A couple of days ago, I posted an article titled “John Noble: The Best Television Actor You’ve Never Heard Of.” The article looked at the unrecognized talents of John Noble, Walter Bishop of Fringe. Upon reading the post again, I became inspired to continue to inform readers of the great television performances they may be missing. The posts will be tagged as spotlight posts and will eventually extent to television creators, movie actors and movie directors. Today, however, I’m going to take a look at another television phenomenon: Bryan Cranston.
Malcolm in the Middle will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first television show that I watched the premiere of weekly. I know how nerdy that sounds but I love television and Malcolm in the Middle taught me that I could watch a brand new episode of my favorite shows every week. A snowball effect is the only way to describe the result of the realization. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was watching a performance by a television great.
In all fairness, at the time, most people didn’t think of Bryan Cranston as a multi-faceted television actor. He did get some recognition in the form of three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. The nominations were given for his portrayal of Hal, the spastic, comedic father in a constantly down on their luck family. Cranston played the part brilliantly, barreling through scenes like a whirlwind of comedic insanity. Cranston played the role so well that people began to see only Hal when they saw Cranston. Cranston became pigeonholed.
Just because he was pigeonholed does NOT mean Cranston is or was a bad actor. The only thing the term denotes is that the world thought he could only play Hal or another similar, crazy, spastic father. Escaping from a pigeonhole accusation is a very difficult thing for an actor to do, especially since viewers expect the actor to fill one, very specific role. Brian Cranston didn’t just escape his pigeonhole accusation; he completely destroyed it and proved, as Walter White, that he can play any character he wants.
It was an odd choice when AMC cast Cranston as the dying chemist turned meth cooker on their hit show Breaking Bad. How could the world possibly believe that Hal was cooking and selling crystal meth? From the moment Cranston appeared on the show, he proved his acting genius. Walt is the polar opposite of Hal, a timid man that is obsessed with providing for his family. When he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Walt turns to the thing he knows best to leave as much money for his family as possible: science. Using his chemistry knowledge, Walt manufactures the purest form of meth on the market and jumps into the deep end of the drug world.
Not only is it amazing that Cranston can play the opposite of Hal but Cranston brilliantly portrays Walt as an ever changing character. Full of fear, turmoil, pain and guilt, Walt adapts and grows during every episode. The depth of raw emotion Cranston is able to bring to the character is simply astonishing. Walt desperately attempts to acclimate to the dark world of drugs all while trying to keep the positive aspects of his life clean and untouched. Somehow, Cranston makes it seem easy to bring the complex character to life.
Cranston has proven himself a master actor, easily feeling at home in comedy or drama. An actor who I first assumed to be a one trick pony, Cranston has taken the character of Walt White to amazing heights. From 2008-2010, Cranston earned three consecutive, well deserved Emmy’s for his portrayal of Walt in Breaking Bad. Cranston is one of the most talented actors on television right now and needs to continue to be recognized as such.