Bryan Cranston, <EM>Breaking Bad</EM> Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

For seven seasons, Bryan Cranston goofed off as Malcolm in the Middle's oddball dad, Hal. Now, he's returning to series TV with Breaking Bad (premiering Sunday, Jan. 20, at 10 pm/ET on AMC), an hour-long dramedy whose humor is a bit darker — he's a chemistry teacher who turns to churning out homemade crystal meth after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. We talked with Cranston about his trip to the dark side and to hear about some of his career highlights.

TV Guide: Are you ready to take some heat for this show's touchy subject?
Bryan Cranston:
Heat? Bring it baby! [Laughs] Some people call Bad an edgier Weeds and there is some truth to that… but pot makes it kind of tame, which is right for the tone of that show. With ours, crystal meth really ups the stakes.

TV Guide: That's fitting since your character Walt is dying.
Cranston:
That's true. I also think it's circumstantial with him. He had no intention of doing this, but he feels he needs to do something profound [to provide] for his family after he's gone. If Walt were a mathematician, he probably would have chosen card-counting and gone to a casino, but his world is chemistry.

TV Guide: After Malcolm, didn't you want a breather?
Cranston:
I kind of did! Then the day after I finished Malcolm, I bumped into Jason Alexander, who's an old friend from Seinfeld, and he asked me if I was interested in doing a play. So I did [a Sam Shepard drama he directed], and it was fantastic. Then I read [the Bad] script and thought what a coup it would be to transition in front of the camera into a completely different person.

TV Guide: Speaking of Seinfeld, you guest-starred on some of that show's most infamous episodes. Your Dr. Tim Whatley is the "re-gifter"!
Cranston:
[Laughs] I usually use that one in trivia contests: "Who was the original re-gifter and what did Elaine give him for working on her teeth for free?"

TV Guide: A label-maker?
Cranston:
The Label Baby Junior!

Check out some Breaking Bad clips in our Online Video Guide.

Get the Ultimate 2008 Sci-Fi Preview in the new issue of TV Guide, on newsstands now. Plus: More on Terminator: The Sarah Connor ChroniclesTry four risk-free issues of TV Guide now!

Send your comments on this Q&A to letters@tvguide.com.