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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  July 2, 2016 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [voiceover] funding for "overheard with evan smith" is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community, also, by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. - i'm evan smith. you know him best as walter white, the chemistry teacher turned meth dealer on the much missed crime drama, "breaking bad", but you will not believe him as president lyndon johnson in "all the way", the just released hbo film version of the acclaimed broadway play. he's bryan cranston, this is "overheard". (applause) let's be honest. is this about the ability to learn or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa and? (trails off) you could say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you know, you saw a problem and over time took it on. (laughter) let's start with the sizzle, before we get to the steak.
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are you gonna run for president? i think i just got an f from you, actually. (laughter) (applause) bryan cranston, welcome. - thanks, good to be here. - so nice to have you here. i can't help but stare at your ears. - really? - yes, they're normal sized. - they're normal sized ears, yeah. well, i think so. - yeah? so i'm watching the movie and i'm watching you portray, transform yourself into lbj and i was fixated from the very moment you came onscreen on those massive ears. (bryan laughs) which i can confirm are prosthetic. - well, they're partially my ears. the best way to apply a prosthetic is to blend it in with your natural features. - right. - [bryan] right. so i had the ear pieces that started up here near the top and blended in so that these pieces looked natural and it the lobe dropped about another inch and a half. - down to about your shoulders, honestly.
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- yeah, they're rubbin' shoulders. - they were just right there. - and then there was a piece that brought the ears out like that. and if you just do that, all of a sudden it draws attention to the ears. - [evan] oh my god. well the ears were amazing. the jowls, which were also partly prosthetic? - yeah, yeah. thanks for questioning. - hey! i don't wanna assume, right? and the nose, right? - [bryan] well see, i'm not wearing any prosthetics now. - right now, we can confirm. - except a fake leg. - okay, we don't have to talk about that. - i had jowls, yes, and a fake nose. he had a very (trails off). - [evan] prominent. - a very prominent nose, and he also had a dimple in his chin and i don't have a dimple in my chin. - it was stunning. we're used to people playing presidents. people who we have watched over the years on television or in person, i was thinking about frank langella, whose in this film, as richard nixon in "frost nixon" or i was thinking about josh brolin as george w. bush. they were frank langella and josh brolin. you were lyndon johnson.
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the transformation was, i thought, absolutely complete and it wasn't just the physical transformation, but it was mannerisms, it was the accent, it was everything. i'm stunned at how well you were able to pull that off. - well, i love to act, is one thing. and so i have an insatiable curiosity toward the characters that i play. and that's the most fun to have is the research part of it where you're gathering. you're like a dry sponge and any information that comes to you, whether you get it at the johnson library or at the ranch or reading the plethora of biographies about the man, looking at source material, audiotapes, videotapes, things like that. and you just start to absorb it. and every time i start a character, there's always that wonder if that character will eventually seep inside 'cause that's what has to happen before you're completely comfortable to play a character and so there's that trust factor. okay, i'll keep working, keep working, keep reading,
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keep reading. - 'til i get it. - until, hopefully, it (makes swoosh sound) almost through osmosis becomes a part of you. and from that point on, then you're thinking and feeling and filtering every stimulus that comes in through your version of lbj. - so this started out as a play, obviously, and so the preparation for the play, which is a few years back when the play debuted on broadway, very acclaimed tony award- winning play, you and it. the play preparation was how long? how much time before you hit the stage for the first time? - i started working on the research 2012. - so a couple years. - uh huh. we did the play in boston for a couple months and that was in fall of '13. so i had it for a little over a year which is a luxury. to be able to know that you're gonna play something and then you can slowly start to absorb the material that
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you read. - how much did you know about lyndon johnson? how much did you remember from your own life and how much did you know as you went in to prepare for this part? - well, ironically, he was probably the first president that i ever really paid attention to. i was seven years old when kennedy was assassinated. and the effect that it had on my parents and the ripple effect on neighbors. the weeping, the hugging, the abject sadness, it made an impact on me. - you were living in california. - i was living in california. it actually scared me, i was a boy. and i didn't know something that you received, news from the television, could make you feel that way. and so it kind of startled me a little bit. and for the first time, as children are, we're very self- centered, until you learn not to be, and you learn that something outside of yourself is actually very important and that was the first time that that had an impact on me.
