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Inside Bryan Cranston’s Marriage – Nicki Swift

Bryan Cranston is part of the furniture in Hollywood nowadays, though the Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actor was fashionably late to the party, finding fame in his 40s. A native of California, Cranston graduated from Los Angeles Valley College with an associate’s degree in police science in 1976, but he decided to change direction entirely after taking one acting class and catching the bug. He honed his new craft at the Granada Theater in the San Fernando Valley and made his screen debut in the 1980s — the decade he met his actress wife, Robin Dearden.

Cranston settled down, wed for a second time (he was previously married to writer Mickey Middleton), and started a family all while he was a working but largely unknown actor. He had been around for years when he shot to stardom playing chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White in Breaking Bad, which, in hindsight, was definitely for the best. “I’m grateful it happened later, because I was able to develop a sound foundation of my life without any level of fame given to a boy,” Cranston told The Guardian. The actor also touched on one of his favorite topics during his interview with the British newspaper: his wife. 

The former Malcolm in the Middle actor has been happily married to Dearden for decades, and he’s been more than happy to share the secrets of their success. Let’s take a peek inside Bryan Cranston’s marriage.

Bryan Cranston pulled a gun on his wife the day they met

Bryan Cranston met Robin Dearden on the set of what he described to People as a “terrible TV show” during an appearance at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He was referring to the little-known cold war helicopter drama Airwolf, in which he played the one-off part of jilted lover Robert Hollis. Cranston hijacks a school reunion cruise in season 3 episode “Desperate Monday,” taking his future wife (who was also hired for just this episode) hostage in the process. “We were guest stars,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I was the bad guy and she was the victim of the week.”

When Cranston and Dearden sat down for a joint interview with People a few years later, they recalled how the scenes they filmed together for Airwolf were far from romantic. Dearden, who played sorority sister Alicia Kincaid in the 1986 episode, spent the majority of her time together feigning terror. She told the magazine: “He actually had a gun to my head.” Cranston was convincing as a crazed hijacker when the cameras were rolling, but in between takes, he had his helpless hostage in stitches. “I thought that he was the funniest man that I had ever met,” Dearden added. “I said, ‘He’s kind of cute, he’s got a gun…'” According to Cranston, it was the perfect combination. He said: “A little danger, a little laughter!”

Bryan Cranston and Robin Dearden were both seeing other people when they met

Sparks flew when Bryan Cranston held his future wife Robin Dearden at gunpoint on the set of forgotten ’80s show Airwolf, despite the fact that both actors were very much spoken for. “I had a girlfriend at the time. She had a boyfriend,” Cranston told Rolling Stone. The actor told the music mag that “the sexual tension was interesting,” but they both knew that “nothing was gonna happen” so long as they had partners. “And a year later, she joined a comedy improv class I was in.” According to Cranston, he and his now-single former co-star did “as actors do” when they bump into each other out in the world — they greeted with a kiss. This was no friendly peck on the cheek, however. Cranston and Dearden locked lips, and they stayed that way for some time.

“We were both like, ‘Wait that was too long, wasn’t it?!’ And that is really what happened,” Cranston said when he and his wife spoke to People. Dearden is apparently of the opinion that she and her eventual husband wouldn’t have lasted if they had been free to pursue a romance on the back of their electric Airwolf meeting, and Cranston agrees. “I think it was serendipitous,” he told the magazine. “As Robin says, if we had been unencumbered at the time and started dating, she doesn’t think that we would have stayed together.”

Bryan Cranston hid his wife's engagement ring in a really weird place

Bryan Cranston had been dating Robin Dearden for around two and a half years when he decided to take things to the next level. He wanted her to become his wife, but he was so in love with his girlfriend that he feared he would burst into tears if he had to propose to her face. “I had to figure out a way where she was not looking at me when I was asking her to marry me,” he told Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen Show. The answer came to him in the shower one day — they would get into a romantic bubble bath together, facing the same direction. “I thought, taking a bath together we could straddle each other, but I was busy changing the music and candles,” he told Page Six. “My problem was, I didn’t know where to put the ring.”

In the end, there was only one place he could hide the diamond band: on his baby toe. Cranston was able to successfully profess his love to the back of Dearden’s soapy head, and she accepted his offer, at which point he revealed the submerged engagement ring. “She had to take it off my foot,” the Breaking Bad star recalled. What did Dearden make of this unusual proposal? When she and Cranston sat down for a joint interview with 60 Minutes, a laughing Dearden revealed that her first thoughts were: “What the hell is this?”

