What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
“Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Real insight on the 36th president from someone who knew him well.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
While shooting in Portland, Ore., I got the pleasure of discovering Powell’s Books, an enormous old bookstore (which I hope still exists) and stayed there the entire day. I just curled up in a comfy chair and read. They had a cafe in the store that I frequented. What joy. I suppose it helped that it was a rainy day. Rain creates a Pavlovian response in me to relax with a good book. I find that peace at our beach house, and created a cozy nook just for that purpose. I admit that I am driven to work and have to remind myself that reading is not an indulgence or a luxury. I have to improve that aspect of my life.
You recently recorded the audiobook version of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Are you a fan of the book? Did performing it aloud change your perception of it?
The main reason I agreed to do the audiobook was because I had wanted to read that book and never got around to it. So I thought, why not commit to this and then I will be guaranteed to read it? These questions have exposed an uncomfortable condition, in which I can make time for reading books if it’s “work related” but not for just my own personal pleasure. . . . I need to see a shrink.
What was the experience of recording a book like for you? How was it different from the theater, film and television work you’ve done?
I found narrating an audiobook very challenging, a task exacerbated by my suspected — but undiagnosed — mild dyslexia. Still, the experience was rewarding for the discovery that one, I did it; and two, that I won’t do another one; and three, that the strength of the story got me through the long recording sessions. It’s a real talent to convey emotions through your vocal choices and it takes real stamina. There are far better actors doing that work than myself.
Do you draw inspiration for your theater, television and film projects from the books you read?
A) Yes. The three main tools in an actor’s toolbox are personal experience, research and imagination. Richly drawn literary characters plant seeds in our brains for future reference. When developing a character we will unwittingly pull from those memories to form a whole character. . . . Then we selfishly claim them as original.
B) And vice versa. Anna Gunn, my wife on “Breaking Bad,” gave me a beautiful hardcover of “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” A perfect book to flip through to get back in touch with the little boy within. It inspired me to create a concept for a TV show. . . . Stay tuned.
You recently portrayed Lyndon Johnson at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge in the play “All the Way,” a production that is headed for Broadway. Did you read any books on Johnson, aside, I presume, from Doris Kearns Goodwin, to prepare for the role? What books in particular informed your portrayal?
In addition to Goodwin’s book, I plunged into Robert Caro’s “Master of the Senate,” Mark Updegrove’s “Indomitable Will,” and Michael Beschloss’s “Taking Charge.” And I must admit being curious about the new book, Roger Stone’s “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ,” but I think I’ll save that for after the run of the play.
Of all the characters you’ve played across different media, which role felt to you the richest — the most, perhaps, novelistic?
“Breaking Bad’s” Walter White. The depth of this tragic story made it feel like the character reached Shakespearean level.
What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?
I like mysteries, thrillers and adventures best. I haven’t been interested in very many science fiction novels.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
After my confession of not being attracted to sci-fi, one might be surprised to see the collection of Phillip K. Dick’s short stories. Love those.
What book has had the greatest impact on you?
Nonfiction: “The Road Less Traveled.” Fiction: “Moby-Dick.”
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
The “Wizard of Oz” novelist, L. Frank Baum. . . If he really was a racist as is rumored. And if so, how could he write such a heartfelt story? Were the Munchkins a metaphor? Did he have the Wicked Witch of the West killed off because he hated green people?
What’s next on your reading list?
After “All the Way” is up and running, I will transition into reading a Dalton Trumbo biography by Bruce Cook. I have once again succumbed to perusing books for occupational purposes. But I love baseball and I’m eager to read “The Art of Fielding.” It’s on my bed stand right now, taunting me.