Bryan Cranston reprises his Tony Award-winning role as President Lyndon B. Johnson in HBO Films’ All the Way premiering this May. Cranston, who also won Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theater World Awards for his portrayal of LBJ on stage, is joined in the dramatic film directed by Jay Roach (Game Change, Recount) by Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King, Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson, Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover.
The All the Way Plot: “All the Way is a riveting behind-the-scenes look at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tumultuous first year in office as he takes the oath in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, navigates the escalation of the Vietnam War and balances opposing interests to launch his landmark civil rights bill and win election to his first full presidential term.”
During the Television Critics Association’s 2016 winter press event, Cranston chatted with a small group of reporters about reprising the role of LBJ in All the Way and whether he’ll ever be ready to return to a regular role on a TV series after Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston Interview:
Did you visit Lyndon’s old Texas stomping grounds before you did this character? Where did you go?
Bryan Cranston: “Yes. We went to the ranch, got a full backstage tour of the ranch. Saw his home quarters and his bedrooms and things, and the place where he passed away, where he was frightfully afraid he was going to die of a heart attack and sure enough he did.”
Is it easier to play a leader than somebody who is kind of reticent?
Bryan Cranston: “No, because we’ve certainly been around people who are more reserved and passive and so that’s actually quite a big challenge to be able to say, ‘Okay, you have a certain ambition or desire or secret and now sit on it and let it just settle down. And other characters are going to be the more visible or bigger characters.’ Everything is a challenge. Every time you find something new it’s a challenge.”
Is it pushing it to say there’s a parallel between Walter White and LBJ? LBJ was a bully but he was also sweet and caring.
Bryan Cranston: “I suppose you can find similar qualities with any two people, right? You can say, ‘Well, male, about the same age…,’ but yeah I think ambition is certainly one. In Walter White it was more blind ambition. He didn’t know where he was going. All he knew was where he was running away from. LBJ was a machine. He only wanted politics. He only thought about politics. He only read books on politics. He didn’t care about sports, theatre, music. He didn’t know about anything, only politics, and he knew it really well. He knew it backwards and forwards. He studied spouse names and children’s names so if you came into his office and he wanted something from you, ‘My god, how’s Margery doing? I know she had a little bit of a problem the other day. She alright?’ And all of a sudden you’re back on your heels. You’re like, ‘Oh my god, he knows my wife’s name!’ ‘She’s much better.’ ‘And the two little ones, the twins you have? Are they still playing ball?’ It’s like, ‘Oh my god, he listened! He knew!’ Now he’d go, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what I want to talk to you about,’ and he’d move in on you. All of a sudden you’re in his back pocket and you’re going to do what he wants because he’s putting the Johnson treatment to you.”
Can you talk about working with Melissa Leo?
Bryan Cranston: “She’s a remarkable actor, #1, and comes about it in a very kind of shy way, saying, ‘I’m not very political and I don’t know. I’ll have to just kind of softly kind of give…’ Every actor approaches a character differently and we just hit it off immediately and embraced the differences of how we approached characters and that sort of thing, much like you would in a marriage. ‘Oh, she does this and I do that,’ thing. You get to know each other. She was wonderful.”
So much wonderful talent came out of daytime television decades ago including you, Melissa Leo, and Julianne Moore. How sad is it that those shows aren’t around anymore?
Bryan Cranston: “Daytime? It was an incredibly learning experience for all of us. Technology killed daytime television. The problem with daytime television wasn’t the talent level, the problem was the quantity, the demand for every single day coming up with a 40-page, 50-page script. You can’t keep quality up doing that, as you know. ‘You have another one tomorrow, and another one, and another one,’ you’d go dry. That’s just human.”
Did Breaking Bad raise the bar so high that you’d never do a series again?
Bryan Cranston: “I love story so if story was on television then I would definitely consider it. I gave myself, and I don’t even know because it’s kind of arbitrary, but I gave myself a three-year moratorium for doing a series regular kind of thing and another show like that because what happened with Breaking Bad and Walter White it was like a snowball effect that became an avalanche. I just sort of realized I had to step away from it and get out of its way as opposed to trying to dismantle it or harness it or something.”