Trumbo - Diane Lane and Bryan Cranston
Trumbo - Cleo Trumbo (Diane Lane) and Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Bryan Cranston won four Emmy Awards for his riveting portrayal of Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad. He went on to star on Broadway as President Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way, which won him the Tony Award. Now he is tackling the role of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in the new movie Trumbo.

In the 1940s Dalton Trumbo was one of the most successful screenwriters in the world. But his world came crashing down when he was accused of being a Communist, blacklisted by Hollywood and subpoenaed to testify before the House on Un-American Activities. Turning against him were the likes of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and movie star John Wayne (David James Elliott).

In the drama, which is directed by Jay Roach, Diane Lane portrays Dalton’s wife Cleo, Michael Stuhlbarg plays Edward G. Robinson and Dean O’Gorman takes on the role of Kirk Douglas.

Bryan spoke with journalists at the press junket for the movie, which opens on November 6th 2015.

Trumbo - Bryan Cranston
Trumbo – Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

What do you look for in a project that makes you want to do it?

The script is always the first thing that attracts an actor, the story and the script that supports it, and they don’t often go together.

Sometimes you have a great story and the script falls short of realizing the full potential, or vice versa. But this was A+ on both of those.

I always then look at the character, and this character (of Dalton Trumbo) was phenomenal, huge, dangerous and scary.

Next is the director and the other cast, who else will I be playing with? It’s an important factor to take into consideration.

Does the director have the sensibility and the sensitivity to be able to explore and be able to navigate a bunch of actors with different ways of approaching the work?

It takes an insightful person to be able to do that. And talking to Jay, it was an easy yes for me.

Trumbo - Bryan Cranston
Trumbo – A cameraman films a scene of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

What research did you do on Dalton Trumbo?

There is a lot of source material, video tapes and audio tapes on him. But you can get lost in that, and if you only focus on that you could start down a road of impersonation.

I wanted to be very careful not to do that. That being said, he was a very flamboyant character with contradictions and irascibility and passion.

It’s an amalgam of research to read the books about him that talked of people who knew him, so you’re almost like a detective assembling clues.

Every time I start a show or a character it’s always outside of me, I always envision him out there somewhere and I feel like the more research I do and the more I talk to people and go back into the script, the closer he gets to coming in.

At some point you have to have trust and faith that he becomes a part of you, not just the sound of him or how he carries his body, but his sensibility and his point-of-view. Once that happens it’s great.

Trumbo - Bryan Cranston and Elle Fanning
Trumbo – Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) comes home to the embrace of his children, including daughter Niki Tumbo (left, Elle Fanning) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

What was the most challenging thing about playing the role?

The cigarettes. I stupidly thought that I’ll definitely not smoke real cigarettes, then I’ll protect myself from ingesting nicotine and tar. But then I realized, I’m smoking these herbal cigarettes, but I’m still inhaling smoke.

There were many times when we were looking for places where I wouldn’t have to smoke, but if you have a cigarette in your hand and you’re playing that character, I’d catch myself inhaling, even off screen.

It became an issue, getting hoarse and not feeling great, but (his daughters) Mitzi and Niki said, ‘Our dad was a chimney, he often lit one to another.’ So it was a challenge.

Trumbo - Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane
Trumbo – Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and Cleo Trumbo (Diane Lane) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

What did Dalton Trumbo’s movies say about him?

If you were to do a retrospective of his movies, there certainly isn’t a subversive or dangerous message in them. He loved this country.

He thought it could be even better. As he says in the movie, ‘We all have the right to be wrong.’ Allowing each other the freedom to be wrong is the crux of Americanism.

The common denominator in his films is that there’s a character who chooses honor over self-advancement, a character who fights for the righteous path.

He felt he was a voice for the invisible person and that made him remarkable. But we also felt it was important to show that he was a human being. The pressure he was under could have destroyed his family and it’s largely due to Cleo Trumbo’s strength that it didn’t.

Trumbo Soundbytes

Trumbo - Diane Lane
Trumbo – Cleo Trumbo (Diane Lane) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle
  • Bryan was asked if he thinks the movie is a cautionary tale for today
  • Diane Lane was asked how much she knew about the Dalton Trumbo story
  • Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance as Edward G Robinson was so subtle, I asked him if he concentrated on watching the actor’s off-screen interviews instead of his performances in order to play the man and not the persona
  • Jay Roach was asked what he admired the most about Dalton Trumbo
See below for the picture for the soundbytes
Trumbo - Michael Stuhlbarg and director Jay Roach
Trumbo – Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Edward G Robinson, and director Jay Roach on set ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle
Click below to Play the soundbytes
Trumbo - Louis CK and Michael Stuhlbarg
Trumbo – Arlen Hird (Louis CK) and Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) ©2015 Bleecker Street, photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.