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Bryan Cranston Talks ‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and the Meaning of Underwear

Bryan Cranston Talks ‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ and the Meaning of Underwear (photo)

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While Bryan Cranston has risen to the ranks of super stardom for his three time Emmy Award-winning portrayal of chemistry teacher-turned-meth-maker Walter White on AMC’s hit series “Breaking Bad,” here at IFC we know him better as affable dad Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle.” We chatted with Bryan about what parenting tips he gleaned from his time on “Malcolm,” roller skating, and, of course, the true meaning of tighty whitey underwear.

Why should people tune in for Malcolm in the Middle?

It’s just good story telling. It’s funny, but it’s also poignant. It has heart, but then it goes absolutely insane. I truly believe that Malcolm is one of those rare shows that make people laugh and feel good. It’s honest. I have such pride connected to Malcolm I just feel so pleased and fortunate to have been on that show and I hope people really enjoy it.

When you first read the script for Malcolm, what did you find appealing about Hal?

I actually didn’t. When I read the pilot episode it was really all about Lois, the mom, and Malcolm, the son. So the show was really from Malcolm’s perspective and about the dynamo that Lois was. My character had four, maybe five, lines and I didn’t get a sense of him at all or where he was and I didn’t know what to do with it. But, I did know that the script was really well written and was a terrific story and I was curious to see what can I do. I sat with it for a while and it was really like five lines.

I talked to my wife about it and I finally said the only thing I can think of is to fulfill the place in the story that is not being told. That is, what would make a good mate to Lois? What is she lacking? What did she need because she is the Sergeant-at-Arms? She’s tough so why don’t I start doing the opposite. She’s not afraid of anything so Hal should be completely fearful. She’s insightful. So Hal is obtuse. I started drawing those opposites and the character started to come together.

One thing that was not working in the guy was that his children were coming in and he’s sitting there reading the paper and not listening to his wife or his children. But it won’t work if he doesn’t love his children and his wife. So how do you justify him not paying attention to them? The distinction with Hal is that he’s distracted, not disinterested. He is so harried at work that he would take these little mind vacations, but then he would snap out of his fog and be startled by what was going on. He didn’t purposefully ignore his family, but he can’t help but take his little brain vacations and then would snap out of it.

So Hal came a long way from what you read in the script.

He did. It wasn’t very clear and I had many ideas about what would be a good complement to Lois. I talked to [show creator] Linwood Boomer and I pitched him on the idea of a guy who absolutely adored his wife and loved her more than anything, because it just wouldn’t have worked otherwise. It was important to the characters and then later Lois was able to show that side and the wonderful loving marriage that they had. It was important for America to see that it wasn’t this kind of crass bitching-at-each-other relationship. They truly loved each other.

As a parent in real life, what parenting tips did you learn from Malcolm, if any?

I did. Malcolm in the Middle was a beacon of light to all parents across the world. You just had to do better than Hal and Lois and you were a good parent. You could just watch Malcolm and do the opposite of what they did and then you should be okay. But despite that — the underlying theme that wasn’t apparent, but was couched — was that no matter what, we had dinner together every night. We were around that table. As crazy as the family was, love was at the core of that family. They loved each other. That’s something that subliminally made an impact with our viewers. No matter what was going on, they were always tethered by love.

After spending hours a day on set with kids, did you start feeling parental towards them?

Very much so. They grew up with me as their “dad.” Christopher Masterson was the adult and he was only 18. Little Erik Per Sullivan was only 7 when we started. Spending that much time on the set we really started to feel like a family. We would goof around but we also had to get work done, so we would be goofing around and then I would crack the whip and would be, “Hey hey knock it off.” It was very much a parental-son relationship. I love them dearly.

After raising kids on a show, do you feel invested in their future endeavors?

I hope I get a percentage of their future endeavors. Because without me they wouldn’t be in a position to make any money. I’m joking, of course. It would be fun to see them all succeed. I really hope they do.

The cast of Malcolm comes across as a big group of pranksters, did you play jokes on set?

All the time. It was that kind of show and that kind of temperament. The show was about jokes and pranks and gags and the trouble that kids would get into. So on set, we were always getting into trouble and it was either on purpose or accidental. We would have things like food fights that were written into the show and you would get carried away with it. I feel so lucky to have been a part of that.

Did you do all the skating in Malcolm or did you have a stunt double?

I did most of it. There were just two parts that I didn’t do, which is when I left my feet. There was a cartwheel and a handstand, which I did not do, but everything else I did. It was fun we had a week and a half to learn the routine and start skating. It’s fantastic what you can do with practice.

After Malcolm in the Middle ended, did you find you were being typecast as a silly dad? How long did it take to break free from that mold?

I could have been, but it’s up to the actor not to let that happen. It’s human nature to see someone do something and say oh he was fun and great as a silly dad so let’s offer him this role as a silly dad. So I had a couple offers to do silly dad comedies, but I turned them down. I just had to have faith that something would come along. I just didn’t want to be redundant

Do you see similarities between Walt and Hal other than both wear tighty whitey underwear?

