Bryan Cranston defends his decision to play a character with a disability
In the entertainment industry, there's an ongoing debate about whether it's appropriate for straight actors to play gay characters, cisgender actors to play transgender characters and actors to play characters of different ethnicity. Emma Stone was accused of 'whitewashing' after playing a part-Hawaiian, part-Chinese woman in Aloha. Last summer Scarlett Johansson dropped out of a film after getting a backlash for playing a transgender man. And last month Darren Criss said he would not accept another LGBT role after playing a gay serial killer in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
But what about able-bodied actors playing disabled characters? In the new film The Upside, Bryan Cranston plays a wealthy quadriplegic who hires a former criminal (played by Kevin Hart) to be his caretaker. When asked if the casting was appropriate, Cranston defended his decision to play a character with a disability.
"As actors we're asked to play other people,"the actor told the Press Association, via the BBC. "If I, as a straight, older person, and I'm wealthy, I'm very fortunate, does that mean I can't play a person who is not wealthy, does that mean I can't play a homosexual?" he mused. "I don't know, where does the restriction apply, where is the line for that?"
Indeed, every acting role is a game of pretend. In real life, Cranston isn't a sociopathic high school science teacher turned crystal meth cook, but he did a great job portraying one on Breaking Bad. And like every great actor, he makes sure to do his research before taking on a sensitive role.
"I really needed to feel like I’m doing this justice," Cranston old Yahoo Movies UK. "I met with several quadriplegics and spent a lot of time with them to get to know what they were thinking and how they’ve adjusted in their lives, and, the level of happiness they could attain. It fluctuates It’s not every day, so if you catch them on a good day you can celebrate that but the lows are very low and the psychological dependency they have is enough to bring them down with the pressure so I was concerned about that."
The actor explained that filmmaking is a business and he was not responsible for the casting choices. However, he hopes this discussion will lead to more opportunities for disabled actors.
“The real business dynamic of that is the choice of the studios to try to see if they can make an investment into a film that could bring a return, so that wasn’t part of my decision making. But I think it points out the lack of diversity in disabled actors and the lack of opportunity in order to be even considered to play the lead role in a film like this.
"Are there any actors who have reached any kind of star status to be able to be considered? I think by not coming up with an answer to that is the answer to that. There is a dearth of opportunity for actors with a disability."