کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 58


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I’ve seen Breaking Bad T-shirts in cities and little outposts all over the world. People dress as Walter White for Halloween. They dress their children and dogs in hazmat suits and Heisenberg hats. People have shaved my face into the back of their heads, they’ve inked it on their backs, their forearms, their legs, their asses. I’m the permanent resident of some guy’s left butt cheek. Next to Larry and Moe. I suppose I’ve taken the place of Curly, the third Stooge. It’s a little . . . odd to have your face tattooed on someone’s backside. I did not see that coming when I lied about my ability to mountaineer in order to get a Mars bar commercial.

I didn’t even see it when we were shooting the pilot. A lot of people around us were raving: Profound, they said, groundbreaking. We have a hit on our hands. Something very special and rare.

But all I knew at that moment was that we were doing something daring and we were having a good time. Nothing more.

People tend to think that actors or writers or directors know when something is going to be a hit. We don’t. We can guess. We can hope. We can do the work. But that’s all. No one can know with certainty if a movie or a show is going to work, even if it’s damn good. There are so many outside variables: marketing, music, timing. Competition also determines if something succeeds or fails. Sometimes there’s another movie about giant man-eating grasshoppers coming out the same weekend as your grasshopper movie. Social mores are another part of it. Sometimes a show is ahead of its time. Or maybe it’s just a little bit behind. You just don’t know. You keep your fingers crossed. But you don’t know.

The audience embraced Breaking Bad beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, and that changed my life. I’d been a working actor for nearly my entire adulthood, and now, suddenly, in my fifties, I was a star.

That’s never what I aspired to be. I wanted to act. I wanted to work. Being an actor and being a celebrity are different things altogether. For a long time I had a real ambivalence toward fame. And praise. Whenever someone gave me a compliment, I would downplay it. Which would then have the unintended consequence of prompting the person giving the compliment to reiterate: You were great.

No. I appreciate it, but, no, I was okay.

No, no, no, you were really great!

Well, I don’t know. Thank you.

I said thank you more as an apology than a genuine expression of gratitude or appreciation. I did that all the way through my thirties. Maybe I felt that because I didn’t have a formal education, who was I to get these jobs? Who was I to receive this praise?

I remember I bristled the first time someone called me a television star. No, no, I’m just an actor working on a show. The show could end at any time.

At a certain point I gave in. I realized I was spending a lot of time and energy pushing away fame. I realized how taxing it was. I realized I could just say thank you. And appreciate it. And once I realized that, I got out of my own way. I had to come to terms with what was happening in my own life.

Undeniably I’ve benefitted from fame. Many, many opportunities have come my way because of the insane success of Breaking Bad. But there are downsides, too. As an actor you need to be sensitive, to be open, to be able to observe people and study human behavior. I don’t want my character to be me—but with a hat! I have my Bryanisms, and I study people to help me get away from those tics. But as a celebrity I am no longer the observer, I am the observed. I am not the one who knocks. I am the one who ducks and covers.

People who sell celebrity autographed material find out when your plane is landing, where you’re staying, where you’re eating, and they lie in wait, and they shove paraphernalia at you to sign. Many of the guys are aggressive; they bark at you. If you sign, they tell others: “He’ll sign.” And then you’re mobbed by even more people. And your time and energy get drained this way. And it’s like you’re going out there handing them money. And when you don’t hand them money, they get upset at you. (Of course it couldn’t be more different with real fans who just want to shake your hand and say that your show or film really touched them. I love that.)

I’ve become hyperaware of the catacombs, the secret exits, how to escape from any given place. I choose a hotel because I know it has a good back-door situation. At an airport, if I’m not in a lounge, I’ll look around and find old people and sit facing them. They’re far less likely to know who I am. If there happens to be a conversation, I can count on a normal exchange. It’s really cold outside. What time are we boarding?

I go to a restaurant with my wife and daughter, and I sit with my back to the room so fewer people can see my face. When Taylor sees people whispering and pointing she says, “Dad, you’ve been made.”

