One of the biggest surprises when Breaking Bad premiered on AMC back in 2008 was how incredibly good the guy from Malcolm in the Middle was in a heavy drama about a high-school teacher (with cancer), who turns to a career in meth to take care of his family. It seems very obvious now that Bryan Cranston — currently starring in Your Honor — is one of the best television actors of his generation, but that wasn’t nearly as obvious when he took the lead in Breaking Bad. In fact, some of those early viewers initially tuned in to see the novelty of a sitcom actor starring in dark drama.
It obviously worked out well for not only Bryan Cranston, but the extended Breaking Bad universe, which is still operational 13 years later with Better Call Saul. However, as Bryan Cranston recently revealed on the Smartless podcast — hosted by Sean Hayes, Will Arnett, and Jason Bateman (the latter of whom created a very Breaking Bad-like series in Ozark) — Breaking Bad nearly didn’t come together for him because of Malcolm in the Middle.
“Fox said, ‘Keep the sets up. We might do an eighth season of Malcolm In The Middle,” Cranston said on the podcast. “And everyone was like, ‘Yeah that’d be great.’ In late April and early May, they called when the upfronts are going on, they said, ‘Nope, we had a very good pilot season. Thank you guys, you did well. You’re on your own.’ So we thought, ‘Ahh, that’s too bad.’”
It probably was too bad for the rest of the cast (has anyone seen Christopher Masterson lately?), but it worked out splendidly for Cranston.
“Later that month, I get the call to go see a guy called Vince Gilligan. ‘Do you remember him from X-Files?” they asked.
“Kinda,” he replied.
“He wants to see you about a new project called Breaking Bad,” they said.
Cranston read the script and thought, “Oh my god this is amazing.” He met with Gilligan, who told him that he wanted to “turn Mr. Chips into Scarface and I think you’re the guy to do it.”
Cranston shot the pilot a few months later.
“So had we got that eighth season of Malcolm In The Middle, I would not have been available to shoot that pilot and someone else would be talking to you.” That someone else might have been Matthew Broderick or John Cusack, both of whom were reportedly also up for the role of Walter White. It’s hard to imagine, however, that anyone else is well suited to the role than Cranston.
“It is absolutely my belief, I dogmatically believe this,” Cranston added, “that a career in our business cannot be fully realized without a healthy dose of luck sprinkled throughout.” In other words, the best thing to ever happen to Bryan Cranston’s career was the cancellation of his Malcolm in the Middle.