His immersive performance as Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way on Broadway won him a Tony Award. When he reprised the role in HBO’s celebrated adaptation of the play, he landed his 10th Emmy nomination and what could be his third Golden Globe award this weekend.
But in order to win an Oscar, Bryan Cranston may have to take on an even larger-than-life U.S. president: Donald Trump.
“I’d like to play Donald Trump at some point,” Cranston said back in July, after Trump had become the presumptive GOP nominee, but long before anyone was predicting that he would win the election. As he demonstrated for the Today show’s Matt Lauer, he even had the beginnings of a remarkably accurate impression down.
When The Daily Beast caught up with Cranston during his promotional tour for the new Amazon series Sneaky Pete in Pasadena, California, on Tuesday, he said the fact that Trump will now be president of the United States has not diminished his desire to play him. But he would need some emotional distance before diving into the role.
“To play a character, I would need to get to a neutral point of him,” Cranston explained. “He’s still an attractive character, but you can’t sit in judgment of your characters. I would need to move to a neutrality and be able to absorb it without judgment and see where it all fits.” As with any of the characters he’s played, whether it’s LBJ or Dalton Trumbo, Cranston said he needs to go in thinking, “I have no judgment, I’m just learning and growing and pretty soon you take on that character and you feel like it’s inside you.”
“He’s such a tragic figure to me,” Cranston said of Trump, before correcting himself. “A tragic-comic figure,” he clarified. “And I hope that doesn’t remain the case. He’s our president now, or will be shortly. And I hope he’s unbelievably successful in that role. Because that means the country has done well.”
This hopeful attitude reflects comments that Cranston made about Trump back in November of 2015, when he was still considered to be an unserious candidate by most political watchers. “I think it’s great that Donald Trump is in the mix. He’s a maverick,” Cranston said, optimistically. “He says what he wants to say, and it forces the other candidates to be more real, more honest, and more open. That’s what’s getting through to the people—that this guy doesn’t give a shit and just says what he wants to say.”
Eight months later, his tone had changed, telling The Daily Beast, “It’s still not real to me that a reality show host and supreme narcissist is going to be the president of the United States. I just don’t sense the reality of that, and I hope I never do.” He called the now president-elect “an anomaly to the human race” and “just a bizarre human being.”
In other words, just the type of character Cranston loves to tackle onscreen. Unlike Alec Baldwin’s overt caricature of Trump on Saturday Night Live, Cranston’s version of the man would have to include some level of humanity, something he has so far been unable to locate.
Asked what it will take for him to get to that place of “neutrality” with Trump, Cranston said he thinks it could happen “with time.” He added, “Obviously, if he does well, it’ll help me get to that point. We’ll see.”
Giovanni Ribisi, who stars in Sneaky Pete and was in the room during our interview, laughed as he said, “I’m excited about that, I’ll tell you that right now.”