‘Breaking Bad’: Bryan Cranston’s Previous Roles Helped Convince the Audience About Walter White

Bryan Cranston has become one of the most respected actors we have because his name has become something of a Good Housekeeping seal of quality. If he’s in a movie or a TV show, chances are said movie or TV show will be worth the time. 

Like most actors, Cranston spent years working up a strong resume before landing the role that truly breaks them big. And for Cranston, one of those roles was Walter White on Breaking Bad.

But it was another well -known show that landed Cranston that gig. And another long-running role that convinced the audience of Walter White’s early character.

What did Bryan Cranston do before ‘Breaking Bad’?

Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Cranston got into acting partly because of his parents, Annalisa and Joseph Cranston, had both been performers, but for that very reason, the elder Cranstons were reluctant to let their son into the precarious business. All the same, Cranston persisted, landing notable parts by the mid-1990s. 

One of the first times viewers noticed him was on Seinfeld, where he played the role of Jerry’s dentist from 1994 to 1997. He also played astronaut Gus Grissom, the second American in space in a small role in Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do. He later went on to play another astronaut with a “second” milestone, Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon after Neil Armstrong. That role came in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon

As it happens, another space-related show got Cranston the role that eventually took his career to the next level: The X-Files. According to BuzzFeed, Cranston appeared on a 1996 episode of that series called “Drive.” And that was to open more doors than he knew at the time. 

Bryan Cranston was convincing on ‘Breaking Bad’ thanks to ‘Malcolm in the Middle’

At the start of Breaking Bad, Cranston was an ordinary guy. A middle class high school teacher with a family and a deadly medical diagnosis.

Playing the part of an ordinary, average American came natural to Cranston. He played a family man in Malcolm in the Middle, albeit a different content genre. Accepting Cranston as Walter came easy for the audience thanks to the actor’s years of playing a role in Malcolm in the Middle.

His convincing transformation into a villain on Breaking Bad may seem like a gamble for the actor, but he had proven his acting chops in a smaller role.

Bryan Cranston went full villain on ‘X-Files’ 

In that X-Files episode, Cranston played a bigot being driven mad by low-frequency sonar waves. In ordinary circumstances, this would just be a case of an actor playing a guy wearing a tinfoil hat. But these were not ordinary circumstances. The writer of that show was one Vince Gilligan, who went on to create Breaking Bad

Gilligan remembered how Cranston made a repellant character sympathetic, and he figured Cranston could repeat that feat on an even larger scale. Gilligan told The New York Times: “We had this villain, and we needed the audience to feel bad for him when he died, “Bryan alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it.”

Cranston got his inspiration not as much from that X-Files episode but his show business father. He told the Times in 2011, “My dad is 87 years old. I’m not going to dodder, but Walter is always a little hunched over, never erect. The message to the audience is that the weight of the world is on this man’s shoulders.”

What is Bryan Cranston doing now?  

RELATED: ‘Breaking Bad’: The Best and Worst Episodes of the Series Were Directed By the Same Person

All the ingredients that went into Walter White paid off handsomely for Cranston, who won three leading actor Emmys in a row for playing Walter White. After that show ended in 2013, with Walter paying the ultimate price for his dealings, Cranston went on to gain awards attention for playing President Lyndon Johnson and blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

Recently, Cranston vocalized interest in reprising his Breaking Bad role in the series prequel spin-off: Better Call Saul.

“I would be in it if Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, who are co-executive producers on it, wanted me to be in it. I would do it in a second,” he told Collider. “But it hasn’t happened yet, I can tell you, and we’ll see. I don’t know. There’s one more season to go, and we’ll see what happens.”

Cranston also revealed he’s tried to direct episodes of Better Call Saul but scheduling issues got in the way.

“I have been asked to direct an episode every single season and it just didn’t work out because of a commitment to doing a play or doing a movie or something, so I wasn’t able to section out the times available,” said Cranston. “But I do love the show. I think it’s a fantastic show.”