TORONTO – The end may be near for TV villain Walter White, but that only means a new beginning for “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.
It’s not clear what’s in store for his mesmerizing meth-making character when the celebrated AMC drama wraps next year but Cranston himself is already preparing to explode onto the stage, film and TV with a slew of diverse roles in the pipe.
The amiable Cranston — equally adept at bringing a demented twist to his sitcom characters and a commanding intensity to his sober dramas — jokes that a wide range of projects will keep him busy for the next 20 years.
“In 2035, I’ll be wide open,” Cranston cracks during a whirlwind visit to Toronto last month to promote his new thriller “Argo.”
This weekend, Cranston hits the big screen as a veteran CIA man in the Ben Affleck political drama, which traces the incredible rescue of six U.S. citizens caught in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
But before that, Cranston can be seen on the small screen Thursday when he makes a much-anticipated cameo on the NBC/Citytv comedy “30 Rock.”
In that spot, he plays the hillbilly boyfriend of Kenneth Parcell’s mother (played by Catherine O’Hara) — the paternal figure that hardcore fans may remember once told Kenneth, “The donkey died. You’re the donkey now, Kenneth.”
The roles are as stark a turn as one can get from the calculating drug kingpin Cranston plays on “Breaking Bad,” and that’s exactly what the versatile actor says he’s going for.
“I feel like I’m at a circus and I want to see the fat lady sing, I want to see the muscle man, I want to ride on a ride, I want to do all these odd things that are somehow in the same place,” Cranston says of his eclectic choices.
“It’s different and I just feel like if I have the opportunity to play a variety of roles or participate in anything that’s important I want to. I just directed an episode of ‘The Office’ because I adore that show and it’s well-done. Same thing for being available to ’30 Rock’ — it’s incredibly well-written and performed, a very entertaining show, I love that show.”
The 56-year-old Cranston can boast of having one of the most varied resumes around — past roles include a harried dad on “Malcolm in the Middle,” a bawdy dentist on “Seinfeld” and a foolish mechanic in trouble with the mob in the neo-noir film “Drive.”
The California native has spent four decades in front of the camera (early forays including the ’80s classics “CHiPs” and “Hill Street Blues”) but Cranston credits “Breaking Bad” with opening “the floodgates” to a wealth of meaty parts in recent years.
That success has given him the luxury to pursue passion projects including a friend’s play he expects to star in next year in Los Angeles.
Then there are plans to direct his own feature film screenplay next summer.
Cranston is tight-lipped on that project, only saying it’s a murder mystery based on a novel. Whether it leads to a new phase in his ever-evolving career is not something he’s willing to speculate on.
“I’m not interested really in trying to guess where the next big move is going to come. I don’t think in those terms. I’m just thinking from what material that I’ve been available to and have access to, what is the best move for me to do,” says Cranston, who has directed TV episodes of “Modern Family,” “Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”
Whether his projects succeed or not is almost besides the point, he adds, speaking fondly of shooting last summer’s box office flop “Total Recall” in Toronto.
In that futuristic reboot of the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick, Cranston plays a power-hungry evil chancellor bent on squashing civil rights. Between shoots, Cranston says he eagerly explored the city on a rented bicycle.
“I would go everywhere, find little pockets, neighbourhoods that I wanted to explore,” he says, adding that he was able to pass through various neighbourhoods and museums relatively unnoticed.
“A lot of people are not anticipating someone on a bicycle to have any kind of notoriety. I keep my head down and wear a hat.”
“Total Recall” ended up being regarded as one of Hollywood’s bigger disappointments recently, alongside the Tom Cruise musical “Rock of Ages” in which Cranston appeared as Mayor Mike Witmore.
Such outcomes don’t faze Cranston, who says he chooses his roles based on what’s in the script and whether it moves him.
“Chris Terrio wrote a beautiful script for ‘Argo,’ Vince Gilligan is a master at storytelling for ‘Breaking Bad’ and that’s it,” he says, noting that even though “Breaking Bad” is buoyed by fervent critical acclaim the pungent series is far from an audience smash.
“If you follow the well-written word, I’ve never been embarrassed when I made that choice and even if in a context of success or failure, if a show was not successful in ratings or a movie was not (successful) in box office (returns), it doesn’t matter in the long run to me.
“It’s the choices that you make, that you find why you did that and that you can be proud of what you’ve done.”