The Q&A Debrief: Bryan Cranston

On Sunday 21st January, we welcomed Bryan Cranston to Curzon Mayfair for a preview of Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying, followed by a Q&A with Heisenberg himself.

Cranston has a captivating stage presence and is a terrific storyteller. During our Q&A, hosted by Ian Haydn Smith, Cranston was warm, funny and candid, dissecting the creation of his Last Flag Flying character, Sal, with great detail and insight. Later, he passed on some sage advice for the aspiring actors in the audience.

Ian Haydn Smith interviews Bryan Cranston at Curzon Mayfair

Ian Haydn Smith interviews Bryan Cranston at Curzon Mayfair

The Debrief 

Sal

When Cranston was first approached for a part in Last Flag Flying, he thought Richard Linklater wanted him to play the role of Doc rather than Sal. Sal being the surrogate for Jack Nicholson's Buddusky from The Last Detail and the more comedic of the two characters, Cranston naturally assumed the part was intended for Steve Carell. In reality Richard Linklater always saw Cranston as Sal. 

Bryan Cranston as Sal in Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying

Bryan Cranston as Sal in Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying

Sal existed in a variety of guises. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, there was a version of Sal that was completely out of control and was extremely self-destructive, full of aggression and negative energy. The possibilities of what Sal might have become as a result of his PTSD were explored in their fullest, they were played out in rehearsals and at times during the shoot, and the final character became a construction of that whole spectrum of personality and behaviour.

Rehearsals

The cast and director underwent a three week rehearsal in preparation for the shoot, which Cranston described as invaluable. Cranston saw “Rick” Linklater as being like a conductor during these workshops and later on set, allowing his trio of lead actors to contribute character notes that he would rework into the script, raising and lowering each character's dominance as though leading an orchestra.

Richard Linklater and Bryan Cranston on the set of Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater and Bryan Cranston on the set of Last Flag Flying

Improvisation

Despite these workshops, or perhaps because of them, there is very little improv in the film. Almost all of the dialogue in the film was on the page. That said, the “Baby Ruth” and “Doc Holiday” gags were dropped in by Cranston and Carrell during the shoot. 

Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston in Last Flag Flying

Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston in Last Flag Flying

Research

Cranston spoke to a number of Vietnam veterans in preparation for the role. Some he found to be very forthcoming and open to discussing what they had been through, while others shut down and refused to talk about it at all. This spectrum of trauma contributed to the formation of Sal’s character.

Randy Quaid, Jack Nicholson and Otis Young in Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973)

Randy Quaid, Jack Nicholson and Otis Young in Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973)

Although Last Flag Flying is a spiritual sequel of sorts to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, Cranston did not revisit the film in preparation, saying “The last thing I wanted was Jack Nicholson running around in my head” 

Asked about the hardest role he'd ever had to research, Cranston said Walter White, his now legendary character from Breaking Bad. Cranston explained that he went back to Universities to study Chemistry so that he could carry the knowledge of Walter White into the role, but he did not research Meth or cancer, because these were things that Walter White had no knowledge of, and White's lack of knowledge in these areas formed his character. The key piece of research he did for Breaking Bad was into depression and the variety of ways it can manifest itself in people.

Last Flag Flying

From Richard Linklater, one of America's most revered auteurs, Last Flag Flying is a spiritual sequel to Hal Ashby's rebellious 1973 classic, The Last Detail.

Set thirty years after the events of The Last Detail, Linklater's Last Flag Flying tells the story of three old comrades in arms, Doc (Steve Carell), Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), veterans of the Vietnam War. The three are reunited following decades apart by the death of Doc's son, a soldier killed in Iraq. The shared trauma of their past and the fresh pain of the present unites them in a cross state road trip to lay the young soldier to rest.

As with many of Linklater's films, Last Flag Flying is at times raucously funny, reflective and gentle, focusing on the philosophical questions in life yet finding levity in the heavy things. Perhaps uncharacteristic for Linklater, amidst the ideas about identity and the slippery nature of time, Last Flag Flying also delivers an angry, barbed criticism of the USA and its readiness to send young men to war. 


Last Flag Flying is released by Curzon Artificial Eye and will play on our screens from Friday 26th January.

The full recording of the Bryan Cranston Q&A will also be available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema now.