A Life in Parts – Bryan Cranston

This summer seems to have been the era of Hollywood biographies! I have gone through quite a few of these audiobooks this summer. Not my usual fare but it has been fun to break out a little, especially since I have been in a long romance rut in 2017.

The most recent memoir I listened to was Bryan Cranston’s A Life in Parts. It is funny, poignant, and well-paced. Per my usual fare, I picked a memoir that was read by the author himself. I have written many blog posts on the benefits of this and I loved Bryan’s voice performance so my preference is definitely still holding true.

a life in parts

A poignant, intimate, funny, inspiring memoir—both a coming-of-age story and a meditation on creativity, devotion, and craft—from Bryan Cranston, beloved and acclaimed star of one of history’s most successful TV shows, Breaking Bad.

Bryan Cranston landed his first role at seven, when his father cast him in a United Way commercial. Acting was clearly the boy’s destiny, until one day his father disappeared. Destiny suddenly took a backseat to survival.

Now, in his riveting memoir, Cranston maps his zigzag journey from abandoned son to beloved star by recalling the many odd parts he’s played in real life—paperboy, farmhand, security guard, dating consultant, murder suspect, dock loader, lover, husband, father. Cranston also chronicles his evolution on camera, from soap opera player trying to master the rules of show business to legendary character actor turning in classic performances as Seinfeld dentist Tim Whatley, “a sadist with newer magazines,” and Malcolm in the Middle dad Hal Wilkerson, a lovable bumbler in tighty-whities. He also gives an inspiring account of how he prepared, physically and mentally, for the challenging role of President Lyndon Johnson, a tour de force that won him a Tony to go along with his four Emmys.

Of course, Cranston dives deep into the grittiest details of his greatest role, explaining how he searched inward for the personal darkness that would help him create one of the most memorable performances ever captured on screen: Walter White, chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin.

Discussing his life as few men do, describing his art as few actors can, Cranston has much to say about creativity, devotion, and craft, as well as innate talent and its challenges and benefits and proper maintenance. But ultimately A Life in Parts is a story about the joy, the necessity, and the transformative power of simple hard work.

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Bryan is a few decades older than I am but I think one of the remarkable things about A Life in Parts is that I didn’t feel as though his stories of yesteryear were old-fashioned, or as belonging to a different generation. He talks about making movies at home with this father and brother as a young child, of his parents divorce and going to live with his grandparents on a farm for a while, of belonging to a police foundations organization for youth as a teen and then going on an extended motorcycle trip on the open road as a young man, crisscrossing America with his brother.

But at no point did I stop and think “that is something that only would have happened in my parents’ generation – or my grandparents'”. He could have been someone my own age talking about his upbringing.

I knew of Bryan as that goofy Dad on Malcom in the Middle growing up, and as the infamous Walter White of Breaking Bad more recently, but I was never a “fan” of his as an actor or a person. I didn’t follow his career, go see something just because he was in it, and quite frankly knew next to nothing about him. I doubt I could have named any other show that he had been in, but I had heard good things about A Life in Parts and I am glad I picked it up.

Bryan doesn’t sound like a celebrity. He’s just a normal guy, albeit one who has had some pretty memorable roles. Of course, he has been happily married to the same woman forever, doesn’t appear to live a flashy life, and is super close to his siblings who no doubt take great joy in keeping their brother down-to-earth.

I really enjoyed this audiobook and would definitely recommend it to my fellow readers, even (especially) ones who don’t normally read about celebrity lives.

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xx