Bryan Cranston, who plays the mad-as-hell newsman Howard Beale in the Broadway adaptation of the 1976 film, Network, is up for a Tony this weekend. (He previously took home the best lead actor Tony in 2014 for his role as LBJ in All the Way). Cranston’s performance is great — and you can’t help but be struck by how the play’s themes resonate so deeply in today’s media climate.
Katie Couric: What has it been like doing Network on Broadway?\
Bryan Cranston: Mad as Hell. Mad in every sense of the word. Maddeningly exhilarating and exhausting. Madcap staging. And having Mad Man Howard Beale to contend with…He’s mad I tell you, mad!
The movie came out in 1976. How did the director update it so it seems fresh and relevant?
Paddy Chayefsky wrote a wonderfully prescient story over forty years ago. Director Ivo van Hove wanted to navigate the audience through the sensibilities of both the 1970’s and our current climate. The anachronisms actually enhance the contrasts and comparisons of the eras rather than cause distraction for the audience.
Did you watch Peter Finch’s performance or were you afraid you’d be too influenced by it?
I watched the film once after I knew I was going to play the role, but because I had over a year before I would start rehearsals, I was content that my Howard Beale would not be a derivation of his wonderful work in the film. I was able to take in the story points and character’s trajectory, and make my own assessment of how I would change things for the stage.
What do you think of the way the news media is covering the world and our President today?
Chayefsky’s prognostications on the future of television were spot on. When asked why he wrote Network, he responded because he felt the thing that we needed to be most afraid of is the destructive power of “absolute beliefs.” In my research developing the role, I took this to mean that we have divided our ideology into tribalistic groups. As a result we dangerously, and erroneously consider whomever doesn’t think like us – to be the enemy of the people. This is what is being played out in our politics now.
How do you keep your energy up, especially on days when you have two performances?
Formaldehyde. I’ve had my body preserved in a state of performance mode. Actually, it’s all about rest. On two-show days I don’t leave the theater, after the matinee I’ll have something light to eat – usually soup, then take a nap. After about 30 minutes, I get up and do it all again. The Broadway schedule is all about maintaining strength and stamina to get out there and give it your all for every performance. To me, it’s much more challenging to do than long hours on a movie set, and most often it’s more rewarding to perform on stage.
What’s next for you?
Hibernation…for about a month. Then I’ll come out of it and start a one-season series for Showtime called Your Honor, that I’m very excited about. My next movie will be released in the Spring of next year. It’s a family film from Disney called, The One and Only, Ivan. It’s a sweet story about the relationship between man and animals.