'Your Honour': Bryan Cranston is back to breaking the law, but hopes viewers 'forget about Walter White'
In his latest role, the 'Breaking Bad' star plays a judge who is forced off track to protect his son
The last time Bryan Cranston signed up to take on the lead role in an offbeat TV crime drama, he could hardly have predicted the significance of his decision. Despite a slow start with audiences on its debut in 2008, Breaking Bad went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of all time, transforming Cranston from successful jobbing actor to global household name, and became one of the first shows to benefit from the then unheard-of “Netflix Effect”.
Its first four seasons averaged about two million viewers on parent network AMC on first being screened, despite positive reviews. Once the earlier seasons were made available on Netflix and audiences had binged away, however, the fifth season more than doubled its average viewership, and an impressive 10 million viewers tuned into AMC for the series finale in 2013.
Between its cable run and its Netflix revival, the show took over the best part of a decade of Cranston’s life. As he awaits the premiere of Your Honour, his latest foray into offbeat TV crime drama – which will be available to stream on StarzPlay Arabia from tomorrow – it would be understandable if he harboured some nagging fears that he may be about to sign over another decade of his life to a TV show. However, the actor tells The National, he has no such fears.
He says one of the things that attracted him to Your Honour was “the fact that it is classified a limited series”, he explains. “It’s possible that this season may be the only season of Your Honour, whereas I knew going into Breaking Bad that it was going to be, hopefully, several seasons long to tell the beginning, middle and end of that story the best way possible.
“This is a little different. The structure is a little different. It could possibly, just possibly, go to a second season, but it could end after one season, and be very satisfying, a conclusion, as you hopefully will see. We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
The structure of Your Honour may differ from Breaking Bad, but comparisons with Cranston’s previous hit seem inevitable, particularly given the similar premise on which the two shows are built. While Breaking Bad’s Walter White was a respectable school teacher forced to break the law to provide for his family after a cancer diagnosis, Your Honour’s Michael Desiato is a respectable judge forced to break the law to protect his family when his son is involved in a hit and run involving a member of a notorious New Orleans crime family.
Cranston acknowledges the surface similarities, but insists they are only skin deep. “If you’re going to play both those roles then you have to find the distinction between them,” he says. “If I were to think about it, Walter White was very methodical in his journey, what he was plotting out to do. Michael Desiato is impulsive. He has to make an immediate decision on what is going to save his son’s life, and then has to suffer the repercussions from that decision. There are distinct differences and I hope the audience sees that and allows those differences to play into it, and hopefully forget about Walter White and watch Your Honour with an open mind.”
Another glaring difference between the two shows can be found in the historical era during which they were made and consumed. Compared to a year dominated by the worst global pandemic in a century and the worldwide repercussions of the Black Lives Matter protests, Breaking Bad’s 2008-2013 era seems positively utopian. Cranston admits that both of these issues influenced the series, not least in terms of the responsibilities of shooting a show set among the workings of the US justice system, after the shootings that precipitated BLM.
“I know that Peter Moffat, our writer, was very, very cautious and very specific on how to be authentic about the prison system and what the judicial system looks like in America,” he says.
“The prison system is predominantly occupied by African-Americans – overwhelmingly. That is not the number that equates to the population, and there’s something askew there. Perhaps socially minded viewers will get that sense and go, ‘You know, something really should be done about this.’ Anything less than depicting an honest portrayal of what’s happening in the justice and prison system is false. I don’t want to be a charlatan and I don’t want to be involved in something that doesn’t do it justice, for lack of a better word.”
As for Covid-19, Your Honour was one of the many shows to have its production interrupted by the pandemic. Shooting was halted over the summer, delaying the making of two episodes, which were finally completed last month. Cranston, who contracted and recovered from the virus, admits he is no fan of the new normal when it comes to making TV shows.
He bemoans having to rehearse intimate scenes in face masks and shields, the lost camaraderie of a crew told to keep separate from cast members to minimise the risk of infection, and the impracticality of trying to point out words on a script while adhering to social distancing rules.
For all the challenges of the last days of the shoot, however, Cranston has some wise words for a world in which simple actions such as wearing a mask have somehow become controversial in a polarised political landscape: “Hopefully we’ll be able to get back to a point where we can all be in the same room and hug each other again, but we have to have universal co-operation.
“This is a human effort. It’s not a country effort, it’s not a political effort. It’s a human effort. We’re all human beings. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s wear our masks. Let’s beat this. We’ll never forget it, but we can beat it and get back to some kind of normal life that we all enjoy.”
Your Honour is on Starzplay Arabia from Monday, December 7
Updated: December 6, 2020 07:49 PM