Bryan Cranston: My 'Last Flag Flying' character wouldn't take a knee during anthem, but I would

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying (Photo by Wilson Webb)

Bryan Cranston had one mission when he signed on to play Vietnam veteran Sal Nealon, in Richard Linklater‘s new Last Flag Flying alongside Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne. “All I really want people to do is go, ‘I know guys like Sal,'” the actor tells Yahoo Entertainment about his approach to the character, an aging, but still rowdy soldier eking out a living as a bar owner in Virginia. “I know guys like him! He’s that kind of guy who takes up air in the room, and yet he’s also a tried and true friend.” Even friends can have disagreements, of course, and Cranston reveals that there are some fundamental differences between him and Sal. Case in point: the actor says that the fictional former Marine he plays in Last Flag Flying  would not be taking part in the current “take a knee” protests that have been dominating the news cycle, and NFL games, since Donald Trump’s Sept. 22 speech.

“He’d criticize that, I think,” Cranston remarks, even while acknowledging that, as we see in the movie — a sequel to the 1973 Hal Ashby film The Last Detail starring Jack Nicholson, which premiered at the New York Film Festival on Thursday, and opens theatrically on Nov. 3 — Sal also carries a healthy amount of cynicism for the pomp and circumstance of the military. “He’s been [in Vietnam], and takes a lot of pride in his experience. Those were his halcyon days, when he was in his prime. He made the military his family, and who do we get most upset with in our lives? Our family! But if someone steps in and tries to attack the family, it’s like, ‘Hey, who are you?'”

Cranston, on the other hand, makes it clear that he respects the movement that Colin Kaepernick initially started and has gained steam in recent days. “Personally, I feel that taking a knee is an honorable way to dissent. I’ve never met Colin Kaepernick, but I think what he started was very respectful, actually. He’s not interrupting anyone from how they want to interpret the national anthem. If he was going around making noise, trying to stop people from singing or taking the flag and throwing it down, then I’ve got a problem. But he’s not doing any of that. So I thought, ‘Good for you. Whether I agree or disagree with your motives, your action is respectable.’ [Your] level of patriotism shouldn’t be measured by the size of your American flag label pin.”

Were they to encounter each other in real life, Cranston and Sal would also have to agree to disagree on the current resident of the Oval Office. In fact, the actor confesses that he’s pretty sure that if his alter ego had bothered to vote in the 2016 election, he would have voted for Trump. (It should be noted that the movie takes place in 2003, so Sal would have to wait 13 years to pull the lever for his favored candidate.) “Sal would have said, ‘Yeah, he’s kind of a dick, but at least he’s going to get s–t done!'” That’s in direct contrast to Cranston, who has questioned Trump’s handling of major issues, including North Korea. “I wrote to a conservative friend of mine, saying ‘This is the person you’re supporting? A person who is belittling and trying to diminish the head of state of a country that has a weapon of mass destruction?’ So Bryan is appalled by that behavior. Sal might go, ‘You’re goddamn right!’ He’s in favor of anybody that stirs the pot.”

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