‘There are always going to be similarities’: Bryan Cranston on Your Honor vs. Breaking Bad
Even when playing a New Orleans judge, Walter White’s spectre looms large
A FATHER RECEIVES terrible news forcing him to break the law in order to protect his family. Deconstructed down to their vital plot points, the latest Bryan Cranston thriller Your Honor and his most notorious, Breaking Bad (2008-2013), clearly share thematic tropes, though the Emmy award winning star views his new character Judge Michael Desiato’s motivation entirely differently to that of the meth-dealing Walter White.
“Walter was very methodical with his chosen journey,” Cranston told us via video conference from LA over the weekend. “He planned it out and went there purposefully. My character in Your Honor went there impulsively. He has to make an immediate decision about whether he can save his child.”
A New Orleans Justice, we meet Desiato in full courtroom pomp. A considered and unbiased advocate, he is introduced charging a white police officer on the stand with fabricating evidence against a working class African-American woman based on PI-style research conducted in his own time. At the same moment his equally upstanding although panicked son (Hunter Doohan) is committing a fatal hit and run. When Desiato Junior confesses the crime to his father, the two agree to head to the local sheriff’s office. As it becomes apparent the road incident victim is the local mafia boss’ kid, Judge Desiato realises turning in his offspring would be an effective death sentence and immediately smuggles him away. There begins the challenge of coming up with a watertight alibi.
“You ask yourself what would I do in that situation? That’s the crux of Your Honor,” Cranston said. “It presents a scenario that is very relatable: every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Although sincerely wishing he never has to make such a choice, Cranston revealed he would do the same as Desiato in real life, stating: “to save your child’s life, you have to do it.”
Cranston said it is the lack of choice in the matter that also singles out Desiato from White, although concedes comparisons will always be drawn no matter the protagonist he portrays from now on.
“There are always going to be similarities because I am the actor who played him (White). As a result of my age I am always going to be a parent. The more you work the harder it is to find distinction between characters.
“I am a person who is imperfect. We all have weaknesses and strengths. You want to watch someone who is imperfect, who does have flaws.”
Based on an Israeli show Your Honor, in a departure from regular network television formats, is a nine-part mini-series. Cranston said the set-up was essential in deciding on this project having dedicated a combined 13 years to Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006) and Breaking Bad. An equally lengthy commitment was not right at this time.
“For an actor our roots are rather shallow. We plant our tree, it grows for seven years then we lift it up and plant it somewhere else. All I learnt from Breaking Bad onwards is to do good work. To find characters that resonate with audiences.”
To delve under the skin of Desiatio, Cranston spent two weeks in New Orleans watching real trials to understand the workings of a district legal system.
“Some (judges) feel like they are the captain of a ship, some like they are a referee. Some think they are on stage, others that they shouldn’t be seen or heard at all. I took an amalgamation.”
The actor also said the experience opened his eyes to the social injustices frequently making headlines and hopes Your Honor may foment dialogue around the issue.
“An artist’s responsibility is to be honest and faithful to what is happening in society. This (Your Honor) is the authentic view of what is happening in the US as far as racial relations. The predominant amount of African Americans in our prison systems is appalling. The justice served to those who are white and privileged as opposed to the others; we show that. Perhaps those are little seeds that might stimulate someone watching to be a social worker or a politician for change.”
Your Honor is available in the UAE exclusively on StarzPlay Arabia now.