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Bryan Cranston as Breaking Bad's Walter White.

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Bryan Cranston on Where Breaking Bad Is Headed and Why His Total Recall Will Be Better Than Arnold’s

Here’s what Bryan Cranston can tell us about Breaking Bad’s season-four finale: “Walt takes another step in his desperation to do what he needs to do to protect his family.” In other words, Wait until Sunday, suckers! While Cranston couldn’t help us grapple with the big questions — Is someone going to die? Has meth mogul Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) seen his last bucket of chicken? Will Jesse and Walt finally kiss and make up? — he was able to offer insight into how dark his character will go. Plus: how he picks his movie roles, and why his Total Recall remake will be better than the original.

When you and Vince Gilligan talked about the role four years ago, did you imagine Walt would become quite so dark?
What was explained to me was that he wanted to change a man from good to bad. From Mr. Chips to Scarface. And that’s something that has never been done on television. You risk having alienation from an audience to your lead character. And we were talking about it and he said, “Yeah, we don’t care, we are not out to … ” And I get that question a lot, like, “Boy, what is Walt doing now? Do people still really like him?” Well, we are not out to have people like him. We are out to have people understand him, relate to him, and watch his disintegration.

The series had a lot more humor in it in the beginning, especially between Walt and Jesse. Do you miss that levity?
Um, no. I don’t. What we owe the audience is to be truthful in the telling of this story. And in the beginning, when the pressure was not nearly as great — our anxiety levels weren’t as high or the threat to lives was not as imminent — there was more room for natural comedy. As it twists and turns and the noose gets tighter and tighter around the characters’ necks, naturally you are gonna lose opportunities for reflective or comedic moments. And it is just the nature of the story, the way it has to be told in earnest. It’s forced into this dark place.

It’s hard to believe the ending of the series is in sight.
We have sixteen more episodes. The likelihood is that they will split it [into two seasons]. You know, the whole business model is kind of upside down: Does eight episodes create a season? I don’t know. I guess so? It’s an arbitrary number. So they are going to go back into the writers' room in November and start looking at it from that standpoint, from what happens over the course of sixteen more episodes. And then I think if they get the final okay that we are gonna split the seasons, then [Vince] will cut it in half and figure out a good cliff-hanger for the eighth episode and how it picks up.

How closely did you follow the negotiations between Vince and AMC?
I stayed away from it. I learned long ago to focus on things you can control and don’t even pay attention to things you don’t. So I occupy my time with other things and trust that they will collectively want to have a nice resolution, and they did, so that’s good.

Do you see yourself going back to comedy once you’re done playing Walt? Or do you think this show has cemented you as a dramatic actor?
Well, it has taken me in a different direction, that is for sure. It is up to me now to bend it back towards comedy. That being said, I have been getting some wonderful offers to do dramatic roles that are very well-written stories; there is a lot more opportunity for me to do drama. But, conversely, there was the opportunity to do more comedies after Malcolm in the Middle. It is kind of the same old story: You are in a perplexing condition based on some successes that you find.

You had small supporting roles in Contagion and Drive this year. What is your criteria for choosing a film? Does it matter how big the part is, or how big the movie?
It comes down to the material, if I find material and personnel that I have wanted to be with, like Soderbergh on Contagion. I wanted to work with him and it was an appropriate role, though there were scenes that were cut out of it and it diminished my final count … minutes, or whatever. That is always the case in television or film; you are susceptible to that sort of scrutiny and decision-making. And then Drive was a great experience. I knew it was going to be a small movie and it came down to a decision between doing Drive or a role on X-Men, which was a huge movie. And I chose the smaller movie.

Dean Norris [who plays Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank] has been busting your chops about the Total Recall remake you’re starring in. Were you aware?
Yeah. Thinks it’s his show, ya know? He has that famous line, “You got a lot of nerve showing your face around here.”

How tough is it to remake a movie like that? It’s not necessarily a classic, but everyone knows it.
I don’t think there is much of a challenge at all. I think the script is better. We certainly have a tremendous upgrade in our lead actor. That is less of a comment on Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and more of a comment on Colin [Farrell]. The special effects over the last twenty years have grown exponentially, so that is going to be a heightened experience. And I just think it is an exciting movie. You know it’s going to entertain — I can guarantee you that.

Photo: AMC