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Interview

PROFILE: Forget About It - Working actor Bryan Cranston's secret to getting the job? Getting the job never matters.

Bryan Cranston knows more than a thing or two about getting a job. The working actor, who currently stars as Hal, the head of the household on the hit Fox family comedy Malcolm in the Middle and is recognizable to Seinfeld fans as Jerry's dentist, Dr. Tim Whatley, also knows his fair share about not getting the job. Having been in this business for 22 years, Cranston has, out of necessity, developed a tried and true method for surviving, thriving in, and even enjoying one of actors' most trying hurdles-auditions. He's also found a way to deal with rejection, which all too often affects the actor's psyche for the worse.

In a recent interview with the versatile actor, who's done everything from drama (Brooklyn South, HBO's From the Earth to the Moon, Saving Private Ryan) to comedy (starring roles on Raising Miranda and The Louie Show) to soap work (two years on Loving), as well as numerous guest-starring roles, commercials, and stage work, Cranston openly shared his philosophy and psychology about auditioning, acting, and staying in this biz for the long run.

No Shortcut

"Everything I learned, I learned from the street. I am not a formally trained actor," admitted Cranston, a native and resident of Southern California, who dropped his studies of police science in college to pursue acting.

Like the majority of performers, Cranston went about a career the hard way, and as he explained, there is not and should be no shortcut.

"If you're looking for overnight success, you're looking for the wrong thing," he warned. "I can tell you, first hand, for seven or eight years I was looking for that shortcut. I thought, How can I circumvent the struggle so that I can get to where I want to be? And the answer is: You can't! You've got to go through it, and you come out of it much stronger. And you develop the feeling of being somewhat safe in the insecurity of not having a job.

"As actors, we constantly just go out there looking for work, and I think the most successful working actors-aside from the ones that make it to a stratosphere that I haven't seen-are the ones who can harness their expectations and just enjoy the ride and the experience of being an actor."

After dropping out of college, where he dabbled in acting ("I found that the girls in acting class were much prettier than the girls in police science"), Cranston traveled the country for two years on a motorcycle. Stopping in Daytona Beach, Florida, Cranston discovered community theatre. He was soon working in the theatre every day, eventually doing summer stock and dinner theatre. Acting was no longer about pretty girls; it became a serious passion. As good as he was at police work, Cranston knew he wanted to be a full-time actor.

Upon returning to his hometown, Los Angeles, Cranston couldn't get arrested as an actor. That didn't stop him from acting, however. He took classes. He performed in local theatre and in showcases. He wrote his own material. Most importantly, Cranston did not give up.

"You just have to find places where you can act," he opined. "Go act. Take the bull by the horns and do it yourself. Don't wait for the right play to come along; write the play. Write the scene. There is no down time. Actors who wait for the phone to ring are fools. You have to be really proactive in order to make a career work.

"I started out by writing a little scene for a showcase and I attracted a manager named Leonard Grant. This was almost 20 years ago and I'm still with Leonard Grant. Leonard opened several doors. I was able to meet half a dozen agents, at my level, and I chose one."

Know What Your Job Is

As Cranston sees it, actors' biggest mistake, when it comes to auditions, is that they place too much importance on the results. As nice as it is to get the job, that should not be the primary concern of the actor. Giving the best audition possible is all that the actor need worry about.

"I really only focus on things I can control," said Cranston. "I can control an audition. I can control what I do in a room. And then once I'm done, I'm done. I literally forget about it. I walk away and I put the script aside or throw it away and forget about it, because from that point on my job is done. It's someone else's job now, and to fret about it-to think about it, to worry about it, to call your agent and ask, "Did they like me? Did they call? Did they give any feedback?'-what's the point? Those are issues that novices deal with.

"The ability to reach success is when you put your heart and soul into something without having an attachment to the results. So many actors make this huge mistake, and if there's one thing I could tell them, it's this: Know what your job is. Your job is to interpret the text in a manner and way that fits within you, so that you can make this character live, and then let it out. Once you have finished letting it out, your job is done. Walk out of the room, go relax, and let it go. I've discovered this and it's been the salvation of my sanity. I am not attached to an outcome and that's total freedom when I can just focus on my job, create this character, present it, and that's it. If actors would really focus and get clear what their job is, it wouldn't be so nerve-wracking."

Cranston suggested that actors consider what they do in a casting session as "leaving a present" to the casting director, producer, director, and whoever else may be judging them. He offered the following analogy: "If I give you a painting, I can't dictate where you're going to hang it or even if you're going to hang it at all. It's not my job. I absolve myself once I give you something and that's how it should be."

Actor's Arrogance

So how do you give casting directors a gift they will want to "hang up on a wall"? While this takes practice, Cranston explained you must be willing to take a risk in that audition room. Before you show up at the audition, you need to find what's not written on the page and walk into that room and give the casting director something that no one else has given them. This is where the actor's work lies when it comes to auditions.

Recalled Cranston, "When I first started acting, I would look at a TV script and think I had to stick to it, because that's what you do in theatre-stick to the text. You honor the text by staying true to it. In television, they don't give a damn about that. Oh sure, you'll find some writer/producers who are offended by you deviating from exactly what they wrote, but I found in my auditions they are seeing 50 guys reading the same thing. I've got to get the casting director from the point where his head is resting in his hand when I first come in to that point where his head is off his hand and he goes, "Oh, that was different. He did that differently. What'd he do?' I go, what I call, "off the page.' Even if I don't get the job, my job is to do that. My job is to make him see something that he didn't see before."

So find the off-the-page stuff, advised Cranston. Find the surprises. Don't stop looking until you find those surprises. From the moment you get the call from your agent about that audition, start developing the character in your head.

"Daydream the character," said the veteran thesp. "How would he walk? How would he talk? Would he have a lisp? An accent? A facial tic? How does he sit? Is he slightly effeminate? Would that help the character or would that be a detraction?"

All of these elements build a distinct character that comes from within the actor. The performer must put his personal stamp on it if he wants a casting director to take notice. This does not mean throwing out the text; rather, dig beneath the text and fill in the many elements of the character that are not on the page. It takes time and energy on behalf of the actor, but this is the actor's most crucial job, according to Cranston.

He fondly shared a lesson actress Shirley Knight taught him when he was taking one of her classes. She said, "There has to be an actor's arrogance." Cranston has taken this idea to heart and turned it into the fuel that has made him so successful in auditions.

He said, "Actors need to say, "Give me the ball. Two seconds left on the clock-give me the ball. I want the ball. Let me shoot it.' We have to have that, and you go into an audition with that feeling and that is catching. Not only can casting directors sense fear, they can sense confidence. They go, "I don't know what it is about the guy, but I just feel he can handle himself. He can do this job,' and you convince them with that sense."

Indeed, Cranston's confidence in his craft shines through. BSW

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