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Bryan Cranston — How the Actor Went From Daytime Star to Walter White

The Los Angeles native has had a long, successful career on the big screen and the small

Bryan Cranston was 44 when he landed his breakout role as Hal, the unlucky patriarch of Malcolm in the Middle — and, as things turned out, that was just the turning point for his career in movies and TV shows. At 52, Cranston began his role as the weak and ineffectual chemistry professor turned drug lord of Breaking Bad. At 58, he won a Tony Award for his performance as LBJ in All the Way – And that was only the beginning of Cranston’s illustrious career.

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At 59, he received an Oscar nomination for playing the title character in Trumbo. At the time of his second Tony — for Network — Cranston was 61. More recently, he played a morally upright New Orleans judge in Your Honor, who covers up a crime his son committed, ultimately turning the upstanding judge into a hunched over, skinny man on the outskirts of life itself.

Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows
Bryan Cranston, 2017Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TNT

Such is the Hollywood rise of Los Angeles born Bryan Lee Cranston, known for his deep, powerful voice and his chameleon talents. Having appeared in 62 films and 96 television series, Cranston can make us laugh, as he did in Seinfeld, or cry with empathy as he did as Michael Desiato in Your Honor.  

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He has received several additional awards over the years, including six Emmys and two Golden Globes. But life wasn’t always sunny in Los Angeles: His dad held many jobs before deciding to become an actor, but the fact that he never found success doing so, and therefore was unable to provide for his family, led him to walk out the door and never return.

The early life of Bryan Cranston — before the movies and TV shows

Bryan Cranston, 2000, Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows
Bryan Cranston, 2000Evan Agostini/ImageDirect/Getty Images

Cranston was 11 years old and raised partly by his grandparents, living on their poultry farm. He earned an associate degree in police science, with the desire to become an officer, but while at Valley Community College, he took an acting class for an elective and, at 19 years old, life changed.

His acting career began when he started appearing in commercials for Preparation H, Shield Deodorant and Coffee-Mate. Then, he got his first real start in show biz at the Granada Theater in the San Fernando Valley.

Rising in the Hollywood ranks

Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows
Bryan Cranston, 1984Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

Miscellaneous jobs came and went: Waiter, night shift security guard, truck loader, camera operator, CCTV security guard and ordained minister at weddings when he was 19. Then, in the tradition of many actors who came before him, Cranston became a staple on daytime television, being cast as Douglas Donovan on the soap opera Loving. On top of that, his powerful voice came in handy as he was sought after for voice work in many projects.

Remember Dr. Tom Whatley, Jerry Seinfeld’s dentist? That was Bryan Cranston making us laugh in each of his episodes from 1994 until 1997. Other projects came his way: The X-Files, From the Earth to the Moon, The King of Queens and Saving Private Ryan, while his theater credits included some of Broadway’s biggest hits.

Bryan Cranston, Jane Kaczmarek, Christopher Kennedy Masterson, Erik Per Sullivan, Justin Berfield and Frankie Muniz, 2000
Bryan Cranston, Jane Kaczmarek, Christopher Kennedy Masterson, Erik Per Sullivan, Justin Berfield and Frankie Muniz, 2000Kevin Winter/ImageDirect/Getty Images

After a string of guest appearances, Cranston finally got his foot in the door and, in 2000, landed Malcolm in the Middle. He stayed with the show until its end in 2006, directing several episodes as well.

Here are just some of Bryan Cranston’s outstanding roles over the years:

Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows

What follows is a look at Bryan Cranston’s career on television.

One Life to Live (1985)

Like many aspiring actors, Bryan Cranston got his start in movies and TV shows with daytime’s One Life to Live as Dean Stella.

Malcolm in the Middle (2000 – 2006)

Malcom in the Middle brought Bryan Cranston one of his most celebrated roles in movies and TV shows combined as the patriarch of a quirky family of four sons.

Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

He starred as Walter “Walt” White/Heisenberg. As the show’s protagonist, who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he teams up with former student Jesse Pinkman to manufacture and sell methamphetamine to ensure the financial well-being of his family after he dies.

For this role, he brought home four Emmys.

Sneaky Pete (2015-2019)

He could be seen as Vince Lonigan (and is also credited as co-creator, writer and executive producer).

Your Honor (2020-2023)

Bryan Cranston stars as Judge Michael Desiato, whose son accidentally kills someone in a hit and run accident. Desiato is forced to make risky decision and confront his own convictions. How far will an honest man will go to save his son’s life?

And this is a look at Cranston’s film roles:

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

You could catch him in the film as the one-armed War Department Colonel I.W. Bryce, who reported that Private Ryan was the last survivor of his brothers and provided his assumed location.

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Last Chance (1999)

Cranston starred as Lance and also served as writer, director and producer. The story is set in a California Desert when a man and woman must face life-changing choices. Cranston received rave reviews for his acting and direction in this excellent human story.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Cranston played the part of Stan Grossman, the more successful business colleague of Greg Kinnear’s character.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Bryan Cranston acted alongside Matthew McConaughey as Detective Lankford in the 2011 film The Lincoln Lawyer.

Larry Crowne (2011)

The actor got up close and personal with Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne as Dean Tainot, playing her husband in the film who she is unhappily married to.

Argo (2012)

 You could catch Cranston as CIA Deputy Director Jack O’Donnell in Argo.

Trumbo (2015): Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows

Bryan Cranston played acclaimed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, victim of the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the biographic drama.

All the Way (2016): Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows

The actor played the role of Lyndon B. Johnson (and also served as executive producer) in this HBO adaptation of the stage play.

Power Rangers (2017): Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows

Cranston was cast as Zordon. This marked a return to voicing Zordon in the franchise after providing voices for the show’s first season on television.

The Upside (2017): Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows

Playing the role of  Phillip Lacasse, Cranston stars alongside Kevin Hart in this comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy quadriplegic and an unemployed man with a criminal record hired to help him out. The film also stars Nicole Kidman.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019): Bryan Cranston movies and TV shows

Bryan Cranston revived one of his most famous roles as Walter White in what is essentially a sequel and epilogue to Breaking Bad.

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