Bryan Cranston can afford to be picky with acting roles. The 62-year-old industry veteran took on the part of a lifetime in “Breaking Bad,” solidifying his status as a Hollywood legend with the bank account to match. He’s been discerning with projects ever since the series ended in 2013.
Most recently, Cranston walked away from the chance to direct a play about an Englishman who foils an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to turn his fishing lodge into a meeting place. Instead of taking the helm of “The Foreigner,” the “Malcolm in the Middle” alum chose to star in a different play entirely.
“It is a privileged viewpoint to be able to look at the Ku Klux Klan and laugh at them and belittle them for their broken and hateful ideology,” Cranston told the Los Angeles Times.
“But the Ku Klux Klan and Charlottesville and white supremacists — that’s still happening and it’s not funny. It’s not funny to any group that is marginalized by these groups’ hatred, and it really taught me something.”
The actor recalled laughing at the story and, according to The Times, this helped him realize his “white privilege.” Instead of going with that opportunity, he headed in a new direction.
“And I realized, ‘Oh my God, if there’s one, there’s two, and if there’s two, there are 20 blind spots that I have … what else am I blind to?” Cranston continued. “If we’re taking up space with a very palatable play from the 1980s where rich old white people can laugh at white supremacists and say, ‘Shame on you,’ and have a good night in the theater, things need to change, I need to change.”
Now the actor is headlining a production at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse, but it has a different tone compared to “The Foreigner.”
The LA Times described Cranston’s character Nichols in his production “Power of Sail” as, “an aging, highly respected Harvard professor who faces intense backlash for inviting a white nationalist and Holocaust denier named Carver to speak at his annual symposium. As student protests intensify, Nichols presses forward, claiming his intention is to give Carver and his repugnant ideas a thorough dressing down in a debate.”
Nichols is described as a “free-speech absolutist” who believes “The answer to hate speech is more speech.”
Cranston apparently said the play took on new meaning following the death of George Floyd and “transformed Cranston, who says in these troubling years he came face to face with his own ‘white blindness’ and privilege.”
The play questions if free speech should have limits or if some rhetoric should be prohibited.
“Power of Sail” is described as questioning these concepts. The Times said, “The play asks if there should be limits to free speech, and if so, why? It tests the boundaries of the free speech ideal by examining the traditional arbiters of that speech — those who get to decide whose voice is lifted and whose voice is quashed. It suggests the existence of a moral compass in an age when truth is often called relative by special-interest groups opposed to it.”
“There need to be barriers, there need to be guard rails,” the Emmy Award winner told the publication. “If someone wants to say the Holocaust was a hoax, which is against history … to give a person space to amplify that speech is not tolerance. It’s abusive.”
Cranston insists he’s just trying to make people think about these kinds of issues. “A good play may not change your life, but it could change your day,” he said. “To go deeper, a play can also stimulate the mind. It can make you question your thought process — your dogma. It could challenge you.”
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