Bryan Cranston: Why Him with James Franco is a refreshing return to comedy
Plus, he spills on the pranks he pulled on set and his newfound plans to enter the app world
Here comes a battle between dad and boyfriend…
Why Him? (due Dec. 25) centers on an overprotective father, Ned (Bryan Cranston), with big concerns about the Silicon Valley billionaire, Laird (James Franco), who plans to propose to his daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch). Directed by John Hamburg (I Love You, Man), from a script he wrote with Ian Helfer (The Oranges), the comedy also stars Megan Mullally as Ned’s wife, Barb, and Griffin Gluck as Ned and Barb’s son, Scotty.
EW caught up Cranston — a Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle alum, and father himself — on set in March in between scenes where the family was introduced to Laird, who made a number of well-intentioned but terribly inappropriate remarks (and so, the tension brews…). Read on for Cranston’s remarks on his return to lighter material, his character’s somewhat devious agenda, the film’s sense of humor, the pranks he pulled on set, and his newfound plans to make it big in the app world.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How has filming been going so far?
BRYAN CRANSTON: It’s been fun. It’s really refreshing to just be charged with the responsibility of finding silly, fun, laughable, ridiculous antics as opposed to serious dramas, which I have been doing so much of lately. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this movie. I like the premise, I like John, and I’m a dad of a 23-year-old daughter so I relate to it, hoping they make the right decisions as you let them go from your nest.
How do you strike the balance between doing dramas like Trumbo and something like this?
If you look at my history, it’s like I don’t like to repeat myself. This is a departure from what I’ve been doing, a comedy where I’m playing the lead at my age, but it’s for younger generations. I don’t know when that chance is going to come up again, and I thought this is a challenge because a lot of the comedy is not written. You have to come up with it, you have to feed off each other, you have to figure out how to play those.
Why is Ned so vehemently against Laird, and what does James bring to his character?
Why him? That’s the question that’s on everybody’s lips: Why him? [James is] perfect for this role because of the quirkiness about him. There’s an oddity to his personality, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean it in an interesting way. He’s extremely well read. He’s constantly reading. I’ve worked with him a couple times before this on films that he’s directed. It’s been attributed to a lot of different people, [but] he truly is insatiable with his curiosity and he loves to learn. Whatever it is, he just loves to continue to feed the beast.
What has your experience been like working with Megan, Zoey, and Griffin?
It’s been fun. When I first met them and realized that we were going to be a family I took them out to dinner. Those kind of things [aren’t] necessary because we’re all professional — we’ve all pretended that we’ve had family members before — but by going out to dinner before we started rolling, we broke through a lot of things. We felt each other’s sense of humor, where we could go and how we could approach things. We were miles ahead as far as being able to tease each other or even the fact of feeling comfortable.
Megan and I will often now come up to each other and kind of lightly touch arms or fingers as couples will do, and we feel very relaxed and comfortable with each other. I look at Zoey as my kid. I’m not so worried about Griffin, because he’s too young for this now. He’s a boy, and there is a difference. I’m more protective with a girl. You’re a little more weary about the pains that you have to go through, and you’re also leary about the ambitions of others.
Speaking of your relationship with Zoey, she said you’ve been a bit of a prankster on set, putting popcorn in her shoes and telling her press was around during a very sexy scene…
I like to keep things moving. She’s a great, young woman. She’s bright, funny, quirky, and crazy, so naturally she’s a good mark to tease. She’s gullible, and there was a scene we were shooting [that had her in] a very graphic, sexual act. I said, “It’s just so weird those reporters are here, foreign reporters…I know you got the memo that they were here.” She goes, “Are you kidding me?” I go, “It’s nothing they haven’t seen before. They’re foreign, don’t worry about it. They’ve been here all day and they haven’t said anything.” And she goes, “Oh, god.” And yeah, there were times that I may have tripped and accidentally poured some popcorn in her warming boots, but you know, an accident.
How has your time been working with John?
He’s great. What I love about John is that he has a specific idea and a confidence where he’s going with it and yet he’s loose. He’s not rigid in his direction nor is he steadfast in sticking to the script verbatim. He has a very freewheeling sensibility, never is coarse or yelling. He seems very loose and relaxed, and the captain of the ship sets the tone. If he was nervous or fearful or tyrannical, the crew would be vibrating a little bit, be on edge. Conversely, if he’s friendly and open and gregarious…It’s been a lot of fun.
Megan mentioned there’s been a lot of improvisation on set. Can you expand on that, and how it’s played into filming?
That’s the nature of doing a comedy like this. You want to get the words that are on the page, and then once you feel confident in that go off and do whatever it is you feel would be appropriate to your character. This character for me is very challenging because he’s a fish out of water. He’s coming to a different state, city, environment. His daughter is with a guy and she’s moved in with him and all these things have happened, so he’s a little bit back on his heels, a deer caught in the headlights kind of thing. It lends itself for more physical comedy in looks, but when someone is in that position, they’re not as talkative and loquacious as you would think. As my character Ned develops an agenda of how to foil this man, he gets more talkative.
So is Ned’s agenda to get Laird out of the picture?
In defense of my character, I think Ned is trying to expose [Laird] for the fraud that he is and if he is proven to be a charlatan in his daughter’s eyes, that’s even better because then she’ll go “Oh my god, how did I make such a mistake? I’m breaking up with him.”
How would you describe the sense of humor of this movie?
Bawdy. It’s a very open comedy. It can be crude, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do it had it not been for the fact that I could relate to it, that it’s funny, and that there’s heart to it. These characters are not telling jokes. The comedy is coming out of these characters, who they are, and the position that they find themselves in at any given point — and that’s what makes it authentic. We’re as different as night and day and the more different we are, the more incredulous comedy comes from that.
This movie feels very current because you have this Silicon Valley billionaire at the center of it. What do you think of the timeliness?
I wish I was one. I’d like to be a billionaire.
You seem to be doing pretty well for yourself.
No one is going to hold a telethon for me. I’m fine, thank you. I think it’s fascinating. I don’t begrudge anyone for making whatever they do. You don’t become a billionaire out of nothing. You have to create something. You have to find a need and fill it. You look at ideas like Uber and you go “Wow, it’s so simple.” That idea was probably hatched over a couple drinks or you know, “God, I have to wait for a taxi. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just go online and get someone and…Hey!”
If it was that loose someone would say, “We’ve already got that, guys. It’s called taxis. Who’s going to invest in that?” You could miss an opportunity. There’s GrubHub or Seamless where you go, “What if you had a delivery service you can get, as opposed to each restaurant having their own delivery? This one streamlines it and takes a percentage and it’s all online?” That’s the key. It has to be easily navigated through an app. I have a couple ideas for an app. I’m not going to tell you because I don’t want them stolen.
Was that inspired from working on this film?
Yeah, actually. It’s funny because you start thinking. We’re going to meet Elon Musk on this movie. He’s a party guest to give it the similitude of that world.
Well, I think we all look forward to seeing your apps when they come out.
I think they’re going to be really amazing. I just need one of those genius guys. I got the idea and I have to talk through it. I’m basically going to go to someone who’s really set up for that and I’ll make a deal with them. They take the most percentage. I’ll sit back and just take a cut.
For more on Why Him?, pick up Entertainment Weekly‘s Fall Movie Preview, on newsstands now, and available here.