Here’s how Bryan Cranston explains his current production slate: “I have eclectic taste as an adult.” And given the variety of genres his four current projects explore, that checks out.
“That’s what I love about it, because I don’t like to trample upon the same stories,” he said, noting that while Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete” is an edgy con-man story and “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” delves deeply into the realm of sci-fi, his latest series, “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” is “a family adventure, fun, and beautiful.” (Cranston is also an executive producer on the Sony Crackle animated series “Supermansion.”)
Next up for Cranston, “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” which stars Erinn Hayes as the widowed mother of three boys in need of some advice.
The show is technically based on the book by Conn and Hal Iggulden, but as Cranston explains below, the path towards figuring out how to transform the how-to adventures of the book into an actual TV show wasn’t the easiest thing.
Cranston first came across “Dangerous Book for Boys” when his “Breaking Bad” co-star, Anna Gunn, gave him a copy. The show was originally developed at NBC, but when that network passed, Cranston and writer Greg Mottola reimagined it as more of a family-friendly show for Amazon. After that lengthy road to production, the show premieres on Amazon this Friday.
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What about producing really feeds you right now?
I didn’t know that I would love it, but I do love the idea of supporting someone else’s vision. Nurturing that relationship with the producer, and the writer, and collectively finding the right director for that piece.
It’s really fantastic being able to give constructive criticism to your writing partner. It’s great learning how to give a note, and learning how to take a note if you’re a writer yourself.
It’s all part of the storytelling complex, and we’re all related. The first thing I tell people who want to be directors is “Have you taken acting classes?” “No.” “You better get yourself into an acting class.”
If you want to know what it’s like for an actor to receive direction, you have to act first to see, “I’m overwhelmed, I have too much information, I’m trying to remember my lines.” Sometimes, you just need to stand back, you have to read people.
As a producer, how do you know when you know something’s right for you? What about ‘Dangerous Book for Boys’ made you want to commit to it?
When I crack the story. “Dangerous Book for Boys” is an international bestseller, it’s a beautiful book. I had a copy myself. But, it’s a how-to book: how to make a fort, how to talk to a girl, how to build an electric train… All these things about boyhood. There’s no characters, there’s no plots. There’s nothing there.
So, everything had to come from scratch, and at first it was in the drama department at Sony, and we’re trying to think, “How can we craft a story?” And I just couldn’t come up with it.
Then I was running along the Charles River in Boston, I was doing a play out of town [‘All The Way’]. Bing! Because I had let it go but it was still in my subconscious, it popped in and I got it. I knew the story structure, I got the family tree, and I realized what we could do.
I came back, pitched it out, got a positive response, picked up Greg Mottola to be our partner in it. Michael Glouberman to be our showrunner, and we’re off and running.
What has been the experience of pitching for you? Because that seems very different than auditioning.
It really isn’t a different thing. You’re still performing. If you’re acting, in an audition your job is to create a compelling character that serves the text.
And if you’re pitching, I’m telling you all the compelling characters, and how it relates to the text. I’m doing it with passion and verve, so that my excitement and sense of confidence exudes to the person I’m pitching. And they’re filled with it, and they get a sense of, “I think this is a great idea, hopefully. And yes, let’s do this.”
Then, you have to deliver in what you pitched. It’s a never-ending work though, and I think that’s the most important thing to convey to anybody outside of our business.
People in our industry know how much work goes in, but because I love it, because I love to tell stories, it’s not something that I have to force myself to do at all, ever. I naturally start thinking in story structure, and character, and I’ll talk to myself in a character with an accent, or an old man, or a young boy. It’s just what I do — I don’t play golf, so I work instead.
Do you find yourself in a pitch performing the characters?
Yeah, sure. If I feel it’s necessary for them to get a sensibility of that particular character, yeah. But, if they get it, again, it’s reading your audience. If I see them get it, and nod, and they’re with me you don’t want to belabor a point, move on to the next.
I believe in that adage, “Leave them wanting more, not less.” If they start looking at their watch you’re in trouble.
“The Dangerous Book for Boys” premieres Friday on Amazon Prime.