Bryan Cranston Recalls His Mother's Struggle With Alcoholism

By Kelly Burch 10/12/16

“My mother chose to become an alcoholic and drown her sorrows and sadness and resentment. She was like a ghost of herself." 

Bryan Cranston Recalls His Mother's Struggle With Alcoholism

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston says that his mother was an alcoholic throughout much of his life—something that has left him with a “reservoir of anger and resentment and abandonment issues.”

Speaking in an interview with The Sunday Times while promoting his new autobiography, A Life in Parts, Cranston said that when his father abandoned the family, his mother turned to alcohol to get through. This left Cranston and his two sisters with no reliable parent. 

“There’s still a lot of pain I’m dealing with,” he said. “It’s worse than if they died in a car crash, because they were still there physically, somewhere. My mom and dad up through 10 years old were really wonderful, that’s what was so awful about it. My mother was engaging and my dad was my coach; we did things together and he brought home a donkey for us to play with. Then it all disappeared.”

The family grew up outside Hollywood, with Cranston’s father chasing his dream of becoming an actor. However, when it became clear that that was not going to happen, he left his family, and his wife turned to alcohol. 

In the interview, Cranston showed little sympathy for his mother’s struggle with alcoholism. “My mother chose to become an alcoholic and drown her sorrows and sadness and resentment. She was like a ghost of herself,” he said

However, Cranston said he did make peace with her before she died. She developed Alzheimer's and, Cranston believes, forgot about the pain that had caused her to drink. The distance in the relationship ultimately made it easier to say goodbye, Cranston said. 

“I feel far more sorry for those people who had really good relationships with a parent and then, all of a sudden, in a matter of a few months, that person slips away,” said Cranston. “That’s cruelty. With me, it was more fortunate that the disconnect happened when I was 13 years old.”

Cranston’s complicated feelings toward his mother are just one way that he mirrors the character who made him famous—the good guy turned drug kingpin Walter White. Cranston said that he “never felt more alive” than when playing that part. 

In an interview earlier this summer, Cranston talked about dealing with a girlfriend who—unbeknownst to him—was a drug addict. 

“I wasn’t aware enough, or she was incredibly stealthy in taking the drugs, that I never saw her taking the drugs in the year that I was with her, so it was confusing to me how her behavior was changing and aggression was increasing. I couldn’t understand it.”

When he had to take her to the emergency room following an overdose, Cranston says that he saw a dark side of himself. 

“The end result was having a moment of out-of-body clairvoyance that I could kill her,” he said. “I saw myself able to kill another human being, which I had never felt before, and it scared me. It really scared me to my core.”

In the interview with the Times, Cranston said that playing Walter White taught him that anyone can turn murderous. “Even the meekest person in the room can become dangerous, if they’re desperate,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.