In The Infiltrator, out Wednesday, Bryan Cranston breