Can Bryan Cranston Put ‘Breaking Bad’ Behind Him By Going Anti-Drug in ‘The Infiltrator’?

By  · Published on October 9th, 2014

Legendary Pictures Productions LLC & Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.

You remember Bryan Cranston, right? White guy, about average height, tendency to shave his head and scowl out meth-related menace from behind a bushy goatee? Since Breaking Bad ended last year, Cranston’s been floating from project to project, picking up a role here and there but nothing truly memorable since his hair grew back and his perma-grimace softened.

Cranston’s added another post-Breaking Bad role to his list: The Infiltrator. Like the title implies, Cranston will play a guy who infiltrates. In this case, that guy would be the real-life Robert Mazur, a Customs and Excise agent who went undercover into the highest circles of Columbian drug cartels, specifically the Medellin cartel headed up by Pablo Escobar. So the absolute highest of the high in South American drug circles. Based on Mazur’s autobiography of the same name, The Infiltrator will be helmed by Brad Furman, who’s got a solid working relationship with Cranston after the two did The Lincoln Lawyer together. Ellen Brown Furman will be handling the screenplay.

The Infiltrator is about the norm for the actor post-Breaking Bad. It’s a project that’s not quite high-profile, but not exactly low-profile either. A happy, just barely visible medium-profile. Past examples include Cranston whipping out his villainous side (and a murky Russian accent) for last year’s Cold Comes the Night, which did not receive much in the way of favorable press, and acting as a marketing exclamation point on the end of Godzilla, a ruthless bait-and-switch given how limited his role was (“Hello, Son, did you hear about those giant monsters? Oh look, a giant monste – “). Other than those two, Cranston’s post-Bad focus is all on the biopic, Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, LBJ in Broadway’s All the Way (which may or may not become a miniseries at some point) and now a man who made his name by lying through his teeth to real-life versions of Walter White.

Cranston’s getting a steady stream of work, as is the case for every single actor who appeared on at least one episode of Breaking Bad (lest you think I’m kidding, Lavell Crawford, who had maybe five lines of dialogue at most as Saul Goodman’s will-eat-you-if-you-step-out-of-line bodyguard Huell, had appeared onscreen only six times between 1999 and 2009 but had seven non-Breaking Bad roles in 2013 alone). Unfortunately, as is the case with basically every actor with an unbelievably powerful, career-defining TV role, Cranston’s post-Bad filmography falls into the category of “good, not great.”

Kind of like how Jon Hamm can nail a quickie role in Bridesmaids, cull some praise for The Town, and then be entirely forgotten because he’s not wearing a perfectly fitted suit and emotionally collapsing into the finest brown liquors of the 1960s. Or James Gandolfini, who pushed himself into every genre that James Gandolfini would be entirely inappropriate in – a kids movie (Where the Wild Things Are), a romantic comedy (Enough Said), a Jim Carrey/Steve Carell flail-off (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) – but will be remembered forever as adorned in a stained wifebeater and mumbling nasally pidgin Italian on HBO.

Why is it so tough for our most celebrated small-screen thespians to go Hollywood? It used to be that the TV star broke out from the living room box and made it to Hollywood stardom. That’s the system that gave us Bruce Willis, Robin Williams and George Clooney. Nowadays, it seems like the opposite is in effect. TV is quickly becoming an electric hub of creativity and your McConaugheys and Hopkinses and Farrells are flocking there en masse. But for a guy like Cranston, an absolutely stunning talent with more name recognition than basically any other TV star in the business, Hollywood still seems to have a wall up.

For all our sakes, let’s hope he can bust it down. Because if there’s one actor who deserves to be vaulted to the highest point in Hollywood, it’s Cranston. The guy made science terrifying. It’s the least we could do in return.