SAN FRANCISCO -- The best way to describe Bryan Cranston's career is eclectic.
You don't even have to look at his whole résumé to get a sense of the variety of roles he's played. Just look at what he's done so far this year.
Along with being a voice in the animated offerings "The Simpsons," "The Cleveland Show," "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and "Archer," Cranston was in the sci-fi feature films "Total Recall" and "John Carter," plus the movie musical "Rock of Ages."
In a real dramatic turn, he stars in "Argo," a political thriller directed by Ben Affleck. He plays the assistant deputy director of the CIA, Jack O'Donnell, who is the boss to the agent (Ben Affleck) who puts in motion an outlandish plan to use a fake movie production of a film called "Argo" to help six Americans escape from Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979. The movie is based on actual events.
Cranston liked the role because the story is so powerful. In researching the role, Cranston was struck by the CIA credo to never leave anyone behind. That was a major key to how he played the role.
Cranston liked that the character wasn't the standard CIA boss who always doubts his top agent's abilities.
"What resonated with me was this was a lot like the relationship Jack Warden had with Paul Newman in 'The Verdict.' It's sort of paternal. Sort of fraternal. Like an older brother you could argue with but in the end you would always know he had your back," Cranston says.
Cranston uses the same description for Affleck as a director. What Cranston, who has been a working actor for more than three decades, likes is the passion and compassion Affleck brings to the job. He's never seen Affleck get flustered -- even when swamped by the demands of being at the helm of a film.
No discussion with Cranston would be complete without talking about the role that has earned him the most praise and accolades.
"Do you mean 'Malcolm in the Middle?' " Cranston asks in deadpan fashion.
That FOX comedy was good, but it is nothing compared with his powerful performance of chemistry teacher turned meth maker Walter White in the much heralded "Breaking Bad." Cranston will head back in early December to film what will be the last eight episodes.
He's leaving a show that's won the hearts of viewers and critics with its gritty and often brutal look at life in the drug world. Cranston has no regrets because he wants the series to come to the conclusion that creator Vince Gilligan wants.
"Vince deserves to have the show end his way. That's why I can walk away from it. Historically, actors know that we are vagabonds. We go from project to project, from town to town, to hold out our hat and collect the shillings before we move on," Cranston says. "That being said, I hope that Vince feels the show should come to a natural completion and that he's satisfied."
Cranston has no idea how the show will end, but whatever the wrap-up, it will determine his future association with the character. If there's not a complete finality (and in this brutal world that's always a possibility) Cranston would be willing to return to the role that's won him three Emmys for a big screen version.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.