I've dabbled around the idea of a Greatest Working Actors list for some time now, and as alluring as it is to put them all up on a scale like that, I'd simply never know what to do with the actors who have their feet firmly planted in television. With all the shows moving towards their finishes, I am intrigued to see what Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, John Noble, Anna Torv, Jasika Nicole, and Aaron Paul are to do once their respective shows are up. The bell is chiming for Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, John Slattery, and the rest of the "Mad Men" gang as well, and Jared Harris has already been let off the leash for a promising future in the business.
One actor who isn't laying down while waiting for his television check to ring in is Bryan Cranston, headliner on AMC's "Breaking Bad", headed now towards its fifth and final season. For every year Cranston has performed in the pivotal character of Walter White, he has taken home an Emmy for Best Actor. He is quite likely to make it four this fall, and with the splitting of the final season into two eight-episode stretches, the possibility is not merely alive for two more, but it's a certainty for after the show's completion. Cranston is in very good hands with showrunner Vince Gilligan at the helm, though has not been laying steady while the end approaches.
Presumably as a preemptive act of portfolio building, beyond his current television stint and past involvement in "Malcolm in the Middle", these past two years have seen a high rise in Cranston's exposure. It started last year with a slight appearances in "The Lincoln Lawyer" and "Larry Crowne", which mostly served as an unconscious level of recognition. Once the Summer had passed, he'd truly gone to a point of greater favor with audiences now more familiar than ever with his "Breaking Bad"-inspired persona. "Contagion" served to show Cranston's slightly diverging range between similar but slightly different onscreen roles.
Then Cranston truly got his divergent break from his television performance in the form of "Drive", Nicolas Winding Refn's widely praised Hollywood genre piece. In the role of Shannon, Cranston is not merely much less threatening than meth cook Walter White, but in a position of true underdog-ship. The relationship he has with both Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks' characters speaks such a depth on how he affectionately fleshes out a character so far away from what he's done before. An Oscar nomination is truly as warranted for him as it was for Albert Brooks, who got the lion's share of the attention, admittedly to no avail. Perhaps if the push was for Cranston, "Drive" might have gotten one more nomination.
While Cranston may have had a somewhat innocuous presence in last year's atmosphere, this year he seemed to be rampantly all over the place. I suppose it's worth it for strengthening his resume with diverse works, but almost always in prominent mainstream flicks. His appearance in "Red Tails" was a subtle start, but it became clear what Cranston's goals were when he popped up in "John Carter". It almost works as weakening that film further that they have no idea what to do with Cranston. Similar things could be said of "Madagascar 3", though he is really the standout character of that piece, though the fact that it's him is innocuous under the heavy Russian accent.
The rest of the year gives him three further roles to expand his presence, one of which has been making its way about this weekend. I have yet to see "Rock of Ages", though I'm hopeful Cranston is monitored with being neutered. "Breaking Bad" returns on July 15th, and not long after that does Cranston get perhaps his biggest mainstream exploration in playing the villain of the "Total Recall" remake. He caps off his year in October, when ensemble piece "Argo" hits, and he likely explores further "Contagion"/"Red Tails" territory of standard performance. However, I have a feeling that by the time his next batch of roles comes around, he won't be so dispatched to playing tertiary characters.