Holiday Wishes

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Why shouldn't Bryan Cranston be thankful? He's into his fifth season on the hit show Malcolm in the Middle, in which he stars as Hal, the sublimely hapless father of five troublemaking sons. On Nov. 23, Cranston will add another loveable dunce to his resume as a perpetual hippie heading a family feast in TBS Superstation's National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Reunion. Asked what he's most grateful for, he immediately replied: "I'm so thankful to the man who built my house and had the foresight to put in a huge wetbar, fully stocked." But the actor revealed a few more reasons he's feeling particularly thankful this time of year.

...For Women and Enlightened Men

In 1999, Cranston directed the film Last Chance, from a screenplay he had written as a present for his wife. Almost five years later, the film is finally finding distribution where it has the opportunity to reach an audience beyond the film festival circuit. It's been a long journey for the film and for the filmmaker. "I wrote it for my wife, not having the sense enough to realize that I wrote a screenplay and not a novel," he said. "Then I realized, Oh my God, I'm not done. It's like giving someone a plate of frozen cookie dough: Oh, I should really make these for you, shouldn't I? I was hemming and hawing with it for a while, and took it around to a lot of different people. They either said it didn't have the pizzazz they wanted or they wanted us to attach some big names, and I finally said, 'I'm tired of that, I'm just going to go out and raise the money and do it myself.' So I did."

According to Cranston, the heartfelt drama will appeal to "women and enlightened men" and emphasizes the importance of believing in dreams. As he described it: "It's basically about a woman who feels that she has no choice in her life, no hope. So therefore she doesn't waste her time by having a dream or any wishes or anything like that. She just puts her blinders on and goes to work because daydreaming doesn't pay the bills. She meets this man who is a dreamer, a novelist by heart, who had it all, had his dream, but screwed it up through alcohol and infidelity. They have an unusual attraction, not really a sexual one to begin with, just philosophical. She starts to realize that you create your own dreams, and regardless of your financial or social condition, you need to have it. The whole point of the movie is that it's much more important to have a dream than to even achieve the dream. That's the drive, that's what gets you up in the morning and keeps you going."

...For a Safe and Healthy Family

"The only thing I say a prayer for is for health and safety for my family," said Cranston. "Some people even include happiness and a hope for something else. Not me. I think everything else is on your own. That's the way I look at it. If you can just maintain health and safety, you're in good shape. And anything else, you have to create."

To this end, he helped create KidSmartz, a 30-minute video in English and Spanish on abduction prevention. "It teaches the parent and subsequently the child of what to do and what to look for to stay safer. We use dramatic re-enactments of the most common ploys child abductors use. The reason we do that is because it's the most effective way to impart some information. I could have made an instructional tape where I just stand there and say what to do, but everybody checks out of those kind of tapes; they just stop listening because it's not interesting enough. Instead we have re-enactments and at a point where the paradigm shifts in any given scenario--whenever something goes wrong and could be dangerous--that's where we freeze frame, come back to me, and I say what could these kids have done? And we go back and show the same scenario, now making an adjustment that triggers a positive result."

He paid for KidSmartz out of his own pocket after he couldn't get possible donors to commit quickly enough. Available at Amazon.com, it has support from the FBI, the U.S. Congress, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which receives half the profits.

...For Avoiding the 'Seinfeld' Curse

Prior to Malcolm, Cranston was probably best-known for his recurring role as Jerry's deviant dentist on Seinfeld. But unlike the stars of that show, whose failed sitcoms litter the television graveyard, he later starred in a hit series and avoided the so-called "Seinfeld Curse."

"I hadn't thought of it in that regard," said the actor with a laugh. "You know, this business is pure luck. It truly is. There is a tangible amount of luck that is necessary for a successful career, and the only way that luck happens is if you're prepared for it and you stick with it. If you drop out of the scene, your opportunity for luck diminishes greatly. No one's going to say, "Hey you're an insurance salesman. Come and do this movie."

In a perfect example of the delicate combination of perseverance and luck, he landed the Malcolm gig. "I've been working steadily for 25 years, and the year I got Malcolm I had tested for two other pilots that I came very close to getting. Had I gotten either one of those pilots I would have felt lucky at the time, but I didn't get them. But, like I've trained myself over the last 15 years, I truly don't even put any thought onto anything I can't control. When it's someone else's decision, I go and do what I can, and I walk away." As it turned out, the other two pilots never made it to air, and a week after testing for them Cranston read for Hal.

...For the Honor of Just Being Nominated

Cranston has been nominated twice for an Emmy Award for his work on Malcolm, and while he has yet to score a statuette, he won big laughs at this year's ceremony for feigning sour disappointment while presenting another award following his loss. How much of that was an act? "I don't want to say it's not important to win, because it is," admitted Cranston. "Would it be important to me personally to win? It would be wonderful; I would be delighted. Is it important for an actor's career? I would say Yes.

"Being nominated is a big lift, and if you're able to win, then more attention comes to you, and attention for an actor should equal opportunity. That's what it means to me. If I get more attention, if I win an Emmy, it means I increase my opportunity quotient, and I can perhaps receive a better quality of scripts to read, I might be able to work with people I've always longed to work with." Some of those people include directors Rob Marshall and Paul Thomas Anderson, but Cranston is doubtful about his chances with them. "It's not as if they know anything about me. Let's face it, there are far too many actors here. That's part of a business sense that an actor should try to view--that if you're lucky enough to get any accolade, hopefully you can take advantage of that."

...For the Chance to Say "No"

When Cranston was first offered a part in Thanksgiving Reunion, he turned the role down. "I thought the script was OK, but not where it should have been," he confessed. "I've been very fortunate for this opportunity to do Malcolm, which affords me both creatively and financially to say No if it doesn't feel right. And I don't do it in the manner of, 'No! Get them out of here!' It's a way of saying, 'No, this isn't quite what I'm looking for, let someone else do it.' "

Cranston changed his mind after a lengthy lunch with the producer and director. "I didn't hold back. I told them exactly what I thought and they agreed. They said, 'Can you tell us you'll be a part of this group if we tell you that we are going to get this script in the shape that we have just talked about?' I thought that was kind of exciting and a challenge, and I liked them a lot, and so I thought, Let's do it. They promised me that they would spend the time and energy to do the work. And in the 25 years I've worked, I've worked with the spectrum--people who phone it in, people who don't want to do the work whether it's writing or developing or creating a character--and over time you start eliminating those people from people you want to work with again. And we spent three days straight the weekend before we started shooting on rewriting the script. We were holed up in a hotel room in Vancouver, and we just did it. And what a great experience! They kept their promise that they would put the time into work, and I'm very happy with that. I think we have a funny little film."

...For Tradition

Cranston lived in New York City for five years but never saw the Thanksgiving Day Parade until he moved to L.A. Now it's become a part of his holiday tradition. "It's especially great on the West Coast because it starts early out here," noted Cranston. "You see the parade, and it kind of sets the tone for what Thanksgiving means to me and holding onto that tradition." Another tradition: Cranston will stay away from preparing the holiday meal. "My wife is the cook, really," Cranston acknowledged. "I'm a good helper and I clean like nobody's business. I can load a dishwasher like nobody else." BSW