In his nearly four decades of acting, Bryan Cranston has had the pleasure of working alongside some of the most talented actors working in Hollywood, but his newest co-star Ivan is probably his wildest yet.
Adapted from the award-winning book about one very special gorilla, The One and Only Ivan tells the story of Ivan (Sam Rockwell), a silverback gorilla living with his adopted human father Mac (Bryan Cranston) in a shopping mall. Ivan’s comfortable life is flipped upside down when a new attraction by the name of Ruby the elephant (Brooklynn Prince) arrives, and he starts to dream of a life outside the mall he calls home.
To mark the release of The One and Only Ivan, we spoke to Bryan about playing a bad guy, looked back at his time on Malcolm in the Middle – and its potential future – and, of course, we touched on the character that’s come to define him, Walter White.
Check out the trailer for The One and Only Ivan here:
UNILAD: Mac’s an interesting character, isn’t he? He’s the antagonist because he gets in the way of what Ivan and Ruby want, but he’s not an out and out villain, he’s not a moustache-twirling evil caricature. What was it about the character that appealed to you?
Bryan Cranston: I love complex characters, I love conflicted characters. I’m just attracted to those kinds of men, but also the types of men who are trying to figure things out. I think it’s more interesting than if you’re playing a bad guy who’s just bad, and enjoys hurting people or whatever, it seems one-note.
It doesn’t seem as interesting to me. So I would think, ‘Well what’s behind that? Why does he do the things he does?’ and give him some sense of humanity, I certainly don’t judge my characters and I wouldn’t classify [Mac] as an antagonist, because he’s not purposefully trying to thwart whatever it is the animals think they want because he doesn’t understand them, they haven’t communicated that to him so he’s not ‘trying to destroy their plan’. So what it becomes is Mac’s agenda conflicting with the animal’s agenda, so it’s more of a hurdle as opposed to true conflict.
UNILAD: So if Mac’s not an evil guy, what type of man is he?
BC: No, he’s not a bad guy. He’s a man trying to make ends meet, trying to keep his son (Ivan) with him for as long as possible. He loves this gorilla as a son and he came up with this scheme of a circus in a shopping centre as a last-ditch effort to be able to keep his son close to him, and that’s the true part, it’s based on a true story and that’s just remarkable to me.
UNILAD: When you were working with the animals, who are obviously all CGI, was there someone on set with you? Reading you their lines?
BC: Now when you think of it, because I’m not privy to what the animals are talking about, so in actuality, all my lines condensed became a monologue. I was just asked could I leave gaps so the animals could have conversations and I would contemplate.
So I’d find reasons to [pauses] take a pause, to reflect, to think about what I really want to say, I think of those devices that humans always employ in communication to be able to make it feel organic. There are no real animals in the movie so I was looking at men in green suits who are wheeling around a metal contraption with a green trap over it that looks like the beginnings of what an elephant might be.
There was a great actor named Ben Bishop who was in Mo-Cap playing Ivan, with extended arms to be able to strike the pose and attitude of a gorilla. There were guys with puppets for the dog, the bird and all kinds of things; it was just remarkable how these inanimate objects became animated and real.
UNILAD: You’ve spoken to death about Breaking Bad and Walter White in the past, so I won’t ask you if you’re going to reprise the role, but I am curious how you feel about the curtain coming down on what I’ll call ‘Walter White’s Albuquerque’? With El Camino last year, and Better Call Saul entering its final season, is it sad saying goodbye finally to that part of your life?
BC: Albuquerque will never go away, it remains a very heartfelt spot in my life. The reason I went to Albuquerque was to be part of a historic show that resonated with millions of people around the world, and that’ll never go away. So I can return to Albuquerque fondly and see friends, locations where we shot things and rejoice in those times and have fond memories of the people who lived there, and the crews were so good as well as the local actors. I have nothing but fond memories of the place.
UNILAD: Did you realise the pop culture phenomenon that Breaking Bad was going to turn into?
BC: You never do, people ask actors all the time ‘when did you know this was going to be a hit?’ And the truth is you never know. You hope! You can be proud of a film like I am of The One and Only Ivan, but you don’t know if it’ll be a hit, you just keep your fingers crossed.
You do the best job you can, the artisans around you, the production, the post-production, the marketing, they all do the best job they can and then you just hope that it works out, and that’s as much as you can do. If you tell your story well and you get a lucky break that people do find you and they hear about your movie and they think it’s interesting then you’re halfway home.
UNILAD: Speaking of pop culture phenomenons, while you’re probably best known for Breaking Bad, I know you from another show. I know you best from Malcolm in the Middle where you played Hal. Malcolm was a Sunday night fixture in my house growing up. Last week you had something of a reunion – can you tell us a bit about what that was like?
BC: Saturday 8th we assembled the entire cast, along with some special guests and we read the pilot episode of Malcolm in the Middle for a charity called Healing California and it’s basically for veterans and the homeless and works to give them basic dental and eye care. It’s a great organisation created by the creator of Malcolm in the Middle, Linwood Boomer, and I was delighted to be able to help out.