People rush up to my wife and me. OH MY GOD, IT’S WALTER WHITE! They hand my wife their cellphones. Would you mind? She’s gracious, always. But it’s uncomfortable at times. She’d never say anything. She realizes how lucky we are, what incredible gifts we’ve been given. But it’s hard being a plus one. It shouldn’t be that every invitation reads Bryan Cranston plus one. It shouldn’t be that photographers wave her aside to get an unobstructed shot of me. I don’t want her to feel unimportant. She’s the opposite of that.

• • •

I love work. I even love work on my birthday—especially my birthday. It’s like a gift I give myself. I’ve always believed in work. But because Breaking Bad ushered in an avalanche of new opportunities, my workload since the show ended has been enormous. Part of that is my nature. I want to do as much as I can while I can. I know that my career will slow down eventually. That’s the natural cycle of things. When that happens I want to have no regrets. I want to know that I took full advantage of my good fortune. Even if I make mistakes along the way. I’d rather fail than regret.

The other reason I work so much is that my work life is more protected than my nonwork life. I asked Robert De Niro about it once. We were both at a hockey game at Madison Square Garden, guests of the New York Rangers. We’d never met before, but between periods we were hustled into a green room, a protective area, which is easier for security to guard. Otherwise people constantly come down to say hello or get an autograph. We got to talking. I mentioned at some point that it seemed he worked nonstop.

He said, “I just feel more comfortable when I’m working.”

If he’s not working, it means he’s stepping outside of his apartment, walking down the street, being pointed to and stared at. He’s Robert De Niro! How can he have a normal day? Ever?

As a celebrity, you can easily create your own kind of self-imprisonment. I think of the Alzheimer’s ward where my mom spent her final years. You have your gardens and your walking path and your illusion of freedom, but you don’t go beyond this wall. You’re not really free.

We were shooting the film Contagion in Chicago, and I was on the street with Laurence Fishburne. We were done working for the day and we wanted to get a bite to eat. I commented it was a nice night. It would be great to walk. But then I said, “I guess we should get a car, so we don’t have to deal with the public attention.”

Fish said, “No, we can walk. You can deal with it, just don’t stop moving.”

“What if there’s a stoplight?” I said.

“Just keep moving. Wave. And then find a way around.”

And we did.

Slowly, I came to understand why celebrities make celebrity friends. Because you can be yourself. Tom Hanks doesn’t need anything from me. I don’t need anything from him. We can relax in each other’s company. After I saw his work in Captain Phillips, I told him his performance was so heroic yet deeply vulnerable. I told him it really affected me. It’s not adulation or fawning. It’s collegial appreciation, on a human level.

Since I became famous, my personality has changed. I tend to leave my house less. If I leave my house I’m in a hat and sunglasses, and when I’m walking down the street and I pass by a group of people, I’m looking down at my phone, pretending to be absorbed in it. If I don’t happen to have my phone with me I’ll pretend to wind my watch or wipe dust off my sleeve. Head down. Louis C. K. told me he feels the same things, but he fights it. He tests himself, pushes himself out. But he always feels vulnerable. Armorless.

Every time I feel claustrophobic or hemmed in by my fame, I remember the first time I was nominated for a Golden Globe for Malcolm in the Middle. I was so excited and greatly honored. At the Beverly Hilton they’d cordoned off the hallway that led from the ballroom to the parties. Once the ceremony was over, security would escort everyone out of the hallway and into the party rooms. Plenty of people on both sides of the rope would be asking for an autograph. We were told: please don’t stop. If one actor stops and another one doesn’t, the one who doesn’t is going to look bad. Please just nod and say hello and move into the party.

Robin and I did as we were told. We walked the long gauntlet, waving and smiling but ignoring all the requests. But about halfway through the lobby we hit a bottleneck. The procession came to a dead stop. We were standing just a few inches away from two thirteen-year-old girls.

“Please, please, please!” They were leaning over the rope, begging me, almost crying. It was like Beatlemania.

“I really can’t. They told us not to.”


I looked around. The line wasn’t moving. I said, “Okay, but don’t tell anyone.”

I surreptitiously took their autograph books, and as I was about to write my name, one of the girls said, “Who are you?”

Robin and I burst out laughing.

I wrote: With love, Tom Cruise.

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