Can Bryan Cranston Escape ‘Breaking Bad's’ Success?

Can Bryan Cranston Escape 'Breaking Bad's' Success?

Most of the stars of TV's latest golden age have struggled to chart a new course in their careers.

Bryan Cranston will always be Walter White.

No matter what he does for the rest of his career, fans of “Breaking Bad” will associate Cranston with the role that earned him 3 Emmys and transformed the ineffectual dad on “Malcolm in the Middle” to one of the most respected actors in Hollywood.

Yet now that “Breaking Bad” has entered the pantheon of television's greatest shows, Cranston faces a challenge that has bedeviled many actors before him: Will the success of “Breaking Bad” help or hinder his future career?

The men and women who have defined this new golden age of television, the antiheroes of your Sunday evening, have struggled in their second acts. As history has shown us, an iconic TV show can be a burden.

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad’ Eclipses Record With 10.3 Million Viewers (Video)

Michael Chiklis has attempted to recapture the success he found with “The Shield,” a show that earned him one Emmy and helped put FX on the map. Yet both of Chiklis’ TV shows since “The Shield” were short-lived, and he is not involved in the latest film reboot of “Fantastic Four.”

Sarah Jessica Parker opened the door for female protagonists on HBO, achieving a level of stardom with “Sex and the City” that she never reached as a film actress. After that show, she attempted once again to secure a permanent spot in the firmament of leading ladies. Yet her most successful movies were those based on that same TV show – at least commercially. “Sex and the City 2” earned her and her co-stars a Razzie for Worst Actress.

Kiefer Sutherland matched the success of his peers on broadcast TV, playing the indelible federal agent Jack Bauer. He was as vicious as any of his counterparts on HBO. Yet post-”24” success has proved elusive, and Sutherland will reprise the character for a limited series airing next year.

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad’ Finale Reviews: Just Perfect? Or Too Perfect?

The best comparison for Cranston may be James Gandolfini, the star of the show that initiated the latest era of great television, “The Sopranos.” Both of them had built steady careers before their defining shows, but neither was a star.

When people debate the best shows of this generation, the conversation will begin with their shows, as well as “The Wire.”

After shedding the skin of Tony Soprano, Gandolfini got nominated for a Tony, lent his talents to a few films and produced documentaries. He is experiencing a posthumous moment in the sun with “Enough Said,” a well-received comedy co-starring Julia-Louis Dreyfuss. Yet the popularity of that film is fleeting.

Regardless of whatever else Gandolfini accomplished, he remains Tony Soprano.

Viewers spent years watching him arrange murders, cheat on his wife and grouse to his psychiatrist. They knew all of his flaws and loved him anyway. Yet that intimacy with a character, one that develops over the course of 60-plus episodes, complicates an actor's efforts to move on.

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad’ Stars: What's Next for Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn and Vince Gilligan

We know these characters so well, we can't imagine the actors playing anyone else. Few movies can change that.

Cranston has already capitalized on his newfound currency in Hollywood, acting in five movies each of the past two years. He will appear in a reboot of “Godzilla” next year, is currently performing in a play, and has booked a job playing blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

There is no shame in being known for one character, but certain actors aspire to more.

Will any of those roles change the way people remember Cranston, or will the shadow of Walter White loom?

  • telast

    Would love to see Bryan in something new. Very versatile guy.

  • AndyWarhorse

    Cranston is a better actor than Gandolfini or Chiklis. He has more screen power than any living actor. He could eat Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.

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  • Heisenberg

    Breaking Bad the Movie

  • Steve

    The fact that Cranston in other roles looks a lot different than Walter White (as the fully transformed Heisenberg) will make a big difference. Gandolfini, Parker and Chiklis (and others such as Patrick Stewart) look the same in other roles as their iconic character roles. But Cranston in ARGO, for example, is almost unrecognizable as Walter White/Heinsenberg.

    • Miguel Barbosa

      Didn't see Walt in Cranston during Argo whatsoever. This article is just a grab, pointless

  • Drake

    The difference is that Cranston isn't just good in the role of Walt. He's a phenomenal actor, with superior skill and talent than any other mentioned in this article. And Walter White developed and changed (especially in these last eight episodes) much more than any other character, and Cranston nailed each and every scene he performed in.

    • Jdawg Laurence

      Exactly. He played an unstable, weirdly funny dad in Malcolm in the Middle, and then played Heisenburg, a manipulative, chemistry drug lord genius. Two completely different roles and he did well in both. Many actors don't actually act too much, because their true personality fits the role they play in shows or movies, but Cranston, he acts.

      • Invested

        Cranston, Paul, and all of the cast are phenomenal. But a lot of credit has to also go to the cinematographers/directors and producer, because the way this program shot faces gave the actors a huge opportunity to work at their best and be fully grasped by the camera.

  • mrbrockpeters

    If anyone can pull it off it's Cranston. I mean, he was hilarious as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston doesn't take himself too seriously unlike other actors and that bodes well for him. He always shines in everything he's in.

    Whether it's Hal from Malcolm in the Middle or
    Doug Hefernan's annoying neighbor Tim in King of Queens

    or Tim Whatley in Seinfeld always being a thorn on Jerry's side.

    Cranston always stands out. I have complete faith in him being able to do other things and be just as awesome!

  • kmagaro

    The difference is that Cranston has been doing movies during breaking bad. He was great in total recall and he's already signed on to play Lex Luthor. In everything he does he steals the show, the episodes of Seinfeld with Tim Whatley are among the best and most people cite Cranston as the breakout character. When many people watch Malcolm in the Middle they care much more about what Hal is doing despite the fact that he is billed as the 4th character in the show. His range and depth of emotion re-categorize what an actor can do in there career. He can play a funny dad, an annoying neighbor, a criminal mastermind, and even a shadow government figure. Bryan Cranston is not typical of most great tv actors that played iconic characters because he never stopped playing other roles. That's who he is, he is Walter White, but he also is one of, if not the, greatest actors of all time. He will succeed in the rest of his career, no doubt.