Bryan Cranston pranked his wife at the altar

Bryan Cranston surprised Robin Dearden with his pinky toe proposal, but he upped the ante when it came to their actual wedding, pulling a prank at the altar. The two tied the knot in 1989, penning their own personal vows for the ceremony. “When it was her turn, she pulled out a few small index cards and began to read,” Cranston told Oprah. “When it was my turn, I took out a single piece of paper — which unfurled three feet to the ground. I’d planned the gag to keep things from getting too serious, and to help everyone relax.” According to Cranston, his risky altar joke had the intended effect. The actor added: “While it didn’t make grown men roll on the floor in hysterics, I’m happy to say that it did get a laugh.”

Putting people at ease during weddings comes naturally to Cranston — because he used to officiate them. When the actor was about 18, he moved to Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California, bunking with a guy called Reverend Bob. When Reverend Bob double-booked himself one day, he roped Cranston in to take his place. Bob filled in some quick paperwork, and, just like that, Cranston was a Universal Life Church minister. The actor married two people in a small plane in what was “the first of maybe 12 ceremonies that I officiated,” he told NPR. Years later, Reverend Bob oversaw Cranston and Dearden’s wedding.

Honeymoon train sex went terribly wrong for the pair

Bryan Cranston and Robin Dearden chose to go on a five-week tour of Europe for their honeymoon, driving across the continental mainland. They visited some incredible countries on their trip, but the language barrier led to one mortifying moment for the newlyweds, as Cranston explained to Conan O’Brien. The couple booked a rail journey from Switzerland to Italy on the advice of a travel agent, who informed them that they would be able to stay inside their car as the train passed through three pitch-black tunnels. “The travel agent said, ‘By the way, the third tunnel is 50 minutes long,'” Cranston told O’Brien. “‘It’s tradition for honeymooners to take advantage of that time.'”

Not wanting to miss out, Cranston and Dearden decided to take part in the naughty tradition. The trouble was, they only had fifteen minutes, not 50. “We’re reclining, going … and we’re enjoying our lovemaking,” Cranston recalled. “Within a short period of time, I start seeing the features of my beautiful wife’s face, and I’m thinking my eyes are getting acclimated to this. Within seconds, wham, we’re out in broad daylight.” The shocked and naked Americans were in plain view of their fellow passengers, and while the men nearby seemed to get a real kick out of it, one old lady sat with her horrified grandchildren was clearly not amused. “She gives me a look, like, ‘You!'” Cranston said.

Bryan Cranston made a feature film as a gift to his wife

Bryan Cranston has enough clout to get passion projects off the ground with relative ease nowadays, but he struggled to get 1999’s Last Chance into production. “I wrote it for my wife, not having the sense enough to realize that I wrote a screenplay and not a novel,” he told Backstage. “Then I realized, Oh my God, I’m not done. It’s like giving someone a plate of frozen cookie dough: Oh, I should really make these for you, shouldn’t I?” Unfortunately, nobody wanted to help him make it. Cranston pitched Last Chance (in which he and Dearden co-star as a married couple who get terrorized by a drifter in the California desert) all around town, and he was rejected at every turn.

“They either said it didn’t have the pizzazz they wanted or they wanted us to attach some big names,” Cranston explained. “I finally said, ‘I’m tired of that, I’m just going to go out and raise the money and do it myself.’ So I did.” He did what he needed to do to get Last Chance made, but because of his low profile (this was before he debuted as hapless but loveable dad Hal on Malcolm in the Middle), the film flew under the radar. Years later, Cranston worked with his wife and his daughter in an episode of Breaking Bad. They both had small roles in season 3’s “No Más,” directed by Cranston.

Fame sometimes gets in the way of Bryan Cranston's marriage

As an actor who spent years as a virtual unknown, Bryan Cranston laps up the attention he gets from fans nowadays. When The New Yorker‘s Tad Friend joined Cranston for a stroll around Manhattan during the height of Breaking Bad mania, he was “unfailingly charming with the many, many people who recognized him as Walter White.” The actor stopped to take selfies with everyone who asked, and he’s even been known to approach Breaking Bad fans himself. When he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2017, Cranston revealed that he loves to sneak up on people wearing Heisenberg t-shirts, just to see their reaction.

Cranston has taken to celebrity like a fish to water, but, according to his wife, he sometimes pushes himself a little too hard when he’s interacting with his admirers. “It takes him longer to shut that off than it does to get out of character — it usurps his energy, overwhelms him,” Robin Dearden told The New Yorker, adding, with a laugh: “When he comes home, the last thing he wants is a woman’s chat.” Dearden admitted to the magazine that it’s actually been the source of a few arguments behind closed doors. “I try not to take it personally when he gets curt, because one reason he gets exhausted is that after years of trying so hard to get anything he could, he doesn’t have that gauge of, ‘Okay, I’ve done enough now.'”