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that something was said by this man on this television and my mother started weeping and my father and they're hugging and the neighbors. so i thought, i should pay attention. and then the new president was this this big guy who talked funny. and his wife had a strange name. and so that was my first introduction to it. little did i know. - years later. well, the kennedy assassination figures into the very beginning of this film in that the first sound we hear, before we see any pictures, are shots. and then we see the presidential limousine outside of parkland. we see blood and then we see inside to parkland, you and mrs. johnson being told, "he's gone." and that's the beginning of this film. the time frame of this film really begins right there. so that moment does play a significant role - [bryan] it does. - in the film. - [bryan] our story of "all the way" goes from the assassination up through the night of
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the election in 1964. - do you believe that he's a sympathetic character? should be viewed as a sympathetic character and did you intend to play him sympathetically? - well now (trails off). - history has had different ways of viewing johnson over the years. - oh yeah, yeah. when i was doing the research, i didn't want to sit in judgment of him. an actor never wants to be objective to the point where you're judging your own character, so you try to stay subjective, looking out through the eyes of your character and thinking that everything you're doing is right and justifiable in some way. so as i start doing the research and finding out more about him and talk to people who knew him, doris kearns goodwin and bill moyers and joe califano and larry temple and every (cuts off). i was taking in the essence of this man and taking it in and sending it back out, so i didn't sit in judgment of him.
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now, i have a little more perspective on it because we're done with play, we're done with the movie. and you can take a look at it and i think it's fair to, after 50 years, to look at the entirety of the man's legacy. not just the failures of vietnam, and i think that's the only way you can categorize it. - and that's been the frame, you think? - the framework of lbj has been that of failure and that alone is not fair. what i promulgate is that people, and this library is fantastic, is to be able to take into consideration his entirety. not in a revisionist history but to revisit history and realize that the domestic accomplishments that lyndon johnson was able to accomplish is staggering. staggering.
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- right and the civil rights act is one piece of that, a very big feature narratively in this film, and you have in the film anthony mackie, who's playing martin luther king, acknowledging, in essence, look this guy may not be perfect. we may not be going about this exactly the way that we want from the standpoint of how quickly it's happening or the details of it, but but for him, what do we have? he acknowledges it. - in 1962, a year before the assassination, my family took a road trip to texas to new braunfels, texas. - south of austin. - where we had relatives. 1962. and i'm six. and when we got into texas, my mother told my brother and i, who's two years older, she said, "now boys. "listen to me. we're in a different state. "if you see a drinking fountain that says, colored, "don't drink out of it."
