For fans of Breaking Bad, it might be hard to imagine anyone other than Bryan Cranston as Walter White.
In fact, Emmy voters find Cranston so good in his portrayal of a chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer they have rewarded him with three statuettes.
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But the actor previously best known for playing the dad on Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle wasn’t the first choice of network AMC or production company Sony Pictures Television.
Series creator Vince Gilligan had been impressed with Cranston’s 1998 guest-starring turn on The X-Files, on which he played a desperate man suffering from radiation exposure, and pushed for the actor. But the suits had trouble envisioning Fox’s suburban dad as their star and wanted to cast a big-name movie star.
Their picks? John Cusack or Matthew Broderick.
"We all still had the image of Bryan shaving his body in Malcolm in the Middle. We were like, ‘Really? Isn’t there anybody else?’ " one former exec recalled in a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter.
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But Cusack and Broderick both passed. And after Gilligan showed execs Cranston’s X-Files episode, minds began to change.
"That was a tricky part to cast on X-Files," Gilligan said. "We needed somebody who could be dramatic and scary yet have an underlying humanity so when he dies, you felt sorry for him. Bryan nailed it."
The role was initially conceived for a 40-year-old — Cranston is now 56 — but AMC requested the change in age.
"We pushed for him to be 50 because at 40 he’s a little too young to have this crisis," former AMC vp production Vlad Wolynetz said. "It was just so much more impactful to have him a little bit older."
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As for Cranston, Breaking Bad offered the type of challenge and creative freedom he craved after years on a network sitcom.
"I wanted a change of pace, and whether that meant a comedy or drama, it was going to be different because I didn’t need the money anymore," he said. "And I never wanted to be in a position where I should make a creative decision based on financial need. I didn’t want a ‘job.’ I didn’t need to work ever again."
Breaking Bad returned for its fifth and final season Sunday night, drawing a record 2.9 million viewers in its 10 p.m. slot.