Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston explains why the show would have made for a terrible movie. Created by Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad told the story of Walter White (Cranston), a disgruntled high school chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime after being diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer. The AMC series grew immensely popular over the course of its run, leading to a spinoff in Better Call Saul.
Cranston’s new show, Your Honor, premiered on Showtime earlier in December. It has drawn comparisons to Breaking Bad, in that it focuses on Cranston’s character committing bad actions for the sake of his family. One key difference is that Your Honor is a limited series. Consisting of nine installments, it will wrap up on January 31. Cranston elaborated on this distinction in a recent interview.
While promoting Your Honor, Cranston was asked by Vanity Fair about the differences between his latest project and his time as Walter White. The actor took the opportunity to explain why, in his view, Breaking Bad only could have worked over the course of several seasons. To illustrate his point further, Cranston noted that Walter’s saga wouldn’t have worked if it were presented in a feature film. You can read Cranston’s comments below.
“The story should always dictate the medium, not the other way around. If you have something that’s very literal, that is thought-provoking, and uses jargon and nomenclature extremely well, then perhaps it’s a play. When you look at things like Breaking Bad—Breaking Bad would have made a terrible movie. Why? Well, because you would have to truncate all the development that Walter White needed to make this turn from a good person to a bad person. You would miss so many nuances and detail that I think it would be not only not as entertaining or rewarding, but I think it would have had a negative impact on the story. It’s asking too much to tell that story in two hours.”
Cranston’s remarks get to the core of what made Breaking Bad such a fascinating drama. Viewers were, at first, drawn to Walter’s flirtations with the dark side and then his halfhearted retreats. As the show continued, the draw itself had changed as Walter proved himself quite capable of terrible things. It wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the groundwork and the build-up which allowed viewers to invest in Walter’s trajectory. A movie might’ve upped the stakes early on, cutting out key elements of what made the narrative so compelling on the small screen. Cranston would have still earned plaudits for his performance, in all likelihood, but the overall impact of Breaking Bad likely wouldn’t have been anywhere near as significant.
In another sense, Cranston’s answer reveals an interesting aspect about the way television has changed over the past decade or so. Some of the best shows recently have been miniseries, playing out like movies that were cut up into several parts. At times, such as with I May Destroy You and We Are Who We Are, the approach works perfectly. In other instances, and arguably far too often, television ends up losing its crucial episodic elements. Breaking Bad was fortunate enough to avoid this particular pitfall, successfully telling self-contained stories while also advancing Walter’s arc. It probably wouldn’t have worked any other way.