Magazine article Screen International

'Last Flag Flying' Star Bryan Cranston on His Late-Career Surge

Magazine article Screen International

'Last Flag Flying' Star Bryan Cranston on His Late-Career Surge

Article excerpt

The Breaking Bad star speaks to Screen about his “working-class” work ethic.

‘Last Flag Flying’

Bryan Cranston has a decade-long hiatus in the development of Last Flag Flying to thank for his role in the film. When Richard Linklater first tried to mount the production, it was a much more faithful adaptation of Darryl Ponicsan’s 2005 novel, which was itself a belated sequel to The Last Detail - memorably made into a 1973 film by Hal Ashby, starring Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. But Linklater got nowhere with that version.

By the time the Last Flag Flying screenplay (which Linklater co-adapted with Ponicsan) landed on Cranston’s desk, it had undergone a significant departure from the source material, notably a renaming of all three principal characters and a whole new backstory connecting them. In other words, Cranston was not being asked to step into Nicholson’s shoes.

“I certainly did not go back and watch The Last Detail,” he says, speaking to Screen International on a break in rehearsals for his new play Network at London’s National Theatre. “Jack Nicholson is so impressionistic anyway. I don’t want to have that hanging over me or that I was trying to do an impersonation of him or something. Rick [Linklater] is not that type of person, too. He realised that can’t happen. So, change the names and change the circumstances and make some adjustments here and there. Take from the book and story all that is useable, and recycle the rest.”

Flying start

‘Last Flag Flying’

In Amazon Studios’ Last Flag Flying, Cranston plays Norfolk, Virginia bar manager Sal Nealon, who is surprised when his Vietnam War army buddy Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carell) shows up out of the blue. It emerges that Doc wants Sal to help him track down a fellow veteran (Laurence Fishburne) and then together help him bury Doc’s son, who has just been shipped back in a coffin from the Iraq War. What follows is a road movie - by car, rental truck and train - that stops off at many of the same places visited by the original trio in The Last Detail.

According to Linklater, among the principal actor trio, it was Cranston who had an immediate fix on his character: “He was like, ‘I know this guy. I know Sal. Boy, I know guys like this.’ Sal, he’s a guy who’s drinking all the time, he’s compulsive.”

And while Carell had many more questions for the director, notably why does Doc reach out to two men he hasn’t seen in 30 years at this critical juncture of his life, Cranston credits his fellow actor - and the character that Linklater and co-writer Ponicsan created on the page - with creating an anchor for his own performance. “If Steve’s character wasn’t so grounded, my character would just be a nuisance,” he muses. “I’m circumnavigating Doc basically. If he wasn’t grounded, we’re flying off into the universe.”

In real life, it is Cranston himself who is famously grounded - a fact that is easy to attribute to his late-achieving success, earning his first Emmy at the age of 52 (for AMC’s Breaking Bad) and first Oscar nomination at the age of 59 (for Trumbo). “He’s a guy who worked really hard to get where he is,” remarks Linklater. “And he’s very gifted. …

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