NEW YORK (Reuters)
— After five acclaimed seasons and multiple Emmys for playing
a meth-making chemistry teacher on television's "Breaking Bad,"
actor Bryan Cranston is stepping into the shoes of President Lyndon
B. Johnson for his Broadway debut in "All the Way."
The play, which begins previews on February 10 and opens at
The Neil Simon Theatre on March 6, chronicles the first year of
Johnson's presidency after he was catapulted into the White
House following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
It is not the first opportunity that Cranston, 57, has had to
star on Broadway, but he said other plays were not quite right.
"I wanted to wait for something that had meaning, that really
had resonance, that was historically important, socially
important and entertaining," he said in an interview. "And 'All
the Way' is all of that."
Cranston researched the 36th U.S. president, who was often
referred to as LBJ, and talked to people who knew him. But he
also said he tried to keep an open mind and not have any
judgments about the character.
"You never know what you are about to gleam from your
experiences," he said.
On his second visit to the LBJ Presidential Library in Texas,
Cranston saw a letter from Jackie Kennedy thanking Johnson for
taking the time to write to her children after their father's
"And I'm thinking within four days of taking office from a
tragic experience, he becomes the president of the United States
with all that implies and he took time to write letters to two
little children of John Kennedy, the former president. That says
something about a person," Cranston said.
Cranston heads an ensemble cast of 20 actors who take on
multiple parts in the play directed by Bill Rauch and written by
Robert Schenkkan, the 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner for "The
Schenkkan grew up in Austin, Texas, and had always been
interested in LBJ.
"He was truly Shakespearean — not only physically enormous but
enormous in his ambitions, his appetites, his virtues, his
vices, his flaws," he said.
STRUGGLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS BILL
Schenkkan constantly refined a large amount of material to get
to the heart of Johnson and the "bare-knuckle struggle" that
culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and his battle for
"The core of it always is this one individual, this
one vexing, confusing, deeply complicated and conflicted individual
who is making his way through history and changing the United States
and the world as a consequence," he explained.
Schenkkan said Cranston, who portrayed the
cancer-stricken chemistry teacher in "Breaking Bad" who uses his
knowledge to make and sell methamphetamine to care for his family,
was the perfect choice to portray Johnson in the play that premiered
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2012.
"There are two things you want in an actor playing LBJ. You want
someone who is so charismatic and so charming, and you want somebody
who is absolutely terrifying. And in Brian Cranston we have both,"
"The role is the size of Lear," he said, referring to Shakespeare's
"King Lear" character. "He is on stage virtually the entire time."
The cast includes actress Betsy Aidem, known for
films including "Mr. Popper's Penguins" and "Far From Heaven," as
Johnson's wife, Lady Bird, and Michael McKean ("Whatever Works") as
FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.
Rob Campbell, who will appear in the upcoming film "Winter's Tale,"
is Alabama Governor George Wallace and Brandon J. Dirden ("The Big
C") is civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
"I think they had a tremendous amount of respect for each other.
They both knew they were effective leaders," Dirden said about King
Cranston said he never knows what detail or clue will resonant with
him when he is researching a character, but when it does, it hits
"I want to be all of him, his highs, his lows, his good, his bad,
and to present it honestly," he said about Johnson.