Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato in YOUR HONOR
Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato in 'Your Honor'. Image Credit: Frank Ockenfels/Showtime

It’s already being compared to ‘Breaking Bad’ — but Bryan Cranston wants people to see him with fresh eyes in his brand new crime thriller ‘Your Honor’.

Premiering exclusively on StarzPlay in the UAE on December 6, the Showtime miniseries sees Cranston return to TV as Judge Michael Desiato, whose son is involved in a hit-and-run and becomes embroiled in a mob family. Pushed against a wall and faced with an impossible task of saving his son’s life, Desiato spirals into darkness and immorality, to find out just how far he’s willing to go for his family.

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The Showtime miniseries sees Cranston return to TV as Judge Michael Desiato, whose son is involved in a hit-and-run and becomes embroiled in a mob family.

But, Cranston says in a Zoom press conference with Gulf News, Desiatio is not Heisenberg.

“I didn’t think of him. There are similarities, of course — the same actors playing both men. We are men of a certain age, we are fathers. You have to find the distinction between them.

“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.

“I hope the audience sees that… and hopefully forgets about Walter White and watches ‘Your Honor’ with an open mind,” says Cranston.

Bryan Cranston in 'Breaking Bad'.

What attracts him to these characters, who find themselves morally cornered, or out of control?

“If I read a character who has all the answers, makes the right decisions, is kind to everyone, I’m bored. I don’t want to play that character. Someone who has flaws but tries to be a better person, I think everyone can relate to that,” says the actor.

To prepare for the role, he visited New Orleans where the story takes place.

“They have one courthouse, superior court judge. [I watched] a bunch of different trials … I [observed] the judges and how they handle themselves. Some are very masters-of-their-universe kind of thing, they take control. Others like to be in the background … I think Michael, he’s one to sit back and allow the jury and the lawyers to take control of a trial.”

For Cranston, it was important to see the judicial system represented accurately, particularly in a post-Black Lives Matter era, something he says writer Peter Moffat was “very specific” about.

“The prison system is predominantly occupied by African Americans, overwhelmingly, which is not the number that equates to the population. So, there’s something askew there,” says Cranston.

“I think anything less than depicting an honest portrayal of what’s happening in our justice system and prison system is false. And I don’t want to be a charlatan in that regard. I don’t want to be involved in something that doesn’t do it justice, for lack of a better word.”

How far would you go?

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A still from 'Your Honor'.

To some viewers, the extreme lengths that Cranston’s character resorts to to protect his son might be outlandishly immoral.

“Well, what would you do? I’ll ask you that,” says Cranston, when asked about his thoughts.

“What you have to realise is he made one decision impulsively, immediately. At that moment, when he sees that mob boss, when he realises that, ‘This man is going to kill my son,’ it’s impossible for a human being to think, ‘Well, wait a minute. What’s the ripple effect?’ You just have to make that decision and hope for the best.

“Of course … Whenever any of us have ever tried to become someone we’re not, it muddies the water. It’s impossible to sustain. Because that’s not who you naturally are, so it’ll fall apart. As a parent myself, if I were forced to make that decision, I would do the same thing. I would do anything to protect my child, and hopefully it wouldn’t go to that length where innocent people get hurt or killed — that’s for dramatic purposes, when you realise the slippery slope of a decision.”

The most challenging part was neither playing a father nor a judge, however…

“It was actually the running,” laughs Cranston. “When I was younger, I used to run marathons. I was so looking forward to getting into that mindset of being a runner again, but then I got injured. I had to have epidural shots in my spine two different times in order to just have a slip disc not give me sciatica.”

Then he strained his hamstring muscle while filming one of the scenes.

“That put me back a couple weeks; it was difficult to come to terms with that. But when I started running marathons, I was 30 years old. And now I’m 64, so I think Father Time has said, ‘Not so fast. You do not and you will not have the same body you think you still have.’”

There are things in life that scare you that you should not do, naturally, that you worry about your mental health or your physical well being. And then there are things that scare you that you should still do.

- Bryan Cranston

The two most seminal roles of his career — comedy hit ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and Neo-Western crime drama ‘Breaking Bad’ — have cemented Cranston as a risk-taker, who can’t be confined by genre.

But even he has prospects that scare him.

“Musical theatre. It’s something that I’m not comfortable with — I wouldn’t call myself a singer — and therefore, I probably will do it at some point in the future.

“There are things in life that scare you that you should not do, naturally, that you worry about your mental health or your physical well being. And then there are things that scare you that you should still do. And this is one of those things … I want to be a beginner at something. I think it’s very courageous for adults, to allow themselves to be a beginner at anything. To to say to yourself, ‘I don’t know this world. I don’t know this language. I don’t know how to paint. I don’t know how to dance. I don’t feel comfortable travelling,’ or whatever it is for someone, and then having the courage to do it anyway. I think that’s remarkable. And I think that’s what adults should be doing for the rest of their lives, is to find those things that open them up to the world.”

‘Clashing into each other like gladiators’

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A still from 'Your Honor'.

Throughout the press conference, the actor smiles and greets every journalist by name. Despite massive success — he’s a six-time Emmy Award winner, after all — he remains humble and affable, a conversationalist at heart.

So it’s not hard to see why he found it difficult to keep a socially distanced set on ‘Your Honour’.

“Part of the experience of being an actor on a show is to meet the cast, some are new, some are people you’ve worked with before, and you bond, you go out together, you have cast parties and dinners. You break the ice and you figure out how someone wants to play a scene … It’s very social,” says Cranston.

They were able to film normally for six months. When March hit, everything changed.

“The pandemic shuts us down. And [we get] seven months off to reflect on all things. We just finished last week, we had two episodes yet to shoot … We were actually rehearsing in shields.

“And for me, I’m 64 years old, I’ve had my fair share of rock concerts that I’ve been to in my life. I am absolutely positive that I have lost some measure of hearing. What was interesting is when you’re talking to someone with a mask and/or a shield, it’s so blocked that I constantly say, ‘I’m sorry, what’d you say?’

“There was one scene where I’m hugging my son — Hunter Doohan and myself are in the scene — and we’re both wearing shields in the rehearsal, and we go to hug and our shields collide, clashing into each other like gladiators,” Cranston laughs.

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“So, it’s awkward. We were tested three times a week … But that kind of segregated environment, it’s uncomfortable. It’s antisocial.”

While he calls the prospect of filming an entire project in such a setting “depressing”, Cranston is aware of what needs to be done to return to normal.

“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 get back to some kind of normal life that we all enjoy.”

Did you know?

Cranston didn’t watch the original 2017 TV show, ‘Kvodo’, which ‘Your Honor’ is based on. “I did not want to be influenced by what other actors had done prior. But I want to see that now. Now that I’m finished with the first season, I’m very curious, because I heard great things. But, I didn’t want to be influenced by that and inadvertently use anything that the actor playing my role used in the original. So, I thought it was best just to stay away from it, do my own research, tell my own story.”

Don’t miss it!

‘Your Honor’ is now streaming on StarzPlay in the UAE.