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and as a boy, i'm thinking, are you kidding? of course, i'm gonna drink out of it! - seriously, it's like don't think of elephants, right? - [bryan] is it also flavored? where are they? i'm looking! i stated it because that stayed with me, it was such an impact. and i thought, in every state they have different things, you know? but that stayed with me. it wasn't until later, of course, that i realized what the impact was. in my lifetime, this is how people were treated. citizens of our country. and the civil rights act of 1964 was just landmark legislation that changed the face of our country and it's not hyperbolic to say that. - and so with johnson, you get the good and the bad. - you get the good and the bad. - what i think is great about this film is it's not a whitewashing of the johnson presidency or of johnson the man because there are many moments in this film in which he is
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a son of a bitch. right? - (imitates president johnson) well, i don't know about that. (laughter) - and i actually, and i will say, there was a scene in the film with melissa leo, who is so terrific as lady bird, talking to the actor playing, i don't know the actor's name, playing walter jenkins. - yeah, todd weeks. - fantastic. - [bryan] yeah. - [evan] and she's acknowledging his flaws and saying basically, you work with what you've got. she's acknowledging this to him and it's really a great way to think about johnson. that it's good and bad. and that when you stand back from him, you understand that there were good moments and less good moments. i think it's a very rounded portrayal of him in that sense. - yeah, it is. and anybody who ever knew him, will say that he was probably the most complex person they've ever met. bill moyers said, "eleven of the most interesting people "i've ever met is lyndon johnson." (laughter) - and they're all in this film. - yeah. - and they're all in this film. - and he had towering strength and ability and charisma
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and confidence and he had the depths of insecurity and weakness. bill moyers also told me, three days before the election in november 1964 that lbj was in a down mood and (imitating president johnson) "i don't wanna do it. "if the people don't love me now, i just can't. "i wanna go back to my ranch, and that's how i want to be." and they had to talk him out of it. and in a way, you realize the power and manipulation of that. - oh totally. - it's emotional blackmail, basically. - there's a scene when johnson's on the phone with uncle dick, with richard russell, and he says, "oh i'm so unhappy about how things are going and i'm gonna "go back to my ranch." and frank langella playing richard russell says, "take a tranquilizer and go to bed," and hangs up on him. - "you're acting like a spoiled child." - "you're acting like a spoiled child." people who've seen the play will not see the exact same production. - correct. - so the material differences between the two.
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obviously different than just the form, stage/screen, are what? if you're somebody who saw the play, how would this seem different for you? - well, the story, the core of the story, is the same. there are scenes that now were added. a couple scenes were added, a couple scenes deleted. it's a new beast, so you have to take it accordingly. we're not able to use the amphibious car, which we weren't able to use on stage, of course. - of course. you can do a lot on broadway. can't do that. - you can't do that. - [evan] cannot do that. and the cast is actually, but for you, from what i can tell, the cast is. - brand new. - [evan] mostly, if not entirely, different. - entirely different. - stephen root as j. edgar hoover, fantastic. i mentioned melissa leo, i mentioned frank langella, fantastic as richard russell, and to my mind, the great revelation other than you, was bradley whitford as hubert humphrey. - yeah. - there were moments when i was staring at him, forgetting that it was bradley whitford. - bradley whitford from (trails off). - from "the west wing". - from "the west wing" fame.
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- very familiar face but he really disappeared into it. - i've known him for years. he was married to jane kaczmarek who was my co-star on "malcolm in the middle" for seven years. so i've known him for a long, long time. this is the first time we've actually worked together. and he's a lot of fun on the set. i said, "where'd you get?" he had a little pouty, you know, as humphrey. i said, "where'd you get that?" he said, "i don't know." he says he has a dog that's a boxer. - he just did the dog. - he just did his dog. - isn't that amazing? - he didn't do an impersonation of humphrey. he did an impersonation of his own dog. (laughter) - so here we have been sitting talking about a character a great protagonist who is a mixture of empathy and humanity on the one hand, and difficult decisions that you may not like on the other hand, then of course, i think, not just lbj, i think walter white. is walter white not, in his own way, a little bit like lbj in that you have both sympathy for this character, there's an implicit humanity in this character, but also you kinda go, really?
