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How 'White blindness' led Bryan Cranston to drop directing a play: 'I need to change'

The 'Breaking Bad' star was set to direct a play about the KKK, before he eventually stepped away, opens about confronting White privilege
UPDATED JUL 25, 2022
Bryan Cranston attends the 2021 Tribeca Festival at Spring Studios on June 17, 2021 in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Bryan Cranston attends the 2021 Tribeca Festival at Spring Studios on June 17, 2021 in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

As of February 2022, 'Breaking Bad' star Bryan Cranston is currently performing the role of Charles Nichols in the 'Power of Sail' running at the Geffen Playhouse. However, things would have been very different had it not been for a sudden burst of consciousness from the actor, who was supposed to direct another play instead. In a new interview, Cranston opened up about "White blindness" and privilege, which helped inform his current choice of production. 

 The term 'White privilege' has become a major flashpoint in the current culture war over racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. In May 2019, a New York City Department of Education-sponsored panel said white privilege benefited Asian-American students, leading to widespread anger. In July 2021, Sam Richards sparked calls to resign after shaming a student for his white privilege.


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Celebrities too have not been immune to being dragged down into controversy, but that hasn't stopped many from speaking up. Cranston is simply the latest to do, as he opened up to the Los Angeles Times about how he ended up working on 'Power of Sail'.


'I need to change'

In no uncertain terms, the actor said, "I’m 65 years old now, and I need to learn, I need to change." The thought emerged from 2019 when  Matt Shakman offered Cranston the opportunity to direct a play. Never having directed before, Cranston first thought of doing 'The Foreigner', a 1984 comedy about an Englishman who foils a nefarious plot by the Ku Klux Klan. Fast forward to 2021, the idea no longer seemed so appealing to Cranston. 

"It is a privileged viewpoint to be able to look at the Ku Klux Klan and laugh at them and belittle them for their broken and hateful ideology," he told The Times. He added, "But the Ku Klux Klan and Charlottesville and white supremacists — that’s still happening and it’s not funny. It’s not funny to any group that is marginalized by these groups’ hatred, and it really taught me something."

Laughing at the play for 20 years, the events of the past two forced him to rethink everything. "And I realized, ‘Oh my God, if there’s one, there’s two, and if there’s two, there are 20 blind spots that I have … what else am I blind to?" He went on to note, "If we’re taking up space with a very palatable play from the 1980s where rich old white people can laugh at white supremacists and say, ‘Shame on you,’ and have a good night in the theater, things need to change, I need to change."


And so Cranston decided he wanted to be part of “something that changes the conversation.” That's how he ended up in the role of Nichols, a Harvard professor who is slammed for inviting a white nationalist and Holocaust denier to speak at his annual symposium. It echoes situations playing out on college campuses all over the nation right now. He took that role because he believes a good play "can make you question your thought process — your dogma. It could challenge you." Exactly the same situation Nichols faces at Harvard in 'Power of Sail.' 

It's not just his beliefs that have changed his character, but it appears the character is changing him. "The role caused him to begin reexamining his beliefs," The Times wrote, noting how the play questions America's devotion to protecting free speech. The performance runs at Geffen's Playhouse till March 20.