Although his father was a small-time actor (with outsize dreams), Bryan Cranston didn’t pledge himself to Thespis until he was stranded for six rainy days and nights in a picnic area on the Blue Ridge Parkway with only an anthology of plays for entertainment. He was 21 at the time and had already done a smattering of amateur theater. But until this soggy epiphany broadsided him, his focus had been on a career in law enforcement.
It would be another six years of small roles and TV commercials before Cranston found steady work, acting on the ABC soap opera “Loving.” There followed such memorable mileposts as six appearances on “Seinfeld” as self-aggrandizing dentist Tim Whatley, seven seasons as the goofy dad, Hal Wilkerson, on “Malcolm in the Middle” and, most triumphantly, five seasons on “Breaking Bad” as Walter White, the emotionally defeated high school chemistry teacher turned psychopathic drug lord.
Cranston’s memoir, A Life in Parts, is an engrossing blend of stories and tricks of the acting trade. He learns to slaughter chickens, becomes a mail-order minister, motorcycles from coast to coast with his brother, barely survives a crazy girlfriend and proposes marriage in a bubble bath. And that’s just a sampling.
He advises aspiring actors to stay busy and go the extra mile to secure and inhabit a role, noting that he took rock-climbing lessons to score a candy commercial and clothed himself in live bees for an episode of “Malcolm.” He also explains how he adopted a mindset that turns even unsuccessful auditions into personal victories and presents a numerical scale by which to judge whether or not a part is worth taking. More subtle tips abound.
While there may have been bees on Cranston, there are assuredly no flies. “I never want to limit myself,” he writes. “I want to experience everything. When I die, I want to be exhausted.”