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this is the decision you made? (laughter) - hm. - not buyin' it, huh? - again. - my career as a tv critic has just come to a thud. a thudding end. - i would defer and say that you have a much clearer viewpoint of that than i would. - are you not clear-eyed about, i know walter white is still relatively recent in the rear view mirror for you, but do you not have, do you feel like, clarity about the enormity of the accomplishment of that program and of that character? changed television, right? - it certainly changed my life. and i'm grateful for that. it did change television in one significant way. never before was there a character that changed from the beginning of the show to the end of the show. television to that point had been about stasis. whatever the characters you loved to watch, they are themselves in different conditions and situations. even tony soprano was who he was with
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different stimuli coming in. but walter white changed from the person that we first were introduced to to the end. but again, i'm seeing him from the inside out. that's where i lived with him. - this was a character you developed. the character we saw was a character largely of your creation or of vince gilligan's creation or of some combination? how did you build this character? - when an actor takes on a role, you are inspired and the character resonates within you or it doesn't. and it's not dissimilar from when you read a good book and you can't wait to get back to the next chapter and it's like, oh my god, you're so into it? well the same thing when you read a great story, a great script, and the character just comes out and you can't wait to get through it. - you knew immediately you wanted to play this part. - i knew immediately. it was that good. and compelling storytelling and resonant,
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relatable, an average, an every day man, struggling to make ends meet. - just not in the way that the rest of us make ends meet. - well, no, at the beginning. - admittedly. - for all i knew it was like he was gonna be a criminal for one period of time and then go, well that's not for me. and i'm not a criminal. but i think what it did say is that, given a set of circumstances, anyone could become dangerous. walter white certainly did. to himself and to others. - is it true the story is that you and vince gilligan had met on the "x-files"? - yeah, that's where i first met him. 10 years earlier. - 10 years earlier, you had a done a guest spot on the "x-files". - yeah. - and he liked what he saw in you and in that character and he remembered it later on. - yes. he is a very nuanced, brilliant writer. in the "x-files", i played a character who had some kind of alien bug in his head.
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- it's pretty much every character for the entire series. - yeah, exactly. and it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing, a play on the movie "speed", where if i wasn't travelling in a westerly direction at at least 80 miles an hour, my head would explode. (laughter) i would hate to have my head explode. so david duchovny is in the driver's seat, he got in somehow, and he's driving 80 miles an hour, and here's the difference of vince gilligan. most writers would've written my character in the back seat, the guy with the bug, to be nice. and help this poor guy, he's sweet. yeah, david duchovny save him! we like him, yay! good for you! but he wrote me despicable. i was a horrible person. hateful, spewing, just venomous kinda person. which put an interesting dilemma in his main character,
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which was, is this person worth saving simply because he's a human being? - yeah. - that's what his lead character had to figure out. he wanted in the worst way, he wanted to pull over. go, die! but he couldn't do it. - you're so good at playing people who are contradictions. i think that's actually a consistent theme across all these characters. - well i think that's honest. it's what we are. we are contradictions. are we ever just serious? or are we ever just giddy or silly? no. we're complex in our lives and i think that's what people are relating to. is the complexity of these different people that they see on television. - well, again i come back to "breaking bad" for a second, where this change really for all of us was, that the episodic series which had had some life before "breaking bad" admittedly, you know, "the wire" and "sopranos" and all that, nonetheless "breaking bad" made it so that the doors blew open and now the kind of art that used to be just created for the big screen
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now we actually look to television, almost, as the more artistic medium of the two. - it can be. for a while there, about 20 years ago, every studio had a little division that made five, six million dollar movies. they went out of favor because they felt it cost just as much to advertise and promote those movies as it does a bigger blockbuster. so why don't we just go with what we think we can make more money on? and all those little divisions went away. well, where is that small, interesting character-driven storytelling? it went to television. - it's television or it's the streaming services, right? - yeah. - [evan] we have the expanded playing field and the reality is, to come back to "all the way", once upon a time, "all the way" would not have been a film for television. - no. - it would've gone into the theaters. and you can imagine there being an audience for it, right? - i think we're at the right place. hbo is an incredibly supportive studio and the truth is there will be millions more watching "all the way" because
