Four Important Life Lessons From Bryan Cranston
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Sometimes You Have to Let the Bees Sting Your Balls

And other life lessons from Bryan Cranston

Actor Bryan Cranston in three different poses wearing a blue shirt and black slacks.
Kwaku Alston

When I interviewed Leonardo DiCaprio in the ’90s, he explained why he didn’t want to tell me anything. He was reserving parts of himself as surprises he could reveal in characters later on. Everything people knew about him lessened his impact as an actor. 

That is not how Bryan Cranston thinks.

If there’s one thing nobody could accuse Cranston of, it’s being guarded. He’s an open book, happy to share anything about his life, even when he’s the butt of the joke. You can see glimmers of his characters — the drug kingpin chemistry genius from Breaking Bad, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, the dentist from Seinfeld.

But at his core, he’s a steel-spined guy with a blue-collar attitude. He’s a rare breed in Hollywood, a guy who’s somehow more interesting than the iconic characters he’s played. If I am as comfortable with myself, with other people, with aging and my past as Cranston is when I’m 66 years old, I’ll feel incredibly lucky. 

I sat down with Cranston to talk about his new movie, Jerry and Marge Go Large, now streaming on Paramount+. But I ended up learning a few things about how to be a better and happier human being.

Trust Your Wife

JOEL STEIN: How did you come up with CAPS — the Cranston Assessment of Projects System?

BRYAN CRANSTON: Through some unbelievably good fortune, instead of hunting down material, now it’s coming to me. So I give numerical scores to the different aspects of a script. It helps me look at it objectively. 

STEIN: What comes first?

CRANSTON: The category that gets the highest priority is the story. Does it say something that is lasting, or is it ephemeral? Either one could be fine, because a rainbow is beautiful. Then the character. Is the character someone that I can step into? Then family. Does this impinge on family, or does it create an opportunity? If I were shooting in Europe or South America or Italy or Africa, could we go do a family vacation? And I check in with my wife. We’ve been married for 33 years. She reads everything that I get.

STEIN: How many points does her opinion get on the assessment scale?

CRANSTON: She has veto power.

Ditch the Stuff

CRANSTON: As I get older I’m much more interested in experiences than I am in things. Things are meaning less and less to me.

STEIN: Do you remember that moment when you thought, Why do I keep these things?

CRANSTON: When I go through my closet and just purge, get rid of things, I feel lighter. I feel like I’m not so weighted down. So to go through all that, and to go through your files. I’m 66 years old. 

STEIN: I’m 50. I have files.

CRANSTON: As a 66-year-old, I had files on everything. What I failed to realize is that “Oh, I don’t need to keep these clippings of this B&B or that hiking trail. I have that at my disposal instantly.” Get rid of that, lighten the load, reduce. I have less things so that I can move more swiftly through life.

STEIN: Anything from Breaking Bad that you’ve kept?

CRANSTON: I have my Heisenberg hat. It’s under a case, actually. I have an office where I put those things. Emmys and things like that. That’s all tucked away in a room. But at some point, that’ll go, too.

Just Be Better Than the Other Guy

CRANSTON: You look around a room when you have an audition, what they call a cattle call, and there are a hundred people before you who are all your age. It’s a numbers game. There are always going to be people who are more talented than you. And there will also always be people who are less talented than you. The only thing you can control is how much time and energy you put into your work. I would vow that no one was going to outwork me. I will put my head down and keep doing the work. I kept preparing, preparing, preparing. Whenever I hear people imbibing so much, doing drugs or alcohol or going to parties and going on vacations, I’m like, “Good. Go ahead.”

Be Open to Anything, Even if It Means Getting Stung by Bees on Your Scrotum

STEIN: I read that in Malcolm in the Middle, the writers had a game called What Won’t Bryan Do? Is this true?

CRANSTON: Yeah. I never rejected anything. For example, there was an episode where I wore 10,000 bees. [Show creator] Linwood Boomer and his writers were kicking around ideas, and they were like, “Wouldn’t that be amazing? Brian will do it.” They asked me and I said, “Wow, how cool. Yeah, I’d do that.”

STEIN: And did you get stung?

CRANSTON: Yeah, twice.

STEIN: But you kind of knew you would.

CRANSTON: What I discovered is that if you’re wearing 10,000 bees, when you’re stung, you’re not at all surprised. And most of the pain of a bee sting comes from the element of surprise.

STEIN: That seems obvious now that you said it.

CRANSTON: The beekeeper put an insect repellent on my face, wherever we didn’t want the bees to go. And then he put the queen’s hormones on me wherever we wanted the bees to go. I had to turn around in this, and one time a bee went down into my crotch. If you touch a bee on the back, its tail goes up and stings — it doesn’t control that. It’s not a decision that it’s making. It’s an automatic response. That’s why you can step on a dead bee and get stung. So when I turned my body and put pressure on the bee, it stung me. It actually stung me in the testicles. 

STEIN: Oh no!

CRANSTON: So the beekeeper said, “If you ever get stung, let me know and I’ll scrape it out.” You never want to pinch the stinger, because then more venom goes into the body. So you want to clip it. You want to take, like, a credit card or something and just, like, snip it out. You don’t wanna squeeze the top to get it out because there’s a sack of venom.

STEIN: So you have to give the beekeeper your testicles at this point?

CRANSTON: Well, I don’t give him my testicles. [Laughs.] The really interesting thing is that I was stung and I went, “Oh … was I? Yeah, yeah, I think I was stung. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

STEIN: You had to think about it.

CRANSTON: And the beekeeper, he’s at the ready. He’s like, “Where?” And I go, “My testicles.” He goes, “Sorry, you’re on your own.” [Laughs.] 

STEIN: I wouldn’t think a beekeeper would have limits like that.

CRANSTON: Hey, a man’s got to have some guardrails.

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