Bryan Cranston has become a household name. He first drew attention as Malcolm’s dad Hal in the long-running TV series, Malcolm in the Middle. He also had a two-time recurring role as Ted’s annoying boss, Hammond Druthers, in How I Met Your Mother. And, of course, Cranston is perhaps most popular for playing Walter White, the meth-making chemistry teacher on Breaking Bad.
Director Jay Roach has had a successful career making comedies, such as Meet the Parents, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Dinner for Schmucks. Roach and Cranston were both very passionate in talking about their new film, Trumbo, in which Roach takes a very serious topic and manages to still make it a hopeful film in a dark period of Hollywood’s history.
The film, which follows the story of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) during the late ’40s through the early ’60s, is out in select theaters right now, with a wide release to come on November 25. It also stars Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, John Goodman, Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg , David Maldonado, Louis C.K., and Alan Tudyk.
Both Roach and Cranston were very giving and thoughtful with their answers in their round table interview with myself and a few other local journalists. You can read some takeaways from the interview below! And be sure to check out the film this weekend and read my thoughts on the film here.
Lauren Veneziani (dcfilmgirl.com): Bryan, I know you spoke with Howard Stern this week, but in the first interview you did with him, you mentioned that after “Malcolm in the Middle,” you got several offers for these funny dad-type characters. And you didn’t want to do that because you wanted to do something different. And I have to say, every single role you’ve taken since then has been a different character. What was it about “Trumbo” and his character and the screenplay that really drew you to this film?
Bryan Cranston: Really it’s, first and foremost, the story. I look at that and see if that resonates with me when I read the script, or if it’s a play. It doesn’t really matter what medium it is, it’s really all about the story. You could have a great character, but if the character is involved in a story that seems unimportant or unimaginative, it just falls flat. It doesn’t matter. So it’s always about the story, the script that supports that and then it’s the character.
How does the character play into the plot, is it relevant to the plot, is there a turning point and does the character grow? All those things come into play when you’re analyzing it. Then I want to talk to the director. I want to see if he or she has a vision for this. Is it along the lines of the story that I sensed when I read this? And that was true with Jay [Roach]. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do, but he also welcomed the collaborative art form. That he wanted to be a team and work to all the best of our abilities. That combination of all those things is what happens and that’s why Trumbo came out great.
Lauren Bradshaw (clotureclub.com): Did Mr. Trumbo’s family and friends help at all in the production process?
Jay Roach: Yeah, very much so. We got to know the daughters, Mitzy and Nikki Trumbo, who grew up in a household where their father was writing scripts in secret and they told us what it was like to walk in and hearing him muttering characters’ lines in the bathtub drinking scotch and smoking, lighting a cigarette with the previous cigarette [everyone laughs]. That’s what the film reached for, an authenticity. You can never cover a 13-year story in two hours, but you try to get the essence, the texture, the sense of pressure on this family that people can relate to. And that’s what good drama does is make you go, “What would it have been like to be there in that household?”
So they were incredibly helpful. And we kind of combined the two daughters a little bit into the character that Elle Fanning plays. They’re each so different, the way they come at the story and their stories of what it was like differed. A lot of disagreement about how certain things went down, so we became kind of arbitrators in a way of what really happened. One of the great things that I love about our movie is that the daughters had not been super close until recently and now they’ve gotten to spend a lot more time together and that’s really cool. We also got to talk to Kirk Douglas. He had a really great take on who Trumbo was and what it was like to work with him. And Bryan [Cranston] got to talk to him after.
Bryan Cranston: Yeah, I talked to him after he saw the movie and he was very complimentary. He had one serious criticism about it, and he said, “I don’t understand why I was not called to play Kirk Douglas.” [everyone laughs]
Jay Roach: What Kirk Douglas did, what he risked, to get Trumbo’s name out there in an environment that to do so was almost instant doom for your project. To put one of these guys [someone on the Hollywood Blacklist]on your project would be an incredibly negative thing at that time.
Bryan Cranston: Let alone the shadow it would cast on your career. On the rest of your career.
Jay Roach: I mean, people like Lee Grant, she was blacklisted for giving a eulogy at a funeral of a blacklisted writer. The most minor bit of association could devastate your project and Kirk Douglas put some of his own money in Spartacus, fired the director, hires Kubrick, is fighting with Kubrick. And then takes this very bold choice of putting Trumbo’s name on the movie and breaks the spell in doing so. It was an incredible situation and we benefited greatly from doing research to try to get authenticity.
Mae Abdulbaki: Unfortunately a lot of people don’t really know that much about this topic. It’s a part of film history that’s glossed over.
Jay Roach: Repressed, maybe.
Mae Abdulbaki: Right. And so what about “Trumbo” and this issue of being blacklisted and speaking out for your free expression do you want to resonate with the newer generation? What do you hope they take away from it?
Jay Roach: The most important thing is the most American thing you can do, which is voice your opinion. And it might be an unpopular opinion, but to have an environment…. This is where I think it’s a completely non-partisan story. It is a story about whatever extreme you are, unless you’re actually trying to overthrow your government, you should be allowed to say anything you want. Especially artists like Trumbo, who was so articulate about raising the issues that mattered to all of us. That’s the guy you want talking. And even though it’s a small minority, maybe in his case, that subscribed to that particular political point of view, you want the whole range.
And when you hear candidates nowadays threatening to shut down the federal funding of a university because they maybe have somebody in the university who’s speaking from a strong point of view, then all of us, and no matter what your political persuasions, should be going, “Hold on.” Hopefully they say, “I just saw this movie, Trumbo, and I have some questions for you about how that goes.” That would be the best possible…. You never know if it’s going to have that kind of impact, but you can dream. [laughs]
Bryan Cranston: I think it does speak to the fact that we’ve become so polarized in politics and many different things, but especially politics. We see it all the time, that one side can’t give the other side even credit for a good idea for fear of relinquishing power to that side. So the idea of politics has now become as it has in American business, a sense of winning as opposed to justice. What is right, what is best, takes a second seat to what is going to retain power. And that’s how they govern, by what holds power. It’s a sign of weakness, they think, to give credit for an idea, however beneficial, to a person who is in a different party than yours. I don’t know where or how we got to that point, but it’s not beneficial to the public.