By Matt Patches, Hollywood.com Staff
If you were wise, you learned to be a Bryan Cranston fan a decade during his sidesplitting Malcolm in the Middle years. If you were even wiser, you already knew him his diverse TV career in the '90s, which included highlights like From the Earth to the Moon and Seinfeld. But perhaps those credits slipped by. No matter: if pop culture is on your radar in any shape or form, you're aware of Cranston's complete 180 degree career turn courtesy of the dark, dangerous AMC drama Breaking Bad. As the cancer-stricken, teacher-turned-meth-cook Walter White, Cranston reinvented his on-screen persona and quickly became one of Hollywood's most in-demand character actors. The actor will appear in six films in 2012, including this summer's Total Recall, which pits him against Colin Farrell as the villainous Cohaagen.
On the set of Total Recall, Hollywood.com sat down with the actor to discuss his latest role, what it takes to play the bad guy in a major Hollywood tentpole, the physical demand of going mano a mano Farrell and how the latest incarnation of the story compares to the classic film from the '90s:
How his Cohaagen differs from the original Cohaagen:
Bryan Cranston: Ronny Cox? You see the hair, I have a naturally scary face. When I was raised in the '70s, when I was a teenager growing up, there was no sunscreen. I was out in the sun, on the beach. And I'm a motorcycle rider so I'm in the wind, this is the result of that. You get crag, a lot of crag. It can lend itself, and my voice is on the lower register for the most part. So it's kind of built in that way, I didn't want to be that guy. That mustache twisting guy. So my message was, I want wavy hair (this is a little sprayed right now). I want light hair and have it kind of wavy. I said 'John Edwards,' I want a John Edwards softness to him, so it's not 'here comes the bad guy!' I wanted to change that up and approach it that way. Because what he's doing is already dastardly. I don't think you want to present that. Ronny Cox wore dark clothing, dark suits, and that sort of thing. I wanted to go more natty and dress in these Tom Ford suits that I'm wearing. All nice and tailored. All of my suits and shirts everything is by Tom Ford. And it feels so good, it feels crisp when you wear it. It does change you when you wear something like that. It makes me feel stronger in a way. Not in a demonic sort of way, just more powerful. If I remember correctly I think Ronny had his hair kind of slicked back, I just wanted to take this approach. Otherwise you're just doing something that's derivative.
The diabolical motivations of his version of Cohaagen:
Cranston: Oh I don't know, world domination. You know it's funny, because it's kind of what I'm learning as a character on Breaking Bad now, that when a person is poor there is no sensibility of greed that comes to the surface because it's never going to happen for them. But when a person is exposed to power and money and riches and fame and that sort of thing. That's when you see the true character of a person come up. When they have control and they have choices, and they choose to do the right thing, that's what we all call character building. Right? There's a lot of people who get a taste of that and it's like a drug. That's the way that I see Cohaagen; he doesn't want to kill millions of people, but he will if he has to. He honestly feels that, and this is part of the ego of him, that his way is the best way. And these people, 'believe me, trust me I'm doing this for all of you, yes you're the proletariat but I will take care of you as long as you stay in line. And you'll all have jobs. Our employment rate is almost next to nothing, what empire can say that?'
On action scenes and duking it out with Colin Farrell:
Cranston: The biggest thing, especially for my age, is endurance. Being able to just physically withstand that kind of workout daily, for hours no end. On Breaking Bad coming up there's a fight sequence that Jessie and Walt have. And we fought for two days. It was a big, big fight sequence. Even when you're faking punches [Throws a punch and yells BAM BAM POW] you're still snapping your neck. You're still jerking forward, you're still falling down. Even though you have pads, your body is still slamming. And you do that for twelve hours, for two days, I had a masseuse come over to my place in Albuquerque and I said, 'I am sore everywhere work as long as you can and get as deep as you can.' Two hours, it was one of those [smacks hands on the table]. Just pounding me. I put on serene music, but it was more 'AAAAAAHHHHH!' It was [makes gasping noises].
It's like a dance, to choreograph a fight is like a dance. It's very specific. You have to carefully plan it out. We rehearsed it in slow motion. Then we do half speed. Then half speed for the camera when it's set up. Then we do a full speed rehearsal. Then we do one once everybody gets the dance.
