Emmys 2013: Bryan Cranston, man of the moment
CNN — Right now, Bryan Cranston is The Man.
It's not just "Breaking Bad," on which he plays chemistry teacher-turned-meth mogul Walter White, grabbing headlines as it hurtles toward its finale. It's the sheer ubiquity of the actor, who's proven himself to be versatile, good-humored and clamorously in demand.
When rumors surfaced about the "Breaking Bad" star playing Lex Luthor in the next "Superman" movie, they created an instant Internet firestorm -- and seemed utterly plausible. When Stephen Colbert was looking for a "Get Lucky" dance partner on his widely seen Daft Punk tribute show, of course he chose Cranston (plucking him out of a Charlie Rose interview).
He appeared in recent episodes of "The Simpsons" (as White), "The Cleveland Show" (as Cleveland's physician, Dr. Fist) and "30 Rock." He even made a guest appearance in Jimmy Fallon's parody of "Breaking Bad."
He's on newsstands. In the last two months alone, Cranston's been covered with debris on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, looked dapper on the August GQ and been the subject of a profile in The New Yorker.
He's on the stage. He's starring in "All the Way," a play about Lyndon Johnson by the Pulitzer winner Robert Schenkkan ("The Kentucky Cycle"). Producers are eyeing the play, which premiered in Boston this week, for a Broadway run.
He's in theaters. He's got two movies scheduled for this year, "Get a Job" and "Cold Comes the Night." Last year he appeared in six: "Red Tails," "John Carter," "Madagascar 3," "Rock of Ages," "Total Recall" and "Argo."
All this Cranston hasn't gone unnoticed. When "Argo" director Ben Affleck requested Cranston for the film two years ago, producer Grant Heslov quickly agreed.
"Yeah, we should," he told Affleck. "We're the only movie coming out next year that doesn't have him in it."
Too much Cranston? Hardly.
He's known as a loyal friend and hardworking colleague -- and utterly unflappable. As writer Brett Martin observed in his GQ profile, the writers of "Malcolm in the Middle" frequently tried to throw Cranston off balance. But Cranston, as the show's daffy dad, Hal, approached all manner of humiliation -- tighty-whities, bee attacks, nude roller-skating -- with the same casual steadiness he now brings to Walter White (though, admittedly, without the menace).
"Malcolm" was Cranston's breakthrough, but he'd been a regular visitor on TV screens for almost two decades. Indeed, he was a familiar face even when his name was unknown, appearing in commercials for such brands as Lay's potato chips (opposite Michael J. Fox), JC Penney and Preparation H. (Hey, it was a good living.)
In his TV and movie roles, he generally appeared as authority figures: cops, soldiers and the like. He played two different astronauts in Tom Hanks productions: Gus Grissom in "That Thing You Do!" and Buzz Aldrin in "From the Earth to the Moon" and later "Magnificent Desolation." (Cranston and Hanks share another connection: Cranston's wife, Robin Deardon, was one of Rita Wilson's bridesmaids at her 1988 wedding to Hanks.)
But Cranston could show vulnerability when necessary. That's what prompted "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan to cast Cranston as White in the first place. Gilligan, a former "X-Files" writer, remembered a Cranston performance in an "X-Files" episode called "Drive." Cranston's character was a bigoted creep, but the actor made him sympathetic.
Now he -- as the "Breaking Bad" catchphrase has it -- is the one who knocks.
On Sunday, Cranston is up for his eighth Emmy as an actor -- he'a had three nominations for "Malcolm" and five for "Breaking Bad." He's won three times for his portrayal of Walter White, and given the attention surrounding him, he's the odds-on favorite for a fourth.
He definitely has fans in his corner.
"They need to rename the Emmy the Cranston," wrote a commenter named Stan on HitFix.com.
That probably won't happen -- but it doesn't need to. The actor is secure in his work: currently shooting a new version of "Godzilla," scheduled for next year, and ready for more if he wants it.
It's a far cry from the wounded Walter White, who once lamented, "There was some perfect moment that passed me right by."
For the man named Bryan Cranston, the perfect moment is right now.
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