Bryan Cranston reveals he almost wasn’t available to star as Walter White in Breaking Bad because of his role in Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston’s role as the hapless head of the family Hal in the Fox sitcom was a breakout role, establishing him as one of the finest comedic actors on TV in the 2000s. The show ran for seven seasons, ending in 2006, and Cranston moved on to star as Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad, immediately becoming known as one of TV’s finest dramatic actors.
The tragic tale of a science teacher turned murderous drug manufacturer in the wake of a cancer diagnosis ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2013. Cranston and fellow star Aaron Paul were hailed for their conflicted, tortured portrayals of Walter and Jesse Pinkman, respectively, and Breaking Bad is seen as one of the best TV dramas of all time. Cranston, then, has proven he is one of the most dynamic actors working in TV. Still, he recently revealed that the dramatic part of his career might not have even happened if Fox had changed a decision regarding Malcolm in the Middle.
Speaking to Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes on their Smartless podcast, Cranston says that at one point, Fox was considering renewing Malcolm in the Middle for season 8, and that would have made him unavailable to shoot the pilot for Breaking Bad. As Cranston says, if that had happened, he wouldn’t have been able to star in the show, and recent TV history would look very different. Cranston ends the story by saying it was a “healthy dose of luck” which allowed him to star in both shows without affecting the other. You can read his full comments below:
[In 2006] Fox said, “Keep the sets up. We might do an eighth season of Malcolm in the Middle.” And everyone was like, “Yeahhh that’d be great.” In late April and early May, they called, when the upfronts are going on, they said, “Nope, we had a very good pilot season. Thank you guys, you did well. You’re on your own.” So we thought, “Ahh, that’s too bad.” Later that month, I get the call to go see a guy called Vince Gilligan. “Do you remember him from X-Files?” “Kinda.” “He wants to see you about a new project called Breaking Bad.” I read it and I thought, “Oh my god this is amazing.” I met with him. He said, “I want to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface and I think you’re the guy to do it.” We shot the [Breaking Bad] pilot in February and March of 2007. So had we got that eighth season of Malcolm in the Middle, I would not have been available to shoot that pilot and someone else would be talking to you. It is absolutely my belief, I dogmatically believe this, that a career in our business cannot be fully realized without a healthy dose of luck sprinkled throughout.
The rest, as they say, is history. Cranston was able to go from a well-regarded sitcom to starring in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, winning himself four Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. It would be fascinating to know who would have been offered Walter White’s role if it turned out that Cranston was unavailable due to Malcolm in the Middle. Rumors have long abounded about John Cusack getting offered the role, even though the actor says he wasn’t, but there’s a suspicion he was in line for the part if Cranston had turned it down.
Whether the show would have been as successful with Cusack, or another actor in the role, will forever be a mystery. Nevertheless, thankfully, Fox decided to end Malcolm in the Middle at the right time, and Cranston was able to take on a new challenge the following year, stepping into what is now his most iconic role and spending six seasons working on Breaking Bad.