By Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 31, 2017
RAF MILDENHALL, England --
A sea of smiling fans crowd around the Bob Hope Community Center July 29, in the hopes of meeting the award-winning actor Bryan Cranston, famous for roles he portrayed in television shows such as ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and ‘Breaking Bad,’ and blockbusters such as ‘Godzilla’ (2014) and ‘Trumbo’.
After visiting with starstruck Airmen and their families, Cranston stood for an interview before he toured the base, dined with Airmen and made a visit to the 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Group.
What made you decide to become an actor?
“Girls!” Cranston chuckled. “I was going to college and studying police science and it wasn’t until the second year of going to college that I took an elective course in acting. I had acted before as a child, in school plays and things like that, but it never occurred to me that this could actually be a career for me. My father was an actor and as interesting as that was, it didn’t help him. He really had his sights on becoming a star and it didn’t happen for him, so I kind of shied away from looking into that world.”
“I was 19 when I realized that this was fun and great, but if I was really considering this seriously then I had to apply myself, kick in some work ethic and discipline, and be able to find out if I could be good at this. I worked at it, I really opened up and tried to figure out how to be an actor.”
With acting it can be tough landing a role, how did you stay resilient in that process?
“I think there’s something [service members and those in the arts] have in common, and that is why I think I would have done well in the military. I think service members have a lot of the same qualities as what it takes to be a professional in the arts. I think most people in the military are risk takers. They are the type of people who will say ‘let’s try it — what the hell — it sounds fun.’ We all know that there is a huge cross section of citizens who say, ‘oh, I need to be very comfortable and know my surroundings, and I don’t want to travel too much,’” Cranston mimicked.
“There are a lot of people who live in fear. In order to be an actor or any profession in the arts — a director, writer or musician — you have to be willing to take risks and chances and I think that military personnel have that. The other thing military personnel have is a sense of applying discipline to their regime. No actor, writer or director can become successful without self-discipline, because if you have a 9 to 5 job, your boss is saying you have to be here to start ready for work at 9 a.m. Actors don’t have that. We have to motivate ourselves to be able to get to work and study and go to class. No one is telling us anything, so you have got to have it on your own. There is something about military personnel that they get used to that instilled discipline and I think that when they get out of the service that’s one of the great qualities they have. ‘I have to get up, I have to work out, I have to do this and I have got to do that,’ and they motivate themselves to drive forward. I think that is a good quality in life but it is essential for being in the arts.”
How did you become involved in the USO Tour?
“First of all, I think the USO is a fantastic organization; it has been for several generations now. We are in the Bob Hope Community Center and even as a kid I remember Bob would be a part of the USO and really gave it a face from World War II to Korea to Vietnam. He was an extraordinary human being. I spend 10 days going from air base to air base, or army base, to talk to the men and women, thank them for their service, and let them know they are greatly appreciated.”
“What is it to me? Its 10 days to travel and get to meet some people that are interested in what I’ve done and I am interested in what they do. It was a really eye-opening experience. We had been talking for a long time and it just so happened that at this period my schedule opened up and we took advantage of it.”
You have portrayed military characters in films such as ‘Red Tails’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, what kind of research did you do for those roles?
“It’s kind of like you are a dry sponge waiting to soak it all up and so you ask around and usually the writer of the movie what source material was inspirational to them, because as an actor we are hired to come in when a movie is already greenlit to go. So asking the writer what influences he or she had can really guide us to a certain direction. One of the parts as an actor that I find fascinating is we get to very briefly step into the shoes of service members and live that life in a microcosm of a way. We don’t claim to be experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we do it to try to get an essence of the military mind and the lifestyle. By doing that I think we do a pretty fair job, but in no way do we present ourselves as experts.”
If you were to join a military branch, which branch would you choose?
“I was actually seriously contemplating joining the Air Force when I was in high school. My father was in the Navy, my mother was in the Coast Guard and I had an uncle who was in the Army, so the influence was all around me. I probably would have joined the Air Force out of college, but in my second year I discovered theater arts. Then I was like, ‘oh well, I can go to acting classes,’ which were a lot more fun. I was studying police science at the time, so I was thinking one of my options is go into the Air Force become a military policeman, get that experience, see the world a little bit and then go into the Los Angeles Police Department. But that came from when I was sixteen years old and a member of the Police Explorers out in Los Angeles. We took a five-week trip in Europe and were guests at different Army and Air Force bases around Germany, Austria, France and Belgium. We were all over the place and I got a flavor of it. There was something adventurous about it that I was really excited about, and if you are a poor kid, as I was, the idea of being a part of something that had honor, nobility and the potential to grow up and experience a lot of interesting things. It was a serious option for me, but like I said I got side tracked with acting.”
Of all of the characters that you have portrayed, which one do you think would do the best in the military and which one do you think would do the worst?
“I think Hal [from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’] would probably do the worst.” Cranston lauhghed. “He is a sweet guy, although Hal might recognize the same qualities in a drill sergeant in his wife Lois. I think there are some similarities there he might feel very comfortable in that situation. I think Walter White would do very well because he is smart. He would figure out a way to do it as efficiently as possible, keep his mouth shut, and do what he needs to do, then find the ins and outs of how to progress and advance quickly so that he has more control, leverage and power.”
In basic training we have military training instructors and, well, it can be a little intense. Could we hear your best MTI voice?
“It would be fun to play a drill instructor. I think that all their power would have to come from the diaphragm, it can’t come from the throat. ‘You will behave like men and women of dignity and pride! You are wearing this uniform! You will stand erect and you will be proud!’’ Cranston boomed.
What message would you like to give to the men and women serving across the globe?
“I had already a high level of respect of the service that the men and women in uniform provide. After these ten days of my first USO tour it’s grown exponentially, it truly has. I have a level of sincerity, kindness and honor in these young men and women that really made me feel better about the younger generation. People my age, looking at a younger generation, are saying, ‘I don’t know, generation-x and the millennials they seem to be entitled.’ And I didn’t see that at all — I saw real, courteous people who are interested and dedicated to their work. My wife and I were so impressed, we talked about it after touring an Air Force base and we came away thinking we’re alright – the next generation is actually good and they are smart. We also met a lot of women in positions of power and it was great for us to see that. It was very impressive.”