When Bryan Cranston signed on to play news anchor Howard Beale in the Broadway adaptation of Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film “Network,” Donald Trump was still just a washed-up reality TV star. Lee Hall adapted Chayefsky’s screenplay for the stage, and acclaimed avant-garde theater director Ivo Van Hove staged a prescient media satire that is just as relevant today as it was in 1975 — if not more so.
In a sit-down interview amidst previews for the sold-out run at the Belasco Theatre, Cranston spoke to IndieWire about the play’s renewed relevance in today’s climate, and his first time seeing Lumet’s film.
“I saw [“Network”] when I was in college when it first came out, and it was stark. It was mind-bending and oddly funny, and far-fetched. It was not even connected, in my mind, to a real possibility because, at the time, I thought that everything that Walter Cronkite was telling us was the truth,” Cranston said. “It didn’t dawn on me that news is packaged. That, even if there was no clear agenda by any one producer who’s in charge, there was still a packaging. …That was the precursor to what we’re seeing now.”
In the movie’s most famous line, Beale asks Americans to open their windows and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Cranston says the moment recalls one of society’s most repressed emotions: anger.
“It’s an emotion that is not socially accepted. Anger. We don’t want to see it but, if someone’s publicly angry, it’s like, ‘Ew, no. We don’t wanna see that,'” he said. “We don’t want to see anything that’s ugly like that. We even like to see jealousy… but just pure anger is scorned upon, and it really does have a place in our society. It’s an honest emotion, and we’re feeling it now, in tremendous degree. We need to put it somewhere.”
Since the election of Donald Trump, Americans have gotten in touch with their anger over threats to free speech, immigration, voting rights, people of color, and LGBTQ rights under attack. Does Cranston see his Howard Beale as a Trump-like figure?
“Well, yes, in some ways, yes. He has a message, he has a soapbox in order to deliver it. He is able to convince a large swath of people that he has a message that is important to them, and to follow him,” Cranston said. “He then says things that are not true, that are filled with xenophobia and prejudice of some level or another. Commanding to do this, to turn off your televisions. That message is different from the Donald Trump message, but there’s complexity to it. Deep, deep complexity to it. It strikes a resonance with today’s audience because of what we’re living in.”
“Network” opens on Broadway December 6.