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it's on hbo than if we had a theatrical release on this. - well that's true. and it will be on multiple times, right? people will get to see pieces of it here and there. we have a few minutes left. within the last couple of days as we sit here, there was an announcement that you're planning to executive produce and appear in a multi-part series based on philip k. dick. this is true. - yes. - [evan] could you talk a little bit about that? why you chose this material and what you're going to do with it? - i love interesting storytelling. i have a production deal with sony tv who produced "breaking bad" and i was always looking for things that interest me. and the short story library of philip k. dick is one of those transformational kind of stories that always has some kind of resonance in today's lifestyle and so we worked on putting together a team to be able to tell those stories. so we're gonna have a variety of international writers write from their language, their culture,
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their understanding, their interests and then we're gonna put together this potpourri of storytelling. - so it's 10 episodes. - yeah, 10 episodes. - will be available for us to see when and where? - (whistles) we're a little ahead of the time there. check your local listing! - as they say. should i check them any time in my lifetime? - don't know yet where. but i do have another show coming out later on this year called "sneaky pete" and that's on amazon. - streaming amazon. - and i have an animated series on right now called "supermansion", which is a goofy little thing about superheroes who all live in the same house. (laughter) - look at all the things you've gotten to do. - yeah. - so, you know, you've gotten to do traditional comedy, "malcolm in the middle" was a classic network comedy, you've gotten to do this great crime drama, episodic series in "breaking bad", you've got to do this amazing play, so you were nominated for emmys for "malcolm in the middle", right, you got to do this play for which you won a tony, you got to do "breaking bad" for which you won multiple
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emmys, you now have done the film version of the play, you got to do "trumbo", we haven't even talked about the "trumbo" film which last year, great film, for which you were nominated for an academy award. think about how long and how far you've come. what a great career you've built. - it's phenomenal. (laughter) and i say that because it surprises me. - but this is the point. your parents were sort of in the business and sort of not. there was no obvious path for you from childhood here. and it was a slow build, was it not? - very slow. i thought i was gonna become a policeman until (trails off). - in fact, your degree is in something related to. - well, i had a two-year degree and i was going to transfer to go to a university but in the interim i took elective classes in acting, my second year in college. - in la. - [bryan] in la. and my first class,
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the teacher's handing out randomly, "you two read this, you two read this, you two, "read this," and i get this sheet and i'm a little nervous and all these people around and i look and it says, "a teenage boy and girl are making out on a park bench." (laughter) and i look over at the young woman who i'm, and she's really pretty. and i'm thinking, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. and i look again and she hasn't read it yet and she reads it and then looks up to look at who she has to kiss. (laughter) and she went like this. hm. (laughter) i took that as a major victory. - right. it's also god saying, "you want to go into this business." i'm gonna get paid for doing this. - well, the upshot is is that we did this show, and i was determined, i'm gonna kiss her, i had the first line, "beth, i think we should start "seeing other people." right? i have to break up with her. and so i thought, okay, i'm really just gonna kiss her,
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i hope she's ready for this. and i put my sides down, we're siting on the bench. i start to turn and she she's on me, kissing me, kissing, leaning back, putting her body on me, hands, tongue, oh my god, it's like, oh! everything that any 19 year old boy is like, oh my god, i've been trying to do this forever! (laughter and applause) now it's kind of my job. wow! - at that point, he wants to be a cop? - that was it. i could not focus any more attention on that. are you kidding me? when this is available? - amazing. - so i made that turn. - well, you've come a long way. - well, thank you. - congratulations on this film, all your success prior and good luck on all the stuff you're doing in the future. what a treat it is to get to talk with you. - thank you. - bryan cranston, thank you so much. (applause) - [voiceover] we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at
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to find invitations to interviews, q and a's with our audience and guests, and an archive of past episodes. - so it comes to the dress rehearsal and sure enough i say, "nurse? the nitrous oxide?" and she hands me the mask and i go (inhales deeply), (in strained voice) "that's good." and i gave it to jerry and jerry falls off the chair he's laughing so hard. and larry david says, "that's in the show. "i love it! i love it!" - [voiceover] funding for "overheard with evan smith" is provided in part by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community, also by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation.
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