a stage show, and one of his bits was pretending to be a politician. He said something like “If elected, I will not lay down on the job.” And he had a heart attack and fell down. The audience was laughing, like, “Oh my God, that is so funny!” And they just sat there and watched him lying on the stage for several minutes. The dark irony is that maybe he could have been saved if somebody had gotten to him earlier. [laughs]
It still sounds better than dying in bed.
Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s no way to go. I’d rather be onstage. Yeah, I could be okay with that. If you have to leave, that’s the way to do it.
Would you do another Broadway play? Maybe a one-man show?
I’ve thought about it. All the Way came close, but that wasn’t a one-man show. I might be tempted if it was the right person, the right subject. If the man was extraordinary.
Maybe Donald Trump?
Yes, he’s fascinating. What a man. The things he says. [impersonates -Donald Trump perfectly] “I love women. Look at my wife. She’s hot. She’s super hot. And I imagine some Mexican women are pretty too. Some of them. When they’re not being criminals.”
You’re joking, but that’s not far off from what he actually says.
It’s just insane! The way he brags about being rich. Why would he do that? Why would he tell the world how much money he has? What is he lacking?
[Laughs] Okay, we all have our guesses. But for him to need to tell the world, “I’m very, very rich. I’m extremely rich. Look, here are my financials. Here’s how rich I am.” It’s like, oh my God. It’s certainly narcissistic. Even people who like his politics must say, “Well, sure, there’s narcissism flowing through his veins.”
Is he hiding something, do you think?
See, that’s why it’s fascinating to me. As actors, we have to be students of human psychology. And Trump, the man who needs to spew and tell people how much money he has, it’s so obvious that underneath that veneer of protection there’s a volcano of complicated emotions.
Could you ever see yourself getting into politics?
I could, actually. I’m a closeted politician in my heart. I would love to be -involved in politics, just for the altruistic feeling of making people’s lives better. I know realistically that it’s never that easy. Politics is about compromise and bureaucracy, and it’s kind of sticky and murky. It’s no longer about “I’m going to devote four years to my country or my municipality and then go back to being a farmer.” Now it’s a career. People’s egos are wrapped up in it, and there’s a tremendous amount of money involved. It’s hard to sustain the purity of the concept.
So why do you still entertain the idea?
Because I’m fascinated by it. I think at some point in my life, if I stop -acting and am living in a little community, like a town of 700 people—-nothing as big as Los Angeles—I might throw my hat in the ring and become a candidate for mayor.
Give us a taste of your political platform. If you ran for office, would Fox News endorse you?
[Laughs] I’d be too small potatoes for them. We’re talking a small town, not a major city. And that town, if I became mayor, well…. [pauses] First of all, prostitution is legal. Pot is legal. Tax it all. Have a surplus.
You’d legalize prostitution?
Have you ever had sex with a prostitute?
Just once. I lost my virginity to a prostitute in Austria. I was 16.
Was it a good experience or a bad experience?
Fantastic experience. The sex was horrible in retrospect. Of course, at the time I had no comparison. It was like, “Wow! That was amazing! Nobody in -human history has had sex as well as we just had sex.” But then you grow up and mature, and you’re like, “Oh wait, no, that was terrible sex. Now I get it! This is what sex is -supposed to be like.”
So you’d open up legal whorehouses in your town?
Sure. We’d use the money to take care of the homeless and pay for the schools. But I wouldn’t throw it in families’ faces. You don’t put the whorehouse in the mall, next to the yogurt shop. There would be areas—keep that stuff far, far away from children.
What about gay rights?
Equality, man. It’s all about equality. These people freaking out about gay marriages, what the hell difference does that make? It’s tough enough finding love. So you’re in love with another guy. What do I care? Anybody who thinks gay marriage is a threat to their own marriage is fooling themselves.
The people who oppose it seem to think that homosexuality is a choice.
That’s ridiculous. Anyone with even a modicum of understanding of their own desires knows that’s ridiculous. Your desires are there from birth, and that’s who you are. I would be a terrible gay man, because I’m just infatuated with every little nook and cranny of a woman.
The idea that those desires could be changed.…
It’s just ludicrous! “Pray out the gay.” Oh, come on! You love what you love. Just let everyone love what they love. There are simple rules. The only exception is no children. Ever.
And no animals.
Right, right. Other than that, have at it. Do what makes you happy.
So when you run for mayor, it’s all about personal freedom.
Yeah. I’m a pure libertarian, I guess. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, you should be left alone.
You still own that house in Albuquerque. Is that a small enough town?
That’s true, I do. Maybe I’ll run for mayor someday.
Odenkirk is living there. That’s one vote.
It’s funny. Every time I’ve even entertained this idea, I remember that I couldn’t do any of it without talking to my wife. And I can already see her reaction. She’s just going to shake her head and say, “You’re out of your mind.”
“Can’t you go back to getting fat for movie roles?”
[Laughs] Right? That’s at least a little less traumatic.
Does she like living in L.A., or would she rather be on some secluded ranch in Montana?
She’s not a ranch girl, not in the least. We were both raised in southern California. I wouldn’t mind not being in Los Angeles, though. I’ve been here for many, many years. The density of it is not very conducive to harmony, at least for me.
Would you describe yourself as mostly happy?
I would, yes. Why, do I seem unhappy?
No, but sometimes the more brilliant the actor, the bigger the demons. Guys like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams seemed happy from the outside.
I sometimes wonder, not whether I’m clinically depressed but why I work so hard. I’ve never worked more in my life. I have more opportunities now than I’ve ever had, and I’m able to pick and choose, but I just want it all. I want to experience it all. I’m getting better at saying no. I hear about something and I go, “What’s that about? I should try that.”
Didn’t you once dabble in -Scientology?
That was back in the 1980s. I had a friend who was a Scientologist. He recommended a class, and I was like, “Fine, I’ll go check it out.” It was at one of the Scientology centers in L.A., I think in the Valley. It was pretty good, a communications class, I think. So I took one more class; I forget what it was about. They wanted me to continue, obviously, but I was like, “Nah, I got what I needed. Thanks!”
You got the gist of it?
Yeah, I got the basic idea. It was helpful, actually. And then I was, “Okay, I tried that. What’s next?” I think I tried EST after that.
You sound like Scientology’s worst -nightmare.
I just don’t have an addictive personality. I’m more interested in what else there is to learn. What’s next? Transcendental meditation? Tantric yoga? Oh, I want to try that!
So you don’t have any -demons?
I have demons. I have anger issues. I have abandonment issues. I’m working through that. Running helps a lot. I like to run. It’s a way to expel the tension and anxiety and toxicity, whether physical or emotional.
Is that your way of chasing away demons?
[Laughs] I don’t chase my demons. They chase me.