Bryan Cranston has told Sky News’ Backstage podcast that he feels America has “lost empathy”.
The Breaking Bad star was speaking ahead of the release of the second series of his show, Your Honor, in which he plays Michael Desiato, a judge whose moral convictions are tested when his son kills another teenager in a hit-and-run.
Originally planned as a limited series, Cranston says he decided to sign on for a second and final season as the idea of exploring potential redemption and forgiveness for his character was too tempting to turn down, given the current climate in his home country.
“I felt that especially America – I can’t speak for any other culture or society – we’ve lost a level of empathy within our country,” he said. “We’ve become a coarser, harder, more judgemental, more divisive country; less congenial, less forgiving.
“I think that was in the back of my brain, thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting to have an entire second season that encompasses forgiveness, sadness, despair, suicidal thoughts, redemption; not only asking for forgiveness, but granting forgiveness.
“Where does all that play in a modern society? Because I believe that it is a sign of human strength, not weakness – to ask for forgiveness, to admit fault and take responsibility and accountability for your mistakes and your sins.
“And if you are granted forgiveness, that is also an act of high character, and I know there have been country leaders who might have thought elsewise, but I believe it is something that is a very profound experience.”
It’s easy to draw comparisons between Cranston’s character in Your Honor and the one he’s best known for – Breaking Bad’s Walter White.
Both start their shows as regular people with lives bound by the same morals that most of us live by; both see those morals decline until their lives are turned on their heads.
Cranston says this kind of character arc is something he looks for in a role.
“Any well-drawn character has to learn from that experience. So whether the character starts on a high and ends at a low, or starts on a low and ends on a high – or starts on a low, hits the high, goes back to a low or whatever the diagram becomes for that character’s journey – as long as they have movement, it is important.
“Stagnation is the enemy, apathy is the enemy, I’m not interested in characters that are not invested in something – a goal, have something that they’re hoping to achieve or become, or overcome perhaps; fears and the like. So it is movement that I look for when I take on characters.”
Your Honor explores the idea that any of us is capable of anything, when tested with the right circumstances. Cranston says the reality is that all of us blur the lines when it comes to what we think is right.
“Parents lie to their kids because you have to sometimes just to keep them in line, or don’t want to tell them the truth about this situation right now,” he said.
“That line moves and it’s always interesting, and I think what audiences look for in characterisation is that they resonate with what they’re seeing, what they’re witnessing.”
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For Cranston, the work comes in making a character relatable.
“That’s my goal… if I feel that something is socially important, or that I personally went through something, or feel it’s an honest depiction of someone going through something, that’s when I think that audiences will invest in those characters; not just watch passively, but actually be actively involved in the outcome of a character’s life, and that’s when you know you’ve got them.
“That’s really an actor’s responsibility, is to take an audience by the hand and promise them a journey and you take them on a ride and it’s emotional and physical and it can wear them out and they’ll laugh and they’ll cry.
“And then you deposit them back in their seat and say: ‘Thank you for joining us, we hope that you feel it was a worthwhile journey’. And that’s it.”
Your Honor series 2 is streaming on Paramount+ – hear our review in the latest episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News