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Argo - Bryan Cranston interview


Compiled by Jack Foley

BRYAN Cranston talks about his role as a CIA man in Ben Affleck’s Argo and why doing research into the role proved trickier than he thought it would be.

He also talks about why he feels Argo is an important story to tell and what it was like to work with Affleck as both co-star and director.

Q. How did you prepare to play Jack O’Donnell?
Bryan Cranston: Well, Jack O’Donnell is an amalgam of people at the CIA. He’s not any one particular person. So I needed to just get a sense of the culture of a CIA officer, and make up my own idea of who this person was going to be. So I did. I went to Langley, Virginia, and I talked with CIA officers there. And it was an eye-opening experience. This is a group of men and women who are so used to keeping secrets, and so used to not saying a word that, at first, it was a little difficult to open them up a bit. They would give monosyllabic answers. “Yes.” “No.” “Yeah.” “Sometimes.” “Yeah, occasionally.” That sort of thing. And you keep trying to pry it open. And I think they were surprised, because I think they thought, assumed that I would be asking more questions about specific missions and the danger of that.

And quite frankly, what I was after more is to try to create a base, a foundation of who my guy would be. And so I was asking personal questions: age, background, marriage status, strain on marriage, separation for so long. “What about just the fact that you can’t come home and talk to your wife or husband about what you do?” For 30 years, you can’t talk to them about anything! “How does that work?” And they were like: “Well, didn’t work very well. I was divorced twice.” And I said: “Okay. All right. Now, how do you make it work?” And another guy happened to marry a CIA officer. And this is very common, because then they go home and they realize: “We don’t have to ask each other. We know that.”

Q. What was it like to work with Ben Affleck?
Bryan Cranston: Ben is fantastic. A tremendous command of the story. An absolute passion for filmmaking, number one, and for making sure that he does the best job he can. In the directing that I’ve done, I always get a sense that I have to stay on top of it. Because during production, if I miss a beat, if I miss this, I can’t go back, and it’s hard, and maybe you won’t have the same opportunity again. And he has the same anxiety, but outwardly, on the set, you show confidence and comfort so that your cast and crew feel relaxed and we can do the best job we can. And it’s great. We had long conversations about the character and the relationship between my character and his, and where it fits in the movie. And it was the best experience you can hope for.

Q. What was it like to film such intense scenes, especially towards the end of the film when the drama is heightening?
Bryan Cranston: It’s actually a lot harder to actually film those tense scenes, because we’re doing them in compacted form. We’re shooting all of the scenes at the CIA in a row. We’re not intercutting and coming back, going: “Oh, that…” We have to just imagine how the tension has been cranked up. And so when you go through a script, you get that sensibility. Hopefully, it hits you when you first read it, and you go: “Oh, at this point it’s really tense, but not quite as tense as that.” And then here’s absolute relief at the end. So, you can see the markers and where your character needs to go. And then you have to work on how I can justify ratcheting up to that point of tension, where you’re vibrating at certain points. And that’s through experience, and imagination, quite frankly.

Q. Why do you think Argo is an important story to tell?
Bryan Cranston: Argo is an important story. It’s a heroic story. And I think of it as a lesson. It’s saying, “We are culpable for our actions.” In the very beginning of the movie we say, the culpability of the United States had in putting the shah of Iran in that position. And we as a country, I think, what I take away from it is that, any country needs to be responsible for its actions, and to lead by example, not by might. And the ultimate message out of Argo is one of cooperation. Look what great things can happen when working well with people for a greater good, things that are beyond your own personal gain. All these people who have to work anonymously. In the Hollywood section of the movie, too, as well as the CIA, everyone did it for the right reasons: to save the lives of human beings. There’s no greater story than that.

Read our review of Argo

Read our interview with Ben Affleck