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What made Bryan Cranston go from police work to acting? Girls.

(l to r) Bryan Cranston stars as undercover U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur and John Leguizamo as his partner Emir Abreu in THE INFILTRATOR, a Broad Green Pictures release.
(l to r) Bryan Cranston stars as undercover U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur and John Leguizamo as his partner Emir Abreu in THE INFILTRATOR, a Broad Green Pictures release.
Liam Daniel/Broad Green Pictures

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Between playing the goofy dad on the Fox comedy, “Malcolm in the Middle” and the science teacher-turned drug kingpin in the AMC show “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston is a very familiar face on our TV screens.

Even before that, he played the recurring character of the dentist on "Seinfeld." But last year he was an Academy Award nominee for playing Dalton Trumbo in the feature film “Trumbo”; and this year he has a whole lot more film projects in the works.

His most recent is HBO’s “All the Way,” in which he plays President Lyndon Johnson.

Bryan Cranston joined The Frame to discuss his life post-"Breaking Bad" and his thoughts and reflections on a career in acting.

Interview Highlights: 

When you're saying 'yes' to something is it the same process as it has always been or does even the decision of saying yes to something now differ than what it might have been even a couple years ago?

Saying yes is the knee-jerk reaction that most actors have.

Because they're so used to being rejected, right?

Well because you need the job. When you first start out and you have to pay your rent, car payments and classes, you just do it. You do anything. Each time you do something you take something away. And not just a job and some money, but you start building a reputation working with people who like your work. You hope for the best and that it's an interesting character you can put on your reel. Pretty soon you're building a career. When you get to the point where you have the great fortune to be able to say no. That's a turning point. It really is. And it's hard to do that. Now, a lot of offers are coming my way and each one has merit and you hear the passion behind the writer or the producers coming to you hoping you're going to say yes to this. But you can't say yes to everything.

You've done the role of LBJ on stage, what is the motivation to do it again for film?

The relationship that an actor has with an audience on stage is unmatched. There's an ebb and a flow. Just as you now nodded your head to communicate that you understand and I continue on with what I'm talking about, it's the same with an audience in the theater. They gasp, they awe or they lean forward. They watch with intensity and you can feel their energy. You can feel whether they're with you or not. You can't match that on film. But film offers an intimacy that even the stage can't offer. There's something about a shot coming in just on the eyes and an ability to downplay it so low in a real honest whisper. You can't do that on stage. 

That is to say, if you did your performance of LBJ from the stage presentation in the HBO movie, it would be over the top?

Yeah, you have to dial it down. I was concerned about that so I went to Jay Roach, the director, who also directed me in Trumbo, and I said give me a signal. Let's keep a lid on it. I don't want to be too big. These are big characters so you can't completely squash them.

Was there anyone growing up who believed in your dream?

My father was an actor as was my mother. They met in an acting class in the late 40s or early 50s then got married, had children and moved out to the valley where they had a somewhat normal life for a while. Then the business got the better of him and he wasn't capable of maintaining a healthy outlook toward it. I think he needed and wanted more. I think I learned from that to temper any expectations. So my goal when I was 22 years old --and I decided to become an actor then-- was to if I could just make a living. To this day, my proudest accomplishment is that I've made a living as an actor since I was 25 years old.

Were your parents were supportive of you being an actor?

They were supportive in their own way. They were long divorced and there was some discord between them, but, like every child, you have to push away and seek your own independence and find an ability that you have. I was going to be a police officer for the longest time. When I was sixteen I joined a police explorers club and I thought I was pretty good at it so that's what I'll do. Then I realized that it wasn't what I loved. What I loved to do was act. So then I made this credo in my head at 21 years old that I should pursue something that I was in love with and try to be good at as opposed to something I was good at but not in love with. 

And then what was the switch?

I'm not particularly proud of what it was in absolute candor. It was Girls. Girls flipped the switch. I was in college taking police science courses as my major and as an elective course took acting classes and discovered that the girls in the theater arts were really a lot prettier--

Than the ones in the police department?

--than the ones in the police department and far more plentiful than the ones in the police science courses. So every acting class there were ten girls to one guy it was like, Oh My Gosh this is nirvana. You do a scene where you have to kiss a girl and it's like this is ridiculous! I can't believe this! So police science went by the wayside and I realized, well as fun this is if I'm actually going to pursue this I better learn all that I can. 

What's your advice to a beginning actor?

My daughter is an actor just recently out of college as a theater major. She's working on series now. She's a very independent woman and sought representation on her own and is doing the work. Hopefully the most she picked up from us was the value of placing the attention and focus on the work and everything else will fall in line. But I never specifically said you should do this or that. The best thing I tried to show her was the love I have for her mother. Hopefully with the relationships that she gets into, she'll see the dedicated relationship that her father and her mother have had for thirty years now. I heard that advice from Leo Buscaglia one time. Someone at a seminar in the 80s said, "I'm about to be a father. What's the best thing I could do for my child." Buscaglia said, "love the mother." You realize the depth and width of what that means and everything that child will learn by observing that. 

And what did you tell her about rejection and the fact that the actor's life is like being a professional baseball player-- 70% of the time you're going to strike out or not get on base?

It's not about rejection. It's about doing your work. If you focus on doing your work and you did your best on every audition. That is your victory and you have to believe that. You have to walk away knowing you did everything you wanted to do. After that, it's out of your hands so you shouldn't even think about it.

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