By Heidi Simmons
The AMC series “Breaking Bad“ changed how we watch TV. The show’s excellent writing and production values influenced small screen storytelling in refreshing new ways. The main character “Walter White” will forever be one of the most memorable of all television characters. Both a protagonist and antagonist, Walter White made a lasting impression and captivated audiences as he changed from beloved science teacher to feared drug lord.
Bryan Cranston, the actor who brought White to life, shares his own story in A Life in Parts (Scribner, 280 pages).
Cranston begins his book by recounting the dramatic “Breaking Bad” scene where White’s partner, Jesse Pinkman and his girlfriend, Jane, have done too much heroin and are sleeping it off in bed. Jane starts to choke on her own vomit and White makes the choice to not help her. It is an intense and pivotal moment as White crosses a line from which he can never return.
Sharing how the emotion of the scene affected him and the crew, Cranston begins telling his personal story.
The book is divided into short sections. Each is a role he has played throughout his life as an actor: Walter White, Doug Donovan, Tim Whatley, Hal, LBJ. Then there are the other major parts of his real life: Son, Friend, Lover, Husband and Father. And the Jobs Cranston has had: Paperboy, Flea Marketer, Beast Feeder, Farmhand, Minister, Carney, Assistant to the Assistant’s Assistant, to name a few.
Cranston grew up in Southern California. His father was an actor and his mother came to California to pursue acting when she met Cranston’s father in an acting class. His father wanted to be a movie star. There were good times with new cars and a swimming pool. But there were challenges that the family could not overcome. His parents divorced and young Cranston never completely understood what exactly happened that made his father abandoned the family. Bryan has a brother two and half years older and a sister six years younger.
Money was always a problem for the divided Cranston family. Bryan and his brother worked to help their single mom. They lost their home and the brothers were temporarily shipped-off to their grandparent’s Yucaipa ranch to live and work.
The most surprising Cranston role was Hypnotist. He actually could put people under a lasting hypnotic trance. My favorite “part” was his Biker adventure and experience. He and his brother rode their motorcycles across the country with only $175. It was during this extended trip Cranston realized he indeed wanted to be an actor.
Cranston’s voice is on the page. He writes like he talks in clear, articulate sentences. He is witty, honest and self-reflective. He shares intimate details about his work and private moments. There is also wisdom. Cranston shares what it takes to be an actor and an artist in today’s “Hollywood” industry. For Cranston, the strong work ethic and can-do spirit he learned as a kid assisted him in his career as an actor.
On an audition for a candy bar commercial, Cranston had to repel down a four story building. He had never done anything like it before. To ensure he got the part, he took an intensive climbing lesson and got the job.
To deal with the regular rejections as an actor, Cranston decided to see his auditions as an opportunity to give the casting people a performance that he would consider a gift. This changed his thinking and allowed him to love the difficult and vulnerable audition process rather than stress over whether he’d get the job or not.
Cranston reveals how extremely challenging it was preparing for his stage performance as President Lyndon Johnson. With miles of dialogue, he worked harder than ever to memorize the material. At times, he was doubtful he could do it. He admits his exhaustion and fear. Cranston went on to win the Tony Award for his Broadway performance in All the Way.
A Life in Parts is an encouraging story of a man who survived and prevailed. With great tenacity — and luck — he followed his dream to become a successful actor. Cranston gives freely of himself and shares his values.
This is a good read for anyone in the arts or pursuing an artistic craft. Today, Bryan Cranston is widely praised as one of this country’s best character actors. On stage or screen, he is able to transform himself and consistently delivers incredible performances.
I have had the good fortune to meet and speak with Cranston. He is exactly the person in the book: positive, insightful, thoughtful, encouraging and down-to-earth.
This memoir delivers a beautiful and intimate life of struggle and triumph. Cranston gives completely not with hubris, grandiosity or self-importance but with an appreciation and gratitude for how life’s twist and turns shaped his many roles.
The book’s total sum is more than his story. Cranston’s A Life in Parts is an inspiration to relentlessly pursue your dreams with all your heart and soul.