Well the tighty whitey reigns supreme. It still lives on. When I saw that in the script in Breaking Bad, I brought it to Vince Gilligan and pointed out that I wore it for seven years on Malcolm and he said, “Oh forget it go find something else.” So I started going through wardrobe and while I was doing that, I realized that when he had Walt in tighty whitey, he did it for a reason. It meant something and I wanted to get to that root of that. I chose tighty whitey’s on Malcolm because Hal …

…You chose to wear it?

I did, because it’s funny. A grown man in tighty whiteys, wearing them is funny. You put him in boxers and it’s just not funny. So that was an easy choice. But for Breaking Bad it was harder. I had to ask, why would a grown man wear a boy’s underwear? Hal wore them because he always wore them and it never occurred to him to wear anything else. Hes still a boy. Walter White wore them because he stopped growing. The underwear became indicative of Walter White’s stunted growth. He just stopped caring. Hal wouldn’t think of wearing any thing else. With Walt it’s an I-don’t-care thing. An I’m-too-depressed-to-think-beyond-that thing. Too depressed to think about what I’m more comfortable wearing. He’s given up.

Does season 4 Walt still wear tighty whiteys?

Now it’s such an iconic thing, but he might change. We might see him go a different route …but then again we may not. You know, if we drew a Venn Diagram, the tighty whiteys might be the thing in the middle that connects the two shows.

Who would you rather have as a dad, Walt or Hal?

Hal, definitely Hal. I wouldn’t want to be put in danger, which is what Walt has done. If that happened in Malcolm it would have been by accident. That did happen occasionally, but Hal had a sweet nature and he was a sensitive loving caring man and I had sympathy for him.

Do you think moving on from Walter White will be as challenging as it was moving on from Malcolm?

I haven’t really thought about that yet, but like the decision-making after Malcolm, I too have to keep that in mind when leaving Breaking Bad. It’s up to the actor to make sure they don’t get typecast.

Would you consider returning to comedy after such a successful turn in drama?

I hope so. Every actor wants opportunities. I want to look at what’s available be it comedy on stage or in comedic films, I definitely have my eye out for it.

I understand you’re going to be the voice of Commissioner Gordon, on the upcoming animated film “Batman: Year One.” Are you prepared for legions of comic fans to critique your performance?

That’s the nature of what we do. If you don’t have the stomach for that then you need to consider changing careers. That being said, I don’t really listen to criticisms. I do these things to please myself and if it passes muster for me then that’s enough. I’m only disappointed if I fail myself. I like to hear that its affected people and I’m not adverse to reading criticism, but I don’t pay to much to it, because I’m not doing it for them.

Finally, Portlandia star Fred Armisen had one question for you: Did you get the bottle of sparkling apple juice?

No! I’m still waiting. Did you get it?

Back-to-back episodes of “Malcolm in the Middle” air on IFC weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

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GIF Giving

The Funniest Gifs From the Maron Season Premiere

Watch the Maron season premiere now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Last night, Marc Maron returned in all his haggard glory in the darkly hilarious season premiere of Maron. In case you’re not caught up, Marc has fallen into a downward spiral of drugs and addiction, having lost his house, his podcast, his cats, and the ability to say he doesn’t live in a storage unit. And only someone like Marc can make the situation laugh-out-loud funny.

Here are the 5 funniest GIFs from last night’s Maron premiere, which you can watch right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

1. Dave Anthony, Professional Truth Teller.

Maron Not Okay


2. Storage locker etiquette is important.

Maron Storage Locker


3. We’re sure Chris Hardwick would love to have Marc back on Talking Dead.

Maron Dumb Show


4. We can’t unsee Dave in that apron.

Maron Shit Bucket


5. The first step is listening. Marc has a lot of steps to go.

Maron Shut Up

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Marc Maron, Craig Anton – Maron – Season 4, Episode 3

The Reviews Are In

Critics Are Raving About the New Season of Maron

Watch the Maron season premiere right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Last night saw the return of Marc Maron, more than a little worse for wear, in the pitch-black premiere of Maron’s fourth season. Having fallen back into addiction, Marc’s lost his house, his podcast, and even his cats, and is now residing in a storage unit.

Maron

Part two of the double-shot premiere found our favorite curmudgeon dealing with the assorted characters in the Clean Living Rehab Center. The season’s heavy themes and unflinching performances earned much praise from fans and critics.

Check out what people said about last night’s premiere of Maron. And in case you missed the premiere, you can watch it now on IFC.com and the IFC app

Joe Berkowitz of Co.Create: “For the first time ever, Maron has veered way off the course of its creator’s timeline — into a chaotic alternate reality — and it’s the boldest creative leap in the series’ run yet…This particular downward trajectory provides a window into a world where the actual Marc Maron ends up hitting rock bottom. This world turns out to offer darkly comic possibilities, such as a rehab facilitator trying to get an in-patient Maron to be a guest on his podcast.”

Jason Tabrys of Uproxx: “[Whether] this is the beginning of the end for Maron, or just the start of a new phase, the fourth season’s off to an intriguing start that should make for compelling viewing.”

Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times: “[The] premiere does effectively, yet comedically, show two truths of substance abuse: Addicts need enablers who fuel their problem, either deliberately or inadvertently, and most need someone to intervene to help them climb out of the pit.”

Vikram Murthi of AV Club: “By shifting the series’ premise from a man struggling to maintain success to a man desperately trying to get it back, Maron has found a whole new energy…Maron doesn’t bring Marc down to a low point just for kicks but to demonstrate what happens when people forget what’s important and succumb to their worst selves. The fourth season effectively channels the raw vitality of [the WTF podcast’s] early days, when Maron was trying to dig his way out of a hole by embracing the world around him instead of pushing it away. ‘I’m gonna be okay, right?’ Maron asks Dave at the clinic. ‘Or not,’ Dave replies honestly. ‘But you have to try.’ Maron’s entire career has been about trying, and Maron’s fourth season succeeds by placing that idea at its center.”

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Bridesmaids Roommates Matt Lucas 1920

Roommate Not Wanted

The 10 Worst Roommates In Pop Culture History

Find out how Marc deals with his new roommate on the season premiere of Maron available now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Last night’s season premiere of Maron found Marc’s disastrous downward spiral landing him in rehab with an annoying roommate who breaks into rhymes whenever he feels like it. Played in an inspired bit of casting by real life celebrity rapper Chet Hanks, Trey makes Marc’s life a living hell by taking his stuff and doing unspeakable things to his bed. Check out some other insufferable roommates from pop culture below, and be sure to catch up on the two-episode Maron season premiere on IFC.com and the IFC app to see how Marc deals with his new rapping bunkmate.

10. Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim is the ultimate geek heroic fantasy. In that he’s living in a constructed fantasy world while ignoring all the people who have to deal with his failures. Saintly roommate Wallace Wells offers rent, food, and even his own bed to his eternally immature friend who rewards him by whining and leaving clothes on the floor.


9. Hooch, Turner & Hooch

Turner and Hooch

Nobody likes being forced to share their home. This goes double when you’re a police officer, the work is a murder investigation, and the unwelcome guest is a dog spraying more fluid than a leak in the Hoover Dam.


8. Floyd, True Romance

True Romance

Perfectly portrayed by Brad Pitt, Floyd is the worst kind of stoner roommate. He never answers the door, and barely moves from his position on the couch. Even worse, he rats out your pals’ location to a tough-looking stranger who comes to the door without a second thought. Not to “condescend” to you Floyd, but you’re kind of a tool. You probably never share that honey bear bong.


7. Gil and Brynn, Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is already at a low point when her roommates Gil (Matt Lucas) and Brynn (Rebel Wilson) ask her to move out. To make matters worse, the tattoo-obsessed Brynn isn’t even Annie’s roommate — her brother has been letting her stay rent free so she can wear Annie’s clothes and read her journal.


6. Eddie, Friends

You might remember Eddie (played by the always reliably deadpan Adam Goldberg) as Chandler’s roommate who moved in after Joey moved into his own place with his big time soap opera money. Eddie proved to be a complete psycho, accusing Chandler of sleeping with his ex-girlfriend Tilly and watching his new roomie while he sleeps. In the end, Chandler tells Eddie that Hannibal Lector would make a better roommate. Could he be any creepier??


5. Bevers, Broad City

Bevers Broad City

What’s worse than an annoying roommate who eats all your food, tries on your clothes, and never seems to leave the apartment? How about a guy who isn’t even technically your roommate, but in fact the boyfriend of your roommate who is never around. If you’re going to hang out in your underwear all day, the least you could do is pay rent, dude.


4. Chris Knight, Real Genius

Real Genius

Freshman Mitch Taylor faces every college student’s worst nightmare: a pushy roommate. Chris Knight might be a genius, but within the first minute of their acquaintance he’s thrown out Mitch’s clothes, talked about his genitals, and smashed the dorm-room window.


3. Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple

Odd Couple

The Odd Couple defined the idea of mismatched roommates. Uptight neat-freak Felix and easygoing slob Oscar were meant to be just as bad as each other, but anyone who’s ever lived with other people knows that the lazy one is always the worst. At least the obsessive is keeping things clean while annoying you.


2. Roberto, Futurama

Futurama

Fry’s regular robotic roommate is an indestructibly amoral freeloader who’d sell Fry’s kidneys if he could think of a suitably lazy way to extract them. But Bender is the deity of domestic bliss compared to Roberto, the stabbing-obsessed psychobot who shares Fry’s room in the robot asylum.


1. Hedra Carlson, Single White Female

Single White Female

Hedra Carlson takes “drinking the last of the milk” to the ultimate extreme, stealing her roommate’s boyfriend, identity, and takes a stab at stealing her life. Well, it’s more of a butcher’s hook slash than a stab. Which makes it all the worse.

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