Versatile actor also shows he can do comedy, sci-fi and, of course, "Breaking Bad."
The best way to describe Bryan Cranston's career is eclectic.
You don't even have to look at his whole résumé to get a sense of the variety of roles he's played. Just look at what he's done so far this year.
Along with lending his voice to the animated offerings "The Simpsons," "The Cleveland Show," "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and "Archer," Cranston was in the sci-fi feature films "Total Recall" and "John Carter," plus the movie musical "Rock of Ages."
In a dramatic turn, he stars in Ben Affleck's political thriller "Argo." He plays the assistant deputy director of the CIA, Jack O'Donnell, boss to the agent (Affleck) who puts in motion an outlandish plan to use a fake movie production to help six Americans escape from Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979. The movie is based on actual events.
In researching the role, Cranston was struck by the CIA credo to never leave anyone behind. That was a major key to how he played the role.
Affleck had a hard time finding the right person to play O'Donnell. He didn't want a generic performance and needed an actor with gravitas to play the role properly.
Cranston liked that the character wasn't the standard CIA boss who always doubts his top agent's abilities.
"What resonated with me was this was a lot like the relationship Jack Warden had with Paul Newman in 'The Verdict.' It's sort of paternal. Sort of fraternal. Like an older brother you could argue with but in the end you would always know he had your back," Cranston says.
He uses the same description for Affleck as a director.
In the past, Cranston described Affleck in terms of how good he was among actors turned directors. Now, Cranston no longer prefaces what he says with the acting part and just heralds Affleck as a first-rate director.
Cranston, who's been a working actor for more than three decades, likes the passion and compassion Affleck brings to the job. He's never seen Affleck get flustered, even when swamped by the demands of being at the helm of a film.
No discussion with Cranston would be complete without talking about the role that has earned him the most praise and accolades.
"Do you mean 'Malcolm in the Middle?'" Cranston asks in deadpan fashion.
That Fox comedy can't compare to his powerful performance of chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-maker Walter White in the much-heralded "Breaking Bad." Cranston will head back in early December to shoot the series' final eight episodes.
He's leaving a show that's won the hearts of viewers and critics with its gritty and often brutal look at life in a drug world. Cranston has no regrets, because he wants the series to come to the conclusion that creator Vince Gilligan wants.
"Vince deserves to have the show end his way. That's why I can walk away from it. Historically, actors know that we are vagabonds. We go from project to project, from town to town, to hold out our hat and collect the shillings before we move on," Cranston says. "That being said, I hope that Vince feels the show should come to a natural completion and that he's satisfied."
Cranston has no idea how "Breaking Bad" will end but whatever the conclusion, it will determine his future association with the character. If there's not complete finality (and in this brutal world that's always a possibility), Cranston would be willing to return to the role that's won him three Emmys for a big-screen version.
That possibility won't be known for months; the final episodes are schedule to air on AMC in 2013. In the meantime, Cranston keeps piling on a variety of different acting credits.