Bryan Cranston and his wife love to people watch

For Bryan Cranston, one of the few downsides to becoming belatedly famous is that he’s no longer anonymous. People watching was always a big part of his prep work when studying for a role, but that went out of the window when Breaking Bad blew up. “I used to be able to work all the time: in a coffee house, in a doctor’s office, in an airport, just watching human behavior,” he told The Guardian. “When the observer becomes the observed, you can’t observe any more.” Nowadays, he has to keep a safe distance when he observes strangers, something he and his wife do “all the time.”

When Cranston sat down for a candid interview with The Talks, he revealed that he and Robin Dearden love to analyze other couples they see while out and about in public. “You can tell just by body language how familiar they are with each other: if it’s a first or second date, if they are leaning in and laughing, their energy is into each other,” he said. “If they have been together for 20 years, their energy is back, it is not as attentive. So you sense the energy of someone.” 

Cranston is just as observant when it comes to his wife. It’s the small things that keep him enamored with Dearden, like the way she “still gets giddy when she sees a firefly,” he told Humans of New York.

Bryan Cranston and his wife had COVID-19

Bryan Cranston decided not to go public when he and Robin Dearden caught COVID-19, choosing to keep the news under wraps. “When my wife and I had it very early on — the very first week that everything had shut down — I didn’t think that the world needed another celebrity saying, ‘Hey, I had it!'” Cranston said during a video interview on Live with Kelly and Ryan. The actor revealed that he and Dearden went through “a week of severe lethargy” but were ultimately “very fortunate, very mild with our symptoms.” The worst part was that he lost his sense of taste and smell for around two months, and neither have returned fully.

Nine months after his brush with the virus, Cranston’s senses had “only come back about 70 percent,” he told People. “I have to retrain my brain to be sensitive to those things. I literally stop and smell the roses, and I’ll open up a bag of coffee beans and stick my nose in it.” It’s not an ideal scenario for him, but Cranston is well aware that things could have been so much worse. The number of celebs who died of COVID-19 in 2020 had hit double figures by the end of the year, and he’s grateful that neither he nor his wife were on that list. “My heart goes out to all the people who have passed, [to] their families and those who are suffering,” he said.

Bryan Cranston and his wife have been in couples therapy for years

Bryan Cranston has been seeing a therapist periodically since he was in his 30s, despite the stigma that those around him attached to that kind of thing when he was a kid. “When I was growing up, anyone seeing a therapist was crazy,” Cranston told the Financial Times. “It kept people away who could have really used therapy to work through their problems but didn’t want to be labeled as crazy.” Cranston ignored the naysayers and discovered that reflecting on his life choices in the company of a professional benefited him greatly, and it’s apparently done the same for his marriage. “It really helped us,” the actor said. “I look at it as a tune-up. If your car starts running rough, are you going to open the hood and fix it?”

According to Cranston, relationship problems can end up “festering like a sore” when left untreated, which is why he and Dearden have a strict policy when it comes to their joint sessions. “If either of us feels like going, the other can’t object,” the actor revealed in his 2016 memoir, A Life in Parts. “I suggested this system to her before we were even married, and it’s worked for us over the years.” Cranston would go on to play Larry David’s therapist in season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, earning an Emmy nomination for his comedic turn as the exasperated Dr. Templeton.

Why Bryan Cranston doesn't believe in soulmates

The story of Bryan Cranston’s marriage isn’t exactly a fairy tale one. It wasn’t your traditional love at first sight situation, and, as far as Cranston is concerned, there is no such thing as a soulmate. “I don’t believe there’s just one person for you,” he told Rolling Stone. “And quite frankly, love among adults is conditional. ‘We’re in love right now. Oops, you killed someone? Ok, wait a minute, that’s kind of a problem for me.'” 

He’s aware that anything could happen down the line, but when he pictures his future, he doesn’t see anyone but Robin Dearden in it. When he sat down with iNews in 2017, Cranston revealed that he’s still completely in awe of his wife. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I married a woman who is a better person than I am. It’s not difficult for me to look at her with admiration and love and say, ‘Boy, I got lucky.'”

He still has professional ambitions, both as an actor and a producer (in 2019, his production banner Moonshot Entertainment came to a multi-year agreement with Warner Bros. Television), but what Bryan Cranston is really looking forward to is watching his family grow. “I want to continue to take in experiences, and that includes seeing my daughter grow up, maybe have the luxury of being a grandfather, to grow old with my wife and see how that changes us,” he told Rolling Stone.

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