Next: What Cranston Learned from Watching the First Total Recall[PAGEBREAK]
Kate Beckinsale as his muscle, Lori:
Cranston: Obviously she's the brains and I'm the beauty. I love it. When I first heard that Kate and Jessica [Biel] were in it, for some reason I thought they would do the other role. I don't know why. Then I realized, oh that's interesting. It's so delicious and I know Kate is having as great time as am I to play the bad guy. They're always the best written roles, I'm telling you it's so much fun. But there is that trap that you can get into, with that mustache twisting bad guy. You don't want to do that. I don't want to do that desk pounding 'GET HIM!' that type of thing 'Rarrrh!' My approach to this is that Quaid/Hauser was a dear friend of mine, and I looked upon him almost like a son. So I desperately tried to do anything within my power, to reign him in. And the way I'm playing it, and hopefully it will come off this way, is that he's like a rebellious teenager. He just has to have a little tough love, be disciplined and he'll come around. And when he comes around we'll be back together again and I'm looking forward to that. And he doesn't, and he doesn't, and we have to punish him further.
Injecting comedy into Total Recall:
Cranston: There is some cheeky fun to Total Recall. There have certainly been some takes in which I have been more buoyant then others. And then some you drop down and get menacing. There's a range in there. To give that range, and I'm a good character to be able to give that, some of the other characters they really can't get too cheeky. So Len will be able to go into editing and feel it out. It's like 'Oh boy we really need something to lighten up at this moment' and maybe take the take that is a little more fun. Conversely, it may be the decision later on that we're in the thick of it now, let's go strong and drive it home. But I think options is what I think is the best thing to have. They'll probably do some test screenings and see what comes of that.
Comedy, I love it. Not only is it fun to see in its finished version, but the making of it is always much more fun than doing drama because you're laughing you're having a good time.
Hints at Cohaagen futuristic tech:
Cranston: Yes, there are a few weapons that we've been playing with. That's coming up actually. I don't have a lair. Whereas Ronny Cox you saw his place, and that sort of thing. You catch me on it's more holographic than anything. It's almost like he's a moving target. You don't know where he's going to be or where he's going to show up. And now you have instant visuals through the hand thing. You can bring on screens, stretch it and open it [plays with an imaginary touch screen in the air] touch certain things and woos!
Watching the original Total Recall for the first time:
Cranston: I thought it was really cool because at the time it was groundbreaking. There were things that they were doing that was pretty amazing. I didn't remember a lot of elements in it, so I was curious and I rented it and saw it again. But yeah there was some interesting fun stuff that they did. We have several elements that we extrapolated from that movie. And then a lot of our own. A lot is a new fresh take on it. It is a remake, but it's really different. It's not quite at all like what they were doing. What's interesting, ironically, was when I got it my friend who works with me on [Breaking Bad], Dean Norris, came to me and said he was in the original. He plays Hank on the show. He was in the subterranean ground he was the one who had the line, 'You got a lot of nerve showing your face around here.' 'I could say the same about you,' or something like that. ?
On writing and directing his own movies:??
Cranston: I wrote a little thing that I directed, too, many years ago, called Last Chance. A very linear, simple story, romantic drama. I just really didn't know what I was doing, really. Just going on your instincts in some craft, and it turned out really cute. I had to stop editing when I ran out of money. We didn't have a lot of money to start with. But, the process is fantastic, and the storytelling is the same. You're still being true to that story, and tell a good story. And it is a good story. I'm proud of it. And I wrote something that I adapted from a novel that I handed to Mark Johnson, our executive producer and feature film producer. He loved it. So, he said, "Let's do this." So, I'll direct that as well. Maybe next year. It depends. I don't know where Breaking Bad is gonna fit into this. I know we're going to go at least one more year, but I don't know when we'll start or what that's going to do the scheduling.
It's based on a novel called Home Again by David Wiltse. I'll change the title of it. It's basically a very strong father/son story and a murder mystery. An FBI agent who suddenly quits the department and takes his son and his wife and moves back to his hometown of Cascade, Nebraska, to rekindle family values and pay attention now, because he's been working for the FBI for so many years that he's been home sporadically. His son is now sixteen, very sensitive, and looks upon his father like sort of a stranger. 'I don't really know how to behave, and mom and I have gotten along fine without him, and now there's this presence.' So there's all that going on. Then, there's a murder that happens in the little town that they move to, which kills his whole stance on 'Things are better in small towns!' Things unravel, and basically, the father and son come together at the end and save each other, emotionally and literally.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]