There doesn’t seem to be a more capable and alternately popular actor than Bryan Cranston. After years of doing comedy on “Malcolm in the Middle” in the 1990s, he finally showed on “Breaking Bad” the huge acting canvas he’d kept hidden for so long. And while we saw him cover every emotion possible in an actor on that show, there may be no greater actor who can portray rage more powerfully than Cranston can. While there may be some who think yelling as an actor is actually a weakness, he seems to get right into the core of rage from somewhere in his inner spirit.
From those who saw Cranston perform live on Broadway recently as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way”, that sense of rage seems to have left audience members speechless. It also must have taken a lot of emotional preparation on the part of Cranston to take on the LBJ personality every single night. With such a wellspring like that, where does it come from? Also, does he do it effectively as the star of “Godzilla?”
If you’ve seen “Godzilla”, then you know Cranston pours on the panicked rage in his character (Joe Brody) due to the fear of a nuclear disaster. It’s a rage we saw in “Breaking Bad” and something you have to assume could potentially bust a vein if not tempered correctly. Cranston hasn’t said where his inspiration for rage comes from or how he manages it, and knowing how would make for an excellent “Inside the Actors Studio” episode eventually.
Regardless of what you think of rage in acting as something easy or very complex, is Cranston the best actor today who’s capable of it? When you look back at some of the greatest rage scenes in movie history, the range of volcanic rage all seems to manifest through actions rather than just yelling.
Who Were the Best Actors and Actresses Who Perfected Rage Scenes?
Rage scenes haven’t always been about males screaming at the top of their lungs in pivotal movie scenes. Various actresses have shown their capability at rage in ways that seem to dig deep from real-life frustrations. Angela Basset’s Bernadine in “Waiting to Exhale” is one character who went ballistic taking her philandering husband’s clothes out of the closet and burning them out in his car. And let’s not forget Faye Dunaway’s rage scenes as Joan Crawford in “Mommy Dearest.”
The above scenes were all necessary based on character circumstance and possibly being misunderstood (as in Crawford’s case), which isn’t always the case with male characters. In many cases, rage scenes from male characters were simply due to being hotheads who probably could have taken situations a little calmer. Part of that might be up for debate when “The Godfather’s” Sonny Corleone (played by James Caan) beats up the husband of his sister after Sonny finds out he beat her up. It could be the most significant rage scene ever done and looks painfully real.
Let’s also not forget the comedic rages that might have been even more frustrating if the character saw us laughing at their misfortune. Steve Martin’s blowup in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is one of the funniest rage scenes ever, even if most of us would probably do worse after experiencing what he does.
One of the scariest rages was one that’s been a bit forgotten now: Michael Douglas in “Falling Down.” Playing a guy who’s had it up to here on society’s stupidity, he takes out his anger throughout the entire film, something we haven’t seen repeated from the protagonist’s point of view. The film didn’t do well when released 20 years ago, perhaps because the 1990s were far too economically good to induce any immediate rage in most of the populace.
Where Does the Rage Come From?
In Bryan Cranston’s case, it has to come from somewhere to manage the intensity he brings on. We may never know exactly because such things usually need to stay private in order to appreciate it as a tool toward great acting. There isn’t a doubt, though, that he and Nicolas Cage may be tied as the true kings of taking on intense rage in scenes without needing a defibrillator afterward. As Cranston gets older, it has to be said that doing more parts requiring intense rage on a constant basis could be potentially dangerous. Cranston himself may realize this without worrying about having a heart attack on set.
Thanks to Cranston’s range, we probably have yet to see his entire range in doing something subtler. On the intensity scale, his rages from TV and in “Godzilla” may never be matched anyway without hearing about an actor being carried out in a stretcher. Let’s hope all actors try to keep any rage more intense than that at bay without experiencing literal spontaneous combustion.