UNILAD: Was the whole ‘family’ excited to get back together then?
BC: We’re were very excited, there were a lot of emails back and forth, kidding about it and ribbing each other about it. It was almost like we’d stepped back into those roles that we played, and by the way, this year is the twenty-year anniversary of the show!
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Here we are… all are stuck in this five months of quarantine! Can you imagine how Hal would have gone bonkers on #MalcolmintheMiddle if he had to stay inside with his five knuckle-headed boys?! Makes me smile to think about that. So, if you’ve been missing some silliness in your life, check us out this Saturday night 8/8 for a 20th anniversary celebration of the show’s premiere. The cast is back!! This time we’re reading the pilot episode on Zoom. The whole thing is the brain child of Linwood Boomer, our show’s creator, to benefit his charity @HealingCalifornia, an amazing organization that provides FREE dental, medical, and vision care to those in need. There’s also lots of great stuff from the show that could be yours. Bid now on @Charitybuzz, link in bio. @RWQuarantunes See you on Saturday!
UNILAD: No! Is it really? You know I’m thirty-years-old and I don’t need the reminder, to be honest Bryan!
BC: Yeah, so you’d have been 10 when this first started. I remember it fondly I was just a little bit older than you and it was a great moment in my life. An extremely well-written show and if people want to make a donation they can.
UNILAD: There are so many sitcom revivals, especially shows from the nineties and early 2000s, do you think Malcolm is something that could return? I’d love to see Hal and Lois dealing the state of the world as it is now, is it something that could come back?
BC: You know, you never say never, there hasn’t been any talk in that sense. There has been some discussion about ‘maybe if we made a movie’, you know? Wouldn’t that be fun? I don’t know about making an ongoing series, there’s something about perfection and pride in what you do, and I believe in that.
And it’s the same way I feel about Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle, I loved those two characters – they’re very different of course – but I’m equally proud of both, but I’m equally glad that they’re done and now it’s time to move on, it was a part of your childhood, it was part of my adulthood it gave me a great boost as an actor and let me do other things but sometimes, sometimes, if you eat too much dessert you get a little tired of it, and maybe we had just the right amount of meal and dessert and maybe it’s time to push away from the table?
UNILAD: So would the Malcolm in the Middle movie be the sorbet then, the final palate cleanser?
BC: A little palate cleanser perhaps [laughs]. Maybe, maybe, we’ll see. You know it all comes down to the story and I kid you not if someone pitched the movie it would have to be a movie with a great story, not just the sense of ‘we’ll figure it out, just sign on and we’ll figure it out’, it would have to be something that I read and go ‘Wow, that’s a fantastic story, to see what happens now 20 years later to the family’, so it would have to be something stimulating.
UNILAD: So have there been any stimulating ideas thrown about when discussing the movie?
BC: There have been a few ideas that were thrown around, early on I was involved in that, but we never landed on an idea that anyone was like [snaps fingers] ‘that’s fantastic’ so it kind of just dissipated.
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I know yesterday was National Book Lover’s Day. I’m not a day late, I’m 364 days early for next year! I love reading for pleasure, and in my life I also get to read for my work. The One and Only Ivan was a book I really responded to, so that’s why I wanted to be in the movie. Enjoy! #theoneandonlyivan #disney #disneyplus #august21st #nationalbookloversday #booklovers
UNILAD: That’s a shame it would be nice to see you in a purely comedic role again, in fact, that’s something that’s interesting about your career, you’ve never been afraid to go dramatic or go comedic. It’s often said that comedy is harder than drama, and you seem the perfect person to ask, is that true?
BC: Most definitely comedy is harder to do than drama, there’s one element of comedy that’s essential and that’s timing. In drama you can take your time before you deliver a line, in comedy it has to be syncopated to the rhythm of the conversation in order for it to land.
And there’s a lot of people out there who can’t do comedy and I usually find really funny comedians can do drama but not all dramatic actors can do comedy. I do find myself attracted to both and I want to keep going from one to the other and keep mixing it up so no one can pigeonhole me as any type of actor, and I want to do live theatre, television, movies, comedies, family shows.
UNILAD: Your Breaking Bad colleague Giancarlo Esposito recently said he sees his future in comicbook movies, and he’s appeared in the Star Wars TV show. I know you played Jim Gordon in a Batman cartoon movie a few years ago, but would franchise fare, and sci-fi or superhero movies interest you as an actor.
BC: It does because I haven’t really done it in a full-length film, you know I was Zordon, in the Power Rangers, who was in that capsulised screen and that was interesting.
So yeah I would do it, but I would have to be attracted to the story and the character and be allowed to create the character.
I’ve no real interest in being ‘the next’ actor to play a character who’s been done several times and be compared to them. So I wouldn’t want to do detective Gordon, it would have to be something unique and new, where I could be included in creating that character that would interest me, and it might be exciting to see how that all comes together.
The One and Only Ivan will stream exclusively on Disney+ from August 21 2020.
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