Handsome and talented, Bryan’s father Joe seemed well-suited to the acting profession. He made appearances on some of the most-watched TV shows of his day, and when he did well, so did his family. After landing one big role, Joe brought home a new car; after another, he put in a swimming pool. But acting is a competitive profession, and there’s no guarantee of being cast consistently. When Joe was out of work, Bryan saw their new car traded in for an old clunker, and they never did swim in their dug-out pool, because they couldn’t afford the chemicals to keep it clean.
The off-and-on nature of professional acting took a toll on Joe. He wanted to be a star, and eventually came to believe that it wasn’t going to happen. He started drinking heavily, and sank into depression over what he saw as his failure. Finally, one night he just didn’t come home. Joe had left his wife, two sons and a daughter to fend for themselves. Bryan was 11 years old.
With no more money coming in, Bryan’s mother tried to feed the family on food stamps. During one period, they ate nothing but hot dogs and beans, and pots of soup would stretch for weeks. Finally, they lost their home to foreclosure, and Bryan and his older brother Kyle were sent to live with their grandparents. When they returned to live with their mother the following year, she was detached and remote due to the emotional pain of her failed marriage.
Bryan coasted through high school. He earned average grades, was good enough at baseball to make the team but not good enough to play, and was inadvertently left out of the school yearbook in his senior year. He tried just hard enough to get by, but not hard enough to excel. For the most part, he emulated his brother, and at 16 followed Kyle into the LAPD Explorers, an organization for teenagers hoping to become police officers.
For the first time in his life, Bryan came in at the top of his class, which he took as a sign that he should be a cop. He enrolled in Los Angeles Valley College as a police-science major. However, when a guidance counselor told Bryan to take an elective, the young man enrolled in acting, and quickly found he had a gift for it. By the time he completed his police-science degree, his life plans had changed: he would pursue an acting career.
Bryan didn’t harbor starry-eyed dreams of fame like his father had. He took nearly any and all work that came his way, from bit parts in shows to commercials for coffee creamer and inflammation ointment. His only goal at each audition was to get the job.
Finally, though, he had an epiphany: he started to pursue his career without focusing on the outcome. His goal in each audition became to create the most compelling character he could and make it come to life. If Bryan did that, he was satisfied. Getting the job became a bonus.
By infusing each role with as much depth and humanity as he was able, Bryan began to open doors. A one-episode part as a villain who the audience eventually feels bad for demonstrated Bryan’s range and abilities. The writer who cast him took notice… and didn’t forget.
Ten years later, that writer began assembling the team for his new show, and he wanted Bryan to play his main character. Despite demands from Hollywood to cast a star, creator Vince Gilligan got his way, and was ultimately able to award the part of cancer-afflicted chemistry teacher turned meth-cooking drug impresario to Bryan. And it paid off.
Bryan Cranston won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, only the second time in television history that an actor had accomplished such a feat. That series, Breaking Bad, has been called one of the greatest television series ever, and in 2014 it entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest rated show of all time, thanks in no small part to Bryan’s outstanding character portrayal.
When you focus too much on the endgame, on “making it,” not only might you be disappointed if you never get there, but you’ll miss out on enjoying the wonderful experiences along the way. For Bryan Cranston, who stars in this summer’s new Godzilla film, the journey has been his ultimate reward. In his own words, “My greatest achievement is that I’ve been working as an actor for 25 years. It’s about finding the joy in every opportunity.”
Until Next Week,
Live Your Dreams!