Bryan Cranston turns writer in his new show based on the bestselling book for boys.
Bryan Cranston is known for his searing portrayal of Walter White on Breaking Bad, as well as lighter roles like everyone’s favorite dad, Hal, on Malcolm in the Middle. His longing for family-oriented shows may have inspired his latest creation, The Dangerous Book for Boys, based on the how-to book of the same name by Conn and Hal Iggulden. In a recent panel discussion at the Paley Center, Mr. Cranston asked, “How many shows can you actually count on to sit down with your kids and not worry about the content?”
The Dangerous Book for Boys follows the McKennas, who have just suffered the tragic loss of their patriarch, Patrick (Chris Diamantopoulos). His wife, Beth (Erinn Hayes), struggles with her three boys’ constant use of video games and smartphones when she passes down a book their father created for them: The Dangerous Book for Boys. In it, the boys (Gabriel Bateman, Drew Powell, Kyan Zielinski) learn about all things little boys should know: how to build a go-cart, how to play poker, or how to talk to girls. The boys are able to reconnect with their father through these fantasies in a marvelous and touching way.
Bryan Cranston serves as writer in an interesting change of pace in his endlessly versatile career. He also co-created the show with Greg Mottola for Amazon.
With The Dangerous Book for Boys, Mr. Cranston has answered his question by creating this wholesome family comedy-drama.
We spoke with the cast and with Mr. Cranston before their panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media.
Q: This show is based on a book, The Dangerous Book for Boys. How did the idea for that come about?
A: Well it’s inspired by the book, but not based on it because there are no characters, and there’s no plot. Anna Gunn, my costar on Breaking Bad, gave the book to me about four years earlier than that, and said, “This reminds me of you.” And I said, “Oh, that’s sweet.” But I couldn’t figure out how to crack a story, so I let it go. I just forgot about it. I’m running on the Charles River in Boston, and because I let it go and stopped worrying about it, whoop! Something popped into my head, and I realized what it was. I realized the missing link. And that’s how I came up with the construct that the patriarch of the family, the father, has recently died, but in the two years that he knew he was going, he spent it creating The Dangerous Book for Boys as a surrogate to fatherhood because he knew he wasn’t going to be around.
Q: One of the messages of the show is to turn your screens off and go enjoy life. As a father, is that something you tell your own kids?
A: Constantly. It’s a constant battle, because these things that you’re holding now, recording me, are fantastic. They’re mail, they’re your music, your camera, they’re wonderful. Except every tool needs to be used and not misused, but we need to be the custodians of how much we allow this to penetrate into our lives and govern them, especially with kids. Because kids will just continue to be on them. If you gave kids unlimited amounts of candy they would eat it until they got sick. So you have to be a parent to yourself as well as to your children.
Q: I’d like to know a little bit about your character.
A: I play Beth, she’s the matriarch of the family. She’s now a single mom with three boys, with her mother-in-law living in the house, and her brother-in-law moves into the house, so she’s just trying to keep everybody afloat, and keep her spirits up while dealing with this loss of her husband.
Q: How did you navigate that in terms of tone?
A: It’s a little tricky. The writing’s great. There are jokes, so they don’t just sit a long time in these heavy moments. You touch it and then you move on. As parents, we try to put on a nice face for our kids. We try to keep things normal and fun and not sit with that.
Q: That must be what separates this show most other family dramas.
A: Each character in this family is fully developed. It’s a true ensemble show. In most family or kids’ shows, they focus on the kids or the adults. There’s not too many — other than, say Modern Family, which has a lot more jokes. That’s a fast-paced comedy. We are more of an Amazon comedy, a little bit more true-to-life, where the comedy comes, but not everything is built for jokes.
Q: I’d like to know about your character. He’s unique in that he’s dead.
A: Yeah. I play two characters, and then sort of play twelve characters. I play Patrick McKenna, who’s dead, and he visits his son in his son’s flashbacks. And he appears as different historical, legendary heroes. And this is a way for his son to sort of make peace with the fact that his father’s dead. And then I play Patrick’s twin brother — very opposite to Patrick. His name’s Terry, and he’s a Kramer-like figure. If accidents happen, he’s gonna be the guy to make it happen.
Q: What was it like switching between all those roles so frequently?
A: It was an actor’s dream. Really a lot of fun. That’s why I got into this business, to play a lot of characters, so I got to play more characters in seven weeks than I’ve gotten to play in many, many years.
Q: In one episode, how many people would you be?
A: Maybe three, four, five?
Q: And what was it like to have Bryan Cranston on the set?
A: It was really the reason I signed on to this. He’s the patron saint of what I do. He’s the patron saint of character actors. And when I knew he had written this, and to the capacity that he was involved in it, I fought to get the job, and I’m so thrilled that I did get it. He’s the real deal.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your character?
A: Tiffany is the grandma of the family, but she kind of turns the role of grandma on its head. She’s a hot rock’n’roll grandma, a child of the sixties, a hippie, and she’s still got a lot of that vibe going. She’s mystical, spiritual — very connected. But she supplies a lot of the humor in the show. It’s beautifully written. For Bryan Cranston and Greg Mottola, who write for a woman of this age, it’s a great role. It’s really a tribute to their open-mindedness. So when I was offered this, I said, “Wow. Are you serious? Bryan Cranston? And this role? Yes, I’m there! I’m on the plane!”
Q: And what was it like to be working with Bryan?
A: Oh, it was amazing. He was there on set and his input is so specific. And since he is such an actor — he’s the actor’s actor, really — he would write down what kind of t-shirt somebody was wearing. He was into it and on it in a beautiful and open way. He has such great taste and such a great brain. And as an actor, I’m always blown away by him. He’s such an authentic person, and that comes across on stage or screen.
Photo Courtesy of ScienceFiction.com