A quick look at Bryan Cranston’s IMDb profile will reveal that the character of Walter White, that he performed for the breakout TV series Breaking Bad, helped him fetch three Emmy and a Golden Globe (after having garnered nomination four times in the past) for acting.
These figures are the stuff that dreams are made of, as the very tag of ‘winner of Golden Globe award’ or ‘winner of Emmy Awards’ are almost like certificates and become lifetime tags.
Watch: Bryan Cranston wins an Emmy for Breaking Bad
Numerous stories abound the internet on the making of Breaking Bad – the now cult series about the descent of a man involved in the business of crystal meth. While stories concerning plot trivia from the series remain the favourite, after Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul became household names, people started taking interest in their personal life stories too. But not many know that Bryan Cranston was not the original choice for the role of Walter White for mandarins at AMC (a Sony subsidiary and the network on which the series was aired).
Not many know that Bryan Cranston was not the original choice for the role of Walter White for mandarins at AMC.
It was a Herculean effort for the series creator, Vince Gilligan, to convince AMC officials to on-board Bryan for the lead role. AMC officials were deeply sceptical about Cranston’s ability to pull off the role. It’s a different matter now that 12 years later, it’s simply unimaginable to think any other actor stepping into the role of Walter White save Bryan Cranston.
A Life in Parts
Bryan Cranston, in great detail, has mentioned about the casting of the lead role for Breaking Bad in his autobiography titled A Life in Parts. He mentions that right from day one, Vince was convinced about his histrionics but the network thought otherwise. The two names that AMC had zeroed in for the lead role were Matthew Broderick and John Cusack. Both declined the offer when they were approached.
Cranston in his autobiography mentions that the character of Walter White carried shades of Jekyll and Hyde and for some reason, he simply could not see the part of Mr Hyde in Matthew Broderick. With two candidates out of the fray, Vince’s task to convince officials at AMC to sign Cranston became somewhat easy. But still, it was not a smooth ride ahead. AMC officials simply could not think beyond the image of Bryan’s role as a clownish dad in Malcolm in the Middle. To them, his calibre was confined to just comedic roles.
The character of Walter White carried shades of Jekyll and Hyde.Bryan Cranston in his autobiography A Life in Parts
To convince them further, Vince Gilligan took the trouble to dig out an episode titled ‘Drive’ from X-Files. The episode appeared in the sixth season of the sci-fi series and had Bryan in the role of a racist who is later on helped by David Duchovny from inevitable death. This somehow helped guys at AMC to broaden their horizon but nonetheless they were still not fully convinced and thus requested Vince to look for more actors and conduct a proper audition. This time the names that made the rounds were Christian Slater, Paul McCrane, Adam Godley (who eventually played the role of Elliott Schwartz in Breaking Bad) and John Caroll Lynch.
Watch: Bryan Cranston discusses his Breaking Bad role
“If necessary, of course, I’d do the test and try to earn the role. But it was a risk. Even if you knock a test out of the park, you never know who might come in there and hit it harder and farther or who might already have the edge because of past relationships. And then the role just slips out of your hands. It happens,” is what Bryan mentions in his autobiography.
Taking a chance paid off
But so besotted he was with the role that to own it he thought of following the PR route. He called his agents at UTA (United Talent Agency represented him then) and discussed the idea of floating the news that he has been offered the pilot episode of series Nurses from the house of Fox Studios. The only thought behind making this confidential news public was to get the attention of AMC bosses. The agents nodded and informed that the information can definitely be leaked. Meanwhile, time was running out for Bryan to say yes or no to the role in Nurses and he had only five days to give them a definite answer. When nothing happened for the next five days, it was Bryan’s turn to inform his agents to decline the offer. Appearing for an audition now seemed a foregone conclusion and he started focussing all his energy on the impending test. But as luck would have it, the day he declined the offer for Nurses, he got a call from Sony’s casting head Dawn Steinberg informing that he has been selected for the role of Walter White.
Watch: The best Walter White quotes from Breaking Bad
But even before Bryan Cranston’s struggle to find a foothold in the series, the series itself went through many rough patches. The initial pitch for Breaking Bad by Vince was first submitted to Showtime which was subsequently rejected. Thereafter it made rounds of TNT and HBO and there too the series had no takers. Vince Gilligan, in one of his interviews, had mentioned that while HBO simply showed no interest even on the pitch idea, TNT despite loving the idea felt that a show about a drug dealer goes against the basic tenet of the network. Finally, it was FX which gave its go-ahead and soon work on the pilot show began but the series was again given a cold shoulder as they favoured Courtney Cox’s show titled Dirt over Breaking Bad. FX had an ulterior motive of attracting female viewers and thus said no to the series. And when the show finally reached AMC, as it is often said, the rest is history.