Bryan Cranston has defended playing a disabled character in his latest film amid a debate in Hollywood over actors taking roles away from minority groups.
Able-bodied Cranston plays a wheelchair-bound billionaire in comedy-drama The Upside, while comedian Kevin Hart – who recently pulled out of hosting the Oscars over a homophobic tweets controversy – stars as a recently-paroled criminal he hires as a carer.
Diversity in the film industry is a hot topic, with straight actor Darren Criss ruling out playing another gay character for fear of depriving an LGBT performer of a job.
And last year Scarlett Johansson pulled out of film Rub & Tug following a backlash over her casting as a trans character.
Cranston said his Upside casting was a “business decision” and that an actor’s job is to play other people.
He told the Press Association: “We live in the world of criticism, if we’re willing to get up and try something, we have to also be willing to take criticism. We’re very aware of the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I think being cast in this role as a quadriplegic really came down to a business decision.
“As actors were asked to be other people, to play other people. If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy, does that mean I can’t play a homosexual?
“I don’t know, where does the restriction apply, where is the line for that. I think it is worthy for debate to discuss those issues.”
Cranston, also known for starring as Walter White in television drama Breaking Bad, described the situation as a “case of catch 22” and said there needs to be “more opportunities” for disabled actors.
His co-star Hart said the film’s producers were looking for “box office success”, adding Cranston’s performance generates debate about the lack of opportunities for minority and marginalised groups.
To prepare for the role, Hart spent time with carers to gain an insight into how to look after a quadriplegic person.
The Upside is a remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables, which is based on the life of businessman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo.
Hart was named as host of the 2019 Academy Awards but withdrew in December after decade-old tweets reemerged in which he made offensive comments about the LGBT community.
The Upside will be released in UK cinemas on January 11.
- Press Association