Excerpts from Bryan Cranston’s, ‘A Life in Parts’

A couple of insightful observations on acting craft from Bryan Cranston’s autobiography, A Life in Parts.

On preparing for the “Jane’s Death” scene in Breaking Bad:

When I do the homework for such a delicate scene, I don’t make a plan. My goal when I prepare isn’t to plot out each action and reaction, but to think, “What are the possible emotions my character could experience?” I break the scene down into moments or beats. By doing that work ahead of time, I leave a number of possibilities available to me. I stay open to the moment, susceptible to whatever comes. The homework doesn’t guarantee anything. With luck, it gives you a shot at something real.

On sincerity in acting choices:

I knew on camera, when you walk into a room, you must know where the light switch is. You can’t need to look, or else it’s a lie. Which is like giving the audience a pinch of poison. When you tell a story, you have to take liberties. You compress time. You create composite characters. You jump years ahead or flash back. Art is not life.

The audience might not be consciously aware of these little pinches, but if you keep doling them out, they’re reaching for the remote or walking out of the theatre. They’re sick of the poison. They don’t want anymore; they’re done. They might not even realize they’re responding to inauthenticity or sloppiness in storytelling. It’s not the audience’s job to articulate the reasons they don’t respond. It’s their job to feel. All that matters where the audience is concerned is: Did it work? Were they moved?

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