Bryan Cranston is best known for his television roles on “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Breaking Bad,” but his movie career does include one of the more beloved indies of the last decade: Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” During Cranston’s appearance at the Tribeca TV Festival, the actor spoke about his love of collaborating with directors and used “Drive” as an example of one time his voice was heard and changed the script.
“In the original script, my character and Albert Brooks’ character actually liked each other. They were fond of each other and I thought that was a great problem to have,” Cranston said. “What if your task is you have to kill someone that you really like — that’s odd. And in the script, it had him come up behind me with a garroting wire and he chokes and cuts me to death. I thought, there’s something wrong with this. … It’s too painful.”
Cranston decided to come up with his own fate for the character, the auto shop owner Shannon. The actor pitched Refn and co-star Ryan Gosling a different death scene that felt more appropriate given the relationship between his character and Brooks’ mobster. Cranston had the idea to have Brooks’ character twist Shannon’s wrist and slice it with a blade, which is one of the biggest shocks in the finished movie.
“I pitched it that Albert says, ‘That’s all right, no more pain, that’s all.’ I said, ‘And then I think he sets me down carefully.’ And then I think I even pitched: Maybe he gets a blanket for me. He ended up not doing that, but he sets me down on the ground and gently lets my head against the bumper of a car. I’m just laying there and he says, ‘No more pain, you’ll just go to sleep.’ My character is in shock and looking at [his arm] and he doesn’t really feel the pain yet, and that’s how he dies.”
Once Refn and Gosling heard Cranston’s pitch, they immediately knew it was a better fate for Shannon than what screenwriter Hossein Amini originally scripted. Cranston remembered the two being shocked and Refn telling him, “That’s in the movie.”
“That’s what’s exciting about the work we do is you never know where it’s going to come from and the best idea needs to win,” Cranston said.
Additional reporting by Liz Shannon Miller.