TORONTO (AP) — Bryan Cranston looks no less gobsmacked the morning after Hellen Mirren, at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of their film "Trumbo," called him "one of the greatest living American actors."
"I didn't know she felt that way," Cranston says, shaking his head. "I think she must be a little under the weather."
Awareness of Cranston's talent, of course, skyrocketed during the five award-winning, thoroughly addictive seasons he spent playing Walter White on "Breaking Bad." Now that that series is well in the rearview (even if after-effects of withdrawal persist for many fans), Cranston's post-"Breaking Bad" career is taking off.
"Trumbo," in which he stars as the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, is the most telling sign yet of what this new chapter will be for the 59-year-old actor. And he's good enough in it to suggest that Mirren may be quite healthy, after all.
"The opportunities have opened up and I'm so grateful for it and just trying to navigate through them and take advantage of them," Cranston said in an interview. "I know that at some point, it will calm down and I'll step off the rollercoaster and rest for a while. And when that happens, I want to be able to look back and say I was in the moment and I'm proud of what I've done."
"Trumbo," which Bleecker Street Media will release in the heart of awards season on Nov. 6, is directed by Jay Roach and adapted by John McNamara from Bruce Cook's biography. Roach, known best for his comedies ("Meet the Parents," ''Austin Powers"), takes a zippy, amusing tour through one of Hollywood's most shameful periods and through the life of one of its most eccentric figures.
Trumbo, one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood and a member of the Communist party since 1943, was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. When he and others of the so-called Hollywood Ten refused to name names, they were held in contempt of Congress. Trumbo was jailed for 11 months and found himself blacklisted upon release. To make a living, he wrote scripts by pseudonym and won two Oscars ("The Brave One," ''Roman Holiday") under other names.
"It's fundamentally un-American to force someone under the penalty of incarceration to say: 'What unions do you belong to?' Just as it would: 'What's your sexual orientation?'" says Cranston. "It's none of your business, and that's the point."
The Cold War-era film, Cranston says, bears lessons for the post-Sept. 11 surveillance by the National Security Agency.
"There are periods of time when fear takes over, the last time being these last 14 years," he says. "And the First Amendment is often pushed aside, and actions motivated by fear take over. And I think that's wrong. The First Amendment should always be in the conversation when determining what actions should be taken."
While making "Breaking Bad," Cranston's film work increased, including notable roles in "Godzilla" and in another Hollywood story, the best picture-winning "Argo." His biggest role since the series has been on the stage, playing President Lyndon B. Johnson in "All the Way," a role he's reprising for a film adaptation.
Asked whether he sometimes misses Walter White, Cranston says no without hesitation.
"The 'Breaking Bad' story had such a definitive ending and a satisfying one that I don't want to then open that back up," he says. "It does seem to me it would be a second helping of dessert."
The part of Trumbo comes with a wealth of accoutrements: a curled mustache, horn-rimmed glasses, a constantly fuming cigarette with a long-stemmed holder, a fondness for typing furiously in the bath tub. But most entertaining and essential to the character is Trumbo's rich, ever-flowing wit and verbosity.
Cranston says he dug through audio tapes, video tapes, biographies, Trumbo's own letters and the memories of Trumbo's two living daughters.
"I don't know what I'm looking for, but I keep looking," he says of finding Trumbo. "I keep looking, keep searching and something comes to me: 'Oh, I can use that.' So the character starts outside of me, like it's outside of my body when I first begin.
"There's always a little trepidation: Is this a character I won't be able to get?" he continues. "And I just keep my head down and do more research and do more reading and more discussions, and little by little, the more I do, the closer it gets. And pretty soon, it feels almost like a ghost impression seeps into you.
"Then you've got it."
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP