From a parasocial angle, millions have watched Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul’s friendship grow through the travails of their iconic characters Walter White and Jesse Pinkman over five seasons of a series, whose name, in our ensuing conversation, they carefully eluded. Instead, the prior co-stars humbly refer to the show—wherein Cranston played a high school chemistry teacher turned Meth kingpin, and Paul played that teacher’s former student turned partner in the drug trade—as “a job they once had.”
Whether they were avoiding scab behavior (going against the rules of the SAG-AFTRA strike) and/or trying not to rest on their laurels in tackling a new venture—Dos Hombres, a mezcal company they co-founded in 2019 and are currently promoting—I’ll follow suit in eluding the, for many of us obvious, TV show title. But the theme of this issue, and of our conversation, is “Besties,” and these particular best friends first met on this particular job. Naturally, their experience co-starring on the show, which lasted over five years, was integral to the best friendship they have today.
In a way, viewers of the show, or the job, or what have you, have perhaps seen a phantom semblance of Cranston and Paul’s real relationship play out through how their performances mature, or were subjected to unexpected tones and plot twists. You may have also caught a glimpse of their friendship in interviews, where their best buddyship is more than apparent. Here, as we talked over a decade after the last episode first aired on television, the two friends can’t think up a single bad thing to say about each other.
As we spoke, Cranston is in the passenger seat of a car headed to Paul’s hotel room in Manhattan. I first ask them about how they met. I wondered, was it instant chemistry? Did they know from the beginning they’d be friends? Or did the unique circumstances of co-starring in the same show for several years bring an unlikely kinship together? Unsurprisingly, it seemed like they loved each other from the beginning.
Paul starts. “He took the whole new cast of this, uh, job we were once on to lunch. The moment you meet Bryan, he’s so charismatic and incredibly charming, but also very immature in the best way! He can’t help himself. It just comes out—he doesn’t have a choice. Sometimes what comes out is completely inappropriate, but in a beautiful way. I love the man. I feel blessed that my path has crossed with his.”
“What I saw in him is what I saw in myself when I was that age. I don’t think Aaron has any sense of entitlement, which is a very great thing to experience in another human being,” Cranston reflects. “Look what we get to do for a living. It’s an incredible gift and not to be taken lightly. And not to be taken for granted. And that’s what I saw in Aaron, that he really appreciated what he had and was never going to be cavalier about that.”
The affirmations keep coming. “But yeah, he’s one of my best friends on the planet, he’s of course my mentor, and he’s my son’s godfather,” Paul continues. “My kids absolutely adore him, they call him monkey man, for obvious reasons. I love the man to death, and I’ve said this so many times—I’m such a better actor because of him. And I have learned so much from him off-screen; I can proudly say that I’ve become a better man because of him. It’s true. I’m getting emotional talking about it...but it’s a very true thing.” No more than ten minutes into the interview, Paul is trying to hold back tears.
Cranston then says, “I feel the same way,” and went on to talk about how, whereas he took the lead on the show, Paul took the lead on their Mezcal company. “He really has the vision for it. He introduced it to me. It was his idea, and I defer a lot to that. And that’s just the way it should be. It’s not a power trip to take the leader responsibility on any given thing. It’s just the ability to see who should be at the forefront of any given thing at any given time.”
He goes on to compliment Paul’s talents beyond acting, including his ability to “not only imagine but execute” the design of a rustic riverside home he built in Idaho, where the two have spent time with each other’s families, as well as getting into their own antics. “I got to get a glimpse of what Bryan must have been like raising his beautiful baby girl when he had kids,” says Paul. “My kids sprint to him. And they treat him truly like a kid, [as well as] almost like a grandfather. They love him so much. I told him this last night: Hey man, I really want you to spend more time with my babies, just you and Ryden [the son, Paul and his wife, Lauren Parsekian, had just last year]. I want you to have more solo time with them, so my kids can have that in their lives. It’s important to me, cause I think they will grow a deeper love and appreciation for one another. I think my kiddos are lucky to have him in their sort of zeitgeist—their presence.”
Cranston and Paul also spend one-on-one time. They bike ride, or “go on the road.” Or, at the home in Idaho, which is situated on a promontory, they swim in the river. But sometimes Cranston doesn’t always want to go in. “He goes in during the dead of winter,” Cranston explains of Paul. “He will submerge himself in this icy, cold water. And he’s always trying to get me to embrace the icy cold. And occasionally I do, but it’s a...it’s a challenge.”
“The Wim Hof story! Ice bath therapy!” Paul declared his inspiration—the Dutch extreme athlete known as “The Iceman.” “[Bryan] goes, well is there a story that involves just hot tub therapy? Hot water? I want to do that work.”
“Three nights is the maximum amount of time Aaron can get away,” Cranston explains of their outings. “And even that’s a test because his babies are young, and he misses them. That’s good for me too, though, just energy-wise. And he’s such a good dad. When he’s not working, he’s with his kids, he takes his daughter to school every morning. And he and his wife have have a great relationship.”
It was all so loving I had to dampen the mood. I asked what it was like for them to leave the show they worked on so intensively with the same people—with each other—over so many years.
“It’s the old Dr. Seuss quote, right?” Paul said. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I couldn’t win. Their optimism didn’t flinch in the slightest. “It was a hard time,” Paul conceded, “but my God did we have a great time.”
Then Cranston chimed in with some wisdom, “I think the thing to remember, and I learned it early on, is to never again take what gifts you’ve been given for granted. If you’re appreciating every moment that you’re able to share with this extraordinary experience and really feel it and wrap your arms around it every day—and it was several years—then when it’s time to go you don’t feel a sense of regret, because you did experience it. I think if you’re not in the moment, if you’re looking beyond what you’re actually doing, you could have a tendency to neglect that time and place right here, right now—and not really feel what you’re doing. If you’re thinking to yourself, ‘After this I’m going to do this and that,’ you’re projecting out and that’s not really advantageous. We experienced this extraordinary peace and were all filled with tears when we were saying goodbye. That’s a healthy thing to do, to release your emotions on any particular experience. But quite frankly, I don’t actually miss the things—because we experienced them. We were there.”
I then tried to ask about conflict, rough patches, in any of their experiences together…
Cranston answered, “Never with each other. There have been rough patches that we have gone through emotionally and physically on the show, and there are rough patches in our business. As is the case with any business, the true judge of character is how someone reacts to those issues and those problems and where your sense of right and wrong is. It’s not about if something goes wrong, it’s about when something goes wrong. What are your contingencies? What have you thought about? How can you pivot? How can you react to it?”
“I mean we talk truly every day,” Paul said. “We handle so much business with Dos Hombres all the time. We spend a lot of time together, but we’ve never really got fed up with each other, you know?”
“OH, IT’S COMING!” Cranston suddenly yelled, earthily from the bottom of his throat. “It’s brewing! It’s going to drop!”
I thought this is it—they’re finally going to break.
But all that broke was Cranston’s character, “No. I’ll tell you why we never get fed up with each other: Aaron has always been bluntly honest, and I appreciate that.”
We were back again, even in deeper. Cranston had more knowledge and love to share.
“What he is angling for is not necessarily what I am angling for. I’m the age of his parents. And so I’m more in line with that. I love his parents. I love his in-laws. We have a relationship as well. What someone my age wants and needs to do for their life is sometimes in the opposite direction of what someone two decades younger wants. And so you just have to accept that and go, ‘Oh yeah, I need to go this way. You need to go that way.’ At some point, we have to let someone venture down some other path. There’s a certain amount of effort that needs to go into a friendship. And then there should also be a certain amount of ease where your sensibilities allow you to swim together. But at some point, no, you got to go off and swim in a different direction, but then you come back, and go, ‘Hey, how are you?’ It’s not about you white-knuckling it and trying to hold onto someone wanting to explore a different place.”
I said, plainly, “You guys are so optimistic.”
“But also,” Cranston replied, “it’s a little bit of realism.”
Defeated, I asked them if they had ever read each other’s Zodiac compatibility.
“Of course. every day! Ha ha ha ha ha!” Paul laughs nervously.
“Okay, no, that’s a great question. I, uh, I love that. Um, did you happen to look us up. Please tell me you did...”
I did not.
“Well, I’ll tell you his,” Cranston said confidently, “He’s a Leo.”
“No, I’m not! You don’t know me at all!”
Had I finally chipped their armor?
“Yeah, well what am I? What am I?” Cranston challenged. “You’re a Capricorn.”
“What are you? I’m a Virgo, by the way.”
“You’re a Virgo. Okay yeah, that’s right.”
“Oh, you’re Sagittarius! That’s what it is!”
“Yeah, no, you’re wrong again. And you’ll guess a third time, and you’ll be wrong a third time.”
“...What are you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry...”
“I’m a—I’m a Pisces.”
“Oh, you’re a pi—okay. Oh, that’s cute...”
“Why is that cute!?”
“‘Cause that’s like your godson, he’s a Pisces.”
“Yeah, that’s right. See, had you thought of that? I remember when he was born, the due date was on my birthday.”
“Yeah, yeah, forget it! I don’t want to talk to you anymore!”
I had finally torn them apart, I thought. But suddenly the two were laughing, and Paul had something else saccharine to say.
“I’m just so proud of what we’ve built together. I’m truly so proud of our friendship, our relationship, you know? I really protect it. The fact that we got to tackle Dos Hombres together, and call it our own—it’s our brainchild.”
Cranston reminds us both again to embrace the moment— be here, right now. But also, he was telling Paul, he was literally there, right now, at the steps of his hotel to meet him. Paul couldn’t help but give Cranston one last compliment, “Bryan warms up every single room he walks into.”
“I bring jackets—jackets and hoodies. That’s all I do. See you downstairs.”
Photographed by Kurt Iswarienko
Styled by Edwin J Ortega
Written by A.E. Hunt
Flaunt Film: Isaac Dektor
Digital Tech: Aladdin Ishmael
Production: Annee Elliot Productions
Styling Assistant: Andrew Barrios
Production Assistants: Rudy Reynoso, Ellie Monieson, and Khami Auerbach
Location: Studios 60