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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

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

Five Reasons to Watch “Dead Set” Tonight

Five Reasons to Watch “Dead Set” Tonight (photo)

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In the hit horror mini-series “Dead Set,” Britain has been hit by an epic problem. The dead are returning to life and attacking the living. The people they kill get up and start killing. And it’s spreading like wildfire. Within two days, 80 percent of the population is dead. No one knows how this problem started or how widespread it has become, because there are no news channels anymore.

There are few people in the world who aren’t worried about this living nightmare and they are all contestants on the reality TV game show, “Big Brother.” Cocooned in the safety of the Big Brother house, they’re blissfully unaware of the horrific events unfolding in the outside world… until eviction night when the walking dead descend on the studio.

In a cruel reflection of the game show they were cast in, one by one they fall victim – devoured by the hungry, unthinking masses outside. Staying alive requires teamwork – a tricky job when you’re a group specifically selected by TV producers to not get along and drive each other crazy.

If that’s not enough reason to tune in tonight at 8 p.m. ET, here are five reasons to watch “Dead Set” tonight:

1. Zombies vs. Reality TV

You know you’ve kinda always wanted to see your favorite reality star eaten alive by or maybe dating? the undead.

2. Zombies vs. Bad Bosses

Yeah yeah if your employees turn into zombies you should fight back, but this guy’s a bit of a jackass about it:

3. Zombies vs. The Police

Even our bravest turn lily-livered when faced with the undead.

4. Zombies vs. Fresh Air

It sure is hard to get outside when the walking dead have taken over your backyard and your front yard and pretty much everywhere else in the world.

5. Zombies!!!!

“Dead Set” marathon begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET. It also airs on Halloween, Oct. 31st at noon ET

What’s on Indie Screams This Week

What’s on Indie Screams This Week (photo)

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It’s the last week of Indie Screams, so we brought out all the stops. We’re going to scare your pants off so hard you won’t find them until Christmas.

Here’s what to watch this week on Indie Screams:

Wednesday

Double doses of terror at sea when “Open Water” and “Open Water 2: Adrift” air back to back beginning. These movies are so scary you’ll be a landlubber for life. Grab a life preserver and see you at 8 p.m. ET.

Thursday

During a boring, routine weekend, young Glen (Stephen Dorff) and his best buddy, Terry (Louis Tripp), discover a strange hole in the backyard. Consulting one of his heavy-metal record albums, Glen comes to the conclusion that “The Gate” is actually the Gate to Hell. Offering a sacrifice in the form of a dead dog, Glen further opens the portals of Hades, through which pass some of the most hideous demons imaginable. Tune in at 9:30 a.m. and/or at 4:15 p.m. ET or you’re next.

Friday

In Kingdom of the Spiders a swarm of huge tarantulas, enraged by the misuse of pesticides, try to take over their part of the world. Dr. Robert Hansen (William Shatner), a local Arizona veterinarian joins forces with entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) to keep the spider population under control. It’s a cult classic and favorite of several generations of giant insect horror film buffs. It starts at 4 p.m. ET.

Saturday

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” — or, rather, a homicidal boy in Stanley Kubrick’s eerie 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, “The Shining.” With wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and psychic son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in tow, frustrated writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as the winter caretaker at the opulently ominous, mountain-locked Overlook Hotel so that he can write in peace. Jack starts acting more and more erratically as isolation and writers’ block and some seriously bad ju ju set in. The nightmares start at 8 and again at 11 p.m. ET.

Sunday

Cabin Fever director Eli Roth skips the humor of his freshman feature and goes straight for the jugular in “Hostel.” It’s an unrelenting scare-fest about a pair of libidinous American backpackers seeking cheap thrills in the European countryside. Tune in at 9 p.m. ET or be tortured for eternity.

Monday

We have a full day of terror lined up as we celebrate Halloween a.k.a Pedophiles’ Christmas a.k.a. the best day of the year. The highlight of the day starts at noon ET with a full marathon of “Dead Set,” the mini-series that looks at what would (will?) happen when the zombie apocalypse takes down the set of Big Brother.

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