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Bryan Cranston Discusses Legal Twists And Turns On Showtime's 'Your Honor'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Michael Desiato of New Orleans seems to be a conspicuously good judge who encourages all in his courtroom - defendants, police, attorneys - to be conscientious. But one day, his son drives home on the anniversary of his mother's death, can't reach his asthma inhaler under the seat of the car and runs over another boy on his new motorcycle. He breaks down before his father, the judge.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "YOUR HONOR")

BRYAN CRANSTON: (As Michael Desiato) Adam, you drove away before the EMTs arrived.

HUNTER DOOHAN: (As Adam Desiato) I tried to help him, but I couldn't get him to breathe.

CRANSTON: (As Michael Desiato) So you called 911?

DOOHAN: (As Adam Desiato) I tried to, but...

CRANSTON: (As Michael Desiato) What do you mean tried to, Adam? Is it yes or no?

DOOHAN: (As Adam Desiato) Help me please, Dad. I couldn't breathe.

CRANSTON: (As Michael Desiato) OK. Shh. Shh. Shh. Shh. Shh. I got you, buddy. I got you.

SIMON: "Your Honor" is a 10-part Showtime series that begins tomorrow night, Sunday, December 6. It stars Bryan Cranston, Hunter Doohan and Sofia Black-D'Elia. Bryan Cranston, the Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe and Olivier Award-winning actor joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

CRANSTON: My pleasure, Scott. Good to be with you.

SIMON: Oh, my word. What a series this is. What we see is a terrible mistake and a tragedy. What makes a good man like Judge Desiato do what he winds up doing?

CRANSTON: I think what happens to Michael is the same thing that would happen to most anyone. Despite your righteousness and your desire to do the right thing in any given situation, if given a condition that you think your child is in mortal danger, all bets are off. And it becomes more of an animalistic reaction to something.

And that's what happened to Michael. He is ready to put his son into the judicial system, take responsibility and accountability for what he's done, leaving the scene of an accident, which constitutes a crime. So we need to do the right thing. And I convince him to do just that. And we go to the police station to turn him in. And I'm ready to do that until I see the parents of the boy who was killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "YOUR HONOR")

CRANSTON: (As Michael Desiato) Jimmy Baxter is the head of the most vicious crime family in the history of this city. Do you understand what that means?

And I know with no uncertain terms that that man would seek out and kill my son if he knew. So I do an about-face. I tell my son, get back in the car. We're changing the equation.

SIMON: The judge tells his son at one point, Adam, this is the rest of our lives. And I'm sure you're good and tired of "Breaking Bad" comparisons, but it struck me when I heard you deliver that line that we're getting a glimpse of a good man's capacity for criminal behavior.

CRANSTON: There are similarities. But what I realized in looking and crafting Michael to be different is that Walter White was methodical in his endeavor. He planned it out. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and where and how to get there. Michael Desiato has to make an impulsive decision to save the life of his son. He doesn't have the luxury of time to be able to think down the road what is going to be the ripple effect of this decision.

SIMON: And I have to ask, the father of Sofia Black-D'Elia is a judge in New Jersey. Did she ever sidle over to you and say, no, no, no, no...

CRANSTON: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...That's not the way you use a gavel, or something like that?

CRANSTON: No. What's interesting is that I when I went to New Orleans, I was in courthouses for two weeks just doing some research and observing judges. And it's really interesting, the vast difference of personalities.

SIMON: Did anyone ever say to you, excuse me, "Malcolm In The Middle" - you're the dad, right? - or anything like that?

CRANSTON: Yes, unfortunately. I was working with David Duchovny years ago on "X-Files," and we were talking about that. And this is before "Malcolm In The Middle," and so I had anonymity. And I was able to do an actor's work, which is basically observing human behavior anywhere. I could go anywhere and do anything, and no one would pay me any attention. And I said, how is that for you? And he said, well, it's nearly impossible now because the observer has become the observed.

SIMON: Yeah.

CRANSTON: But, yeah, it's - it was a little different. I had to kind of discount some of the behavior of the judges that I was observing.

SIMON: Can you tell us about the time in your life when, according to reports, you were a waiter, a security guard and a Universal Life minister performing weddings?

CRANSTON: Yeah. It's, you know, one of those things. I spent the summers of 18, 19 and 20 years old on Catalina Island, which is about 26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Newport Beach area. And it was - it's a beautiful resort town. The tough part is finding a place to live. I did find a place to live with a great guy who eventually married me to my wife 31 years ago. His name is Reverend Bob.

SIMON: Oh.

CRANSTON: And Reverend Bob came to me one day and said, I need your help. I've made a mistake. I've accidentally booked two weddings at the same time.

SIMON: (Laughter).

CRANSTON: You need to do one of them. And I said, I can't do that. He goes, no, no. It's the Universal Life Church. Come here. Follow me. He had his IBM Selectric in there. And he put an official piece of paper in her, typed in my name, sent it off to the secretary of state of California. And he said, this will go through. You'll be registered and legally able to marry people. Here's a book from Kahlil Gibran. Here's some poems. Here's where the groom signs.

SIMON: Oh, this is lavish.

CRANSTON: And here's your address. You're going to the Van Nuys Airport.

I have shorts. I have hair down to my shoulders. And they said, oh, you're the minister? And I go, yeah (laughter). And we get into this six-seater plane, the pilot and myself in the front...

SIMON: Yeah.

CRANSTON: ...The bride and groom in the middle, best man and the maid of honor in the back. And he said, well, let's start when we get over the Hollywood sign. And the engine's going. I'm looking forward. My heart is up in my throat. I look back at them. Their hands are clasped together. This is their wedding.

SIMON: Yeah.

CRANSTON: And they're looking at me to officiate this and be serious and sincere about this. And I took a deep breath, and then I just turned around in my seat, and I started yelling to get over the sound of the engine.

SIMON: Oh, my God.

CRANSTON: I'm going, do you take John (ph) to be your husband, you know, to have and to hold? And I'm screaming this out. And I just said, this is a performance. Just own it.

SIMON: Yeah.

CRANSTON: Dive into it, and do the best you can. And that was the first of maybe 12...

SIMON: Wow.

CRANSTON: ...Ceremonies that I officiated.

SIMON: I find that very moving.

CRANSTON: (Laughter).

SIMON: Bryan Cranston - his new series on Showtime is "Your Honor." Your Honor, thank you very much for being with us.

CRANSTON: Thank you, Scott. It was a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.