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Bryan Cranston on His New Web Series, The Handlers, and His Long Vacation From Breaking Bad

When last we left Bryan Cranston on AMC's Breaking Bad, he'd just — possible spoiler! — offed a competitor to re-secure his $15 million salary as New Mexico's top meth-maker. But a quick look at his IMDb page shows that Cranston's been no less industrious during Bad's off-season: By his own count, he's managed to squeeze six projects into the time since Bad's third season wrapped in January (and before its fourth begins shooting next month). Up next you can see him in The Handlers, an eight-episode web-based political comedy series, that he'll star in and produce, premiering on Atom.com January 4. We spoke with Cranston last week — on the morning his first-ever Golden Globe nomination was announced — about Handlers, and why he's not mad about being ineligible for an Emmy next year.

Congratulations on your Golden Globe nomination.
Thank you. That was a great, great thing to get. It was a nice surprise.

Nominees always claim that they were sleeping when they found out ... Were you really?
Yes, I was. I was sleeping and I heard the phone ring and I thought, Oh. Then there's that split second where you don’t know if it's bad new or good news. Then I remembered: Oh, today's the day they're announcing it. That must be good news. Fantastic.

Not much is known about The Handlers yet. What can you tell me?
The Handlers is an idea that was based on a French series called Henaut President. Ours is a short, eight-episode series about a group of campaign managers who are assigned a variety of different candidates — I'm the first candidate. They're probably the D team of this big consulting firm; for one reason or another, they haven’t scaled the ranks of the company, and we know, as soon as we hear them talk, why that is. Mixing humor and politics is something that works. We see it on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and this is kind of a complement to that style of humor. Also we're not partisan.

Is it harder to make fun of politics on a fictional show? Especially this year, given the circus the midterm elections devolved into, is it difficult to know how far to go?
It remains to be seen. Like any series, whether it's on Atom.com or on AMC, there's a growing period when you're trying to figure out which characters are strong in what areas and what points of views they have. We're going to be experience that. We feel that the story lines are funny. There will be some that might be smarter than funny, and ones that are funnier than they are smart. Hopefully that’s the balance that we try to create.

How serious of a comedy actor are you these days? The Handlers and SNL seem like fairly subtle ways to avoid being pigeonholed, and to remind people that the star of TV's darkest drama is also funny. But would you do a comedy now that was more in people's faces? A Will Ferrell movie?
You know, it all depends on the script. And it's up to the actor to not allow himself to be pigeonholed. It will happen for you unless you fight against it. When Malcolm in the Middle ended after seven years, I was offered two roles for pilots that were going to shoot. And I turned both of them down because they were goofy dads. It would have further put me in that hole. So I do look for comedies, to be able to even-keel the whole spectrum of comedy and drama and hop between both.

Breaking Bad's fourth season will debut later than usual, in July. Does that mean that you had a longer off-season?
I did, almost a year off. We finished shooting the third season on January 24 of this year. But because we got pushed, our production schedule got pushed as well. So we don’t start shooting our fourth season until mid-January.

Looking at your IMDb page, it doesn't seem like you took much time off. How many projects did you cram into this break?
I think I crammed about six of them in there. They're varying degrees in size and roles, but I can honestly say that the criterion for it was they all have to be well-written. If it's not well-written, I don’t want to do it. If it's well-written and it pays really well, hey, that’s a bonus. If it's well-written and it doesn’t pay at all, that's all right, I'll do that.

You have to be bald to play Walter White. Does that make it harder to take roles while the show is on hiatus? Do you have to wait until your hair grows back?
No, they've got these new things called wigs ... But no, not really. When I'm bald, I'm doing the show five days a week and there's really no time for me to do anything else. But when we finish shooting on June 11 or so of next year, I'm going to take a little vacation with the family and by the end of July I'll have hair. Short hair, so perfect for the summer.

When it was first announced that Breaking Bad's premiere was being pushed back to July, immediate speculation was that AMC was trying to help Mad Men's Jon Hamm get an Emmy by taking you out of the race. Do you think that factored into the decision at all?
Not at all. It was a decision from AMC that they wanted to position us in July, along with Mad Men. And I believe they're going to put Walking Dead in July as well. I think it's just a sensible thing — they want to attract as many eyeballs as possible, away from the heavy competition of the September, November, January start. Also, Jon is fantastic. I'm a big fan of Mad Men. I certainly couldn’t complain if any one of the other actors had won those awards instead of me. I'm glad it was me, but I think it's great that I'm not eligible for an Emmy next year. It doesn’t bother me in the least.

Photo: Patrick McMullan