Now that he's a big Emmy-winning TV star, you'd think Bryan Cranston would indulge himself a little. Not so. He still repairs things around the house, watches his money and thinks he's the star of AMC's "Breaking Bad" because of luck.
"If you achieve a certain amount of success or financial security, you appreciate that so much more because you know when you didn't," he says at a poolside cafe at an L.A. hotel. "When I was a kid we were foreclosed on. Our house was taken away because we couldn't afford the bills. Boom, big notice on the door, evicted, almost like a scarlet letter."
His father, too, was an actor. "Perhaps because I was raised in that up-and-down typical actor life maybe that's why going into it myself, I said, 'OK, be absolutely stingy with a dollar so that you are available to stay and act.' "
Luck, he insists, plays a big role in any actor's career.
"You need the talent, you need persistence and you need patience. And you need luck. You HAVE to have luck. You cannot have a successful career in the arts without luck. I'm in my 31st year as an actor and I'm absolutely convinced I'm right."
It took him long enough. He'd already been struggling for 21 years when he snagged the role of the goofy dad in "Malcolm in the Middle." That almost didn't happen. Ten days before the "Malcolm" audition, Cranston was one of three finalists for an NBC show. He didn't get it. The next week, he was in the final trio for a show on Fox. He didn't get that one either.
"I read the ("Malcolm") script and it's really about Malcolm and the mom, the dad wasn't really well-realized. So the only thing I could go on was the mom's character — so dynamic, so aggressive, so on-top-of-things. So I said, 'What would be a good marriage here? Provide something that she's not. What could he provide for her? That he worships her, that he's kind of a little boy himself. He's a sweet guy.' And I just went opposite of her."
That show lasted seven years and earned him three Emmy nominations. But it was AMC's "Breaking Bad" (which began its new season Sunday night) that illuminated Cranston's creative soul behind the role. As a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher wedged between his devotion to his family and the forbidding drug world, Cranston proves it's more than luck that put him there.
"In the '80s there were all those self-help seminars," he says, diving into a salad. "So I went to one: 'Change your life.' I remember his name. His name was Breck Costin. He said a few things that made sense. One of them was this philosophy: of being able to put all your energy and drive forward and really go after it and be true to that and be earnest in your efforts without having an attachment to the outcome.
"It's the same thing with an acting experience. You experience it and let it go. I don't have an attachment. From 17 years ago on, I never went into an audition with the attitude, 'I've got to get this job.' My whole focus was on doing my job as an actor; creating a character, interpreting the script and presenting it. Once I presented it, I'm done. I walk out of the room and never think about it again."
Married to his second wife, actress Robin Dearden, and the father of a 16-year-old girl, Cranston confesses, "The thing I always praise and cherish is what has enabled me to do what I do, is my home life is loving and supportive and sane.
"That's a great foundation."