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Breaking boredom: Bryan Cranston finds excitement at Ramstein

Bryan Cranston tells a story to audience members as Senior Airman Madi Sylvester, the evening's moderator from the Armed Forces Network, listens at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 26, 2017

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Actor Bryan Cranston made stops in Germany and England this week in his first USO tour, giving him a chance to get out of a celebrity “bubble” in which constant attention and ego-stroking can block one’s link to the real world.

“As you can imagine, I don’t have a lot of interaction with people that doesn’t focus on me,” said Cranston, a four-time Emmy award winner for his performances in “Breaking Bad,” where he plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime. “I’m bored with me.”

Gone are the days when he used to sit anonymously at the mall, quietly studying human nature to help him with his acting. But the tour has allowed him to connect again with others and learn from them.

“What I found was really fun … really kind of an unexpected treat … is that every place I went, the [enlisted personnel] and the officers, they really enjoyed telling me what they do,” he said.

At Ramstein on Tuesday, for example, he visited the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and met with explosive ordinance disposal airmen. Climbing into a C-130 Hercules and donning a blast suit were experiences he likened to being a child again.

“It wasn’t like ‘Oh, here’s a celebrity showing up and he’s going to anoint us with what he knows,’” he said. “No. We were like on an even [footing] and that was just fantastic.”

After dinner at the dining facility, Cranston took the stage to talk about himself.

But this audience of some 700 fans at the Ramstein Officer’s Club was hardly bored with him. They listened intently as he spoke about growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley, roving the country on a two-year motorcycle trek and struggling as a working actor with “survival jobs” like graveyard shifts on a loading dock.

Army Sgt. Luther Washington came from Sembach after hearing about the show from a neighbor. Holding a large, framed movie poster he hoped to have signed, he said the event was a rare treat and the “ultimate compliment” from someone of Cranston’s stature.

“Look how excited everyone was,” Washington said. “It’s fantastic.”

Billed as “An Evening with Bryan Cranston” and moderated by Armed Forces Network’s Senior Airman Madi Sylvester, the event drew from the actor’s memoir, “My Life in Parts,” and mixed comedy with a little bit of personal tragedy and some motivational speaking.

The crowd laughed and cheered as the 61-year-old acted out stories about reluctantly killing chickens as a 12-year-old, learning to rappel for a role in a candy bar spot and — as a shy college kid on his first day of acting class — making out with a pretty classmate he’d never met.

“Girls got me into acting,” he said in an interview before the show.

An audience question-and-answer session bounced from acting preparation to parenting advice to encouragement for young artists or others pursuing their passions.

Before landing the role of Hal, the quirky dad on Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” that brought him fame, Cranston had already been acting for more than 15 years. He said he would have still been happy had celebrity not arrived, because he was doing what he loves.

Thanking the crowd of servicemembers and their families, he said seeing them energized about their own work was rewarding.

“It was fun to be up here tell you a little bit about me, and I hope you enjoyed yourselves,” he said. “But I gained so much today being with people who are excited about what they do.”

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

Audience members laugh during a story by Bryan Cranston at Ramstein Air Base, Germany on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.
MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

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