Bryan Cranston: Gone to the Dogs

April 13, 2018
One of the premiere character actors of our time, Bryan Cranston first came to public prominence playing the harried dad in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle before becoming an indelible part of the zeitgeist with his starring role in the modern classic, Breaking Bad. Now he's joining Wes Anderson's regular troupers for a lead role voicing hardscrabble mutt Chief in Isle of Dogs.

Are you a dog person?

I love dogs. Dogs are the best. They’re loyal. All they want is love and play and to be walked, and they’re so faithful. In the simplest form, if human beings were more like dogs… we complicate things. We just load on all the complications to it. When we look at dogs we go, ‘Oh! You still love me and I had a terrible day, and it doesn’t matter.’ A dog, it doesn’t matter if its owned by a wealthy person or a homeless person. As long as they’re loved…

Portraying a dog, did you think about the way people project personalities onto their pets? 

I know. You give personality to a being. I don’t think about the dog. We’ve all done this. We continue to do it. We all transfer our human feelings and conditions and personalities onto our pets. Oh, look – she’s happy! She knows she’s going for a ride! So all I had to do was think, ‘What’s my character?’ My character is a mutt, my character is homeless. OK, so what would you be feeling if you’re like that? Anxiety? Insecurity? It could lead to aggression because you need to fight for space and you don’t know where you’re going to sleep or what you’re going to eat that day. And so there might be resentment for those who do have everything under control. So you start developing these personality traits and bring it into the work.

Your character seems to be the most emotionally damaged out of all the dogs in the movie.

I thank you! I have a habit of playing damaged characters. I’m very attracted to damaged characters. I relate to damaged characters. They’re more fun to play, too.

Why do you relate to those characters?

Because I am one. Oh gosh. I come from a busted up home that was filled with alcoholism and physical abuse. And that didn’t become apparent to me until I was 10, and then all of a sudden it just dissolved. 10 or 11, just when you start to think at that age – ‘Oh, I’m starting to understand the construct of my family and everything…’ – oop, it’s not.

It turned me into an introvert, very shy, very unsure of myself. Very insecure about what to do. My whole personality, I was like a turtle. I went into the shell and it took me years to slowly figure out, ‘Well, that’s not working, how do I…?’ I was basically on my own. My mother became an alcoholic. My Dad was gone. I didn’t see my Dad for 10 years and even when I saw him again there was a lot of damage. So I had anger issues and resentment and insecurities and things like that. So part of the reason I love to act so much is that it creates an opportunity for me to live through that vicariously and have a cathartic experience and have a therapeutic experience in my work.

What do you make of the movie’s subtext?

Gosh, there’s so much, with so many social and political stories going on. Xenophobia, greed, fear-mongering, immigration issues, segregation… it depends on who you are. It means all those things to me.

My country is going through turmoil right now. We’re going through a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. And anger. I think this is going to resonate with a lot of Americans. But I also think that it has something to say internationally. No matter where you are in the globe, I think you’ll be able to recognise certain leaders…this guy, that woman. This is going on. This is a human trait. This is not a nationality trait. And I think there’s something in inherently happening in the world right now that is filled with uncertainty. The sedition issues in Spain. The alt-right in Austria. Brexit in the UK. Donald Trump in the US. The elections in Italy. There’s a lot of turmoil. There seems to be a lot of anxiety in the world. And maybe, maybe through entertainment, people can watch a piece of entertainment, a movie, and get a sense of something that feels authentic to them and maybe foundational. They can go, ‘Ah, let me talk to my friends about this. What did you get from that?’

Do you look for parts like that?

I always look for parts that say something. I’m in a position…why would I do something that doesn’t say something? I’m not money motivated. I have no idea what I made on this movie. I’m doing a play right now…I don’t know! I don’t know how much money I make. But I have agents who are very concerned about it! And I don’t say that to be smug. I’ve been poor. Really poor. Kicked out of the house, living out of a suitcase, no home, and now I’m wealthy. But I didn’t become wealthy because of lots and lots of luck, and focusing on what I love to do. But if I didn’t become wealthy I’d still be very happy.

Are you now part of the Wes Anderson family?

I’m glad the way you phrase that – this is my first. I hope it’s not my last! He’s a wonderful filmmaker. Honestly, when my agent said, ‘Wes Anderson would like…’ I’m going, ‘Yes!’ He is so different. What I learned from Wes…when I write my own material, whether television or film, I stay within what I know. Even screenwriting workshops and books tell you ‘Write what you know’, so you can be an authority on that. And that makes sense. What Wes does is break that circle and he goes out and he writes what he imagines, and then he thinks the consult of people that can give him the expertise to get the sense of it. So when we all go see a Wes Anderson movie, we don’t really know what we’re about to see. We’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s the way art should be. It opens you up to new adventures, new experiences, and that’s Wes Anderson. Hopefully I will do more.

Did you get to interact with the other cast members when laying down the dialogue, or was it done separately?


Yes, it’s very rare. Usually when I do animation, I’m alone. In Madagascar, in Kung Fu Panda, I’m alone in the booth, because of scheduling. This was very unusual – I was able to be in the room with Wes and Bob Balaban, Edward Norton and Bill Murray. The four of us, the four members of the five-dog pack. Jeff [Goldblum] was working on a movie at the time, so he wasn’t able to do it. We were in New York about two-and-a-half years ago. I’m hearing how they’re doing their dogs and Wes has got his eyes closed most of the time, because he has to hear it. It doesn’t help him to look at us. It helps him to hear it and to visualize how he would shoot the puppets and how he would block that scene.

Isle of Dogs is in cinemas now. Read our review here


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