Bryan Cranston’s most iconic character, Breaking Bad’s Walter White—spoiler alert—didn’t make it out of that show’s memorable series finale in 2013, but the actor has now resurrected him twice since his demise. White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin on the AMC drama, has made two surprise appearances: on an Esurance Super Bowl commercial two years ago and during the cold open of a Saturday Night Live episode last month.
Cranston told Adweek that he initially turned down Esurance, even though they offered him “an enormous amount of money” to appear in their 2015 Super Bowl ad. “I said, I need to know more of the concept. What is it? And they said, ‘We want you to appear as Walter White.’ ‘Okay, but what is it?’” Cranston was finally told that the agency wasn’t going to sketch out an idea for the spot until they knew that he was on board.
“So I go, ‘Chicken and egg; I can’t say yes before I know how this is going to [turn out].’ I had to say no, and then they came back to me with the offer and an outline of what the commercial would be about,” said Cranston of the ad, which featured the actor dressed in a full hazmat suit, posing as a “sorta pharmacist” who encounters a customer trying to pick up her prescription. The ad explained that Esurance helps people pay only for what’s right for them, not someone “sorta” like them.
“I thought it was very clever and fun, and they paid me an enormous amount of money, so that was that,” said Cranston.
Cranston had a much easier time saying yes last month when Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels asked him to make a cameo on the Dec. 10 episode of SNL.
“I was doing a movie in Pittsburgh, and Lorne asked if I would be interested in being in the cold opening of that episode,” said Cranston, who said Michaels explained to him that in the sketch, then-President-elect Donald Trump would be nominating Walter White to be the new head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“I said, ‘That sounds funny, let’s do it. But I have to tell you, I have a beard and I can’t lose it, because I’m still working.’ They said, ‘We’ll work around it.’ And they did,” said Cranston, who donned a bald cap and a pork pie hat favored by Walter White’s kingpin alter ego, Heisenberg. “Even though I had the beard, it didn’t matter.”
Cranston said he wanted to do the SNL sketch because “it was political. I have a voice, and you probably know that I’ve been active in that. So it was fun to jump in and still be able to be political and smile at something, and wonder how we’re all going to manage in this new reality.”
On Jan. 13, the actor returned to television in his first regular series role since Breaking Bad, Amazon’s Sneaky Pete. Cranston co-created and executive produced the drama, and helped rescue it after CBS passed on the pilot by realizing the best way to save the show was to act in it himself. Amazon, which ended up giving Sneaky Pete a series order after Cranston joined the cast, renewed it for Season 2 less than a week after the first season debuted.
While Cranston has twice said yes to bringing back Walter White, he noted that he’ll be particular about reprising the role in the future. “I would never want to do anything that sullies the image of that now iconic character,” he said. “But I think that there is life beyond it. That you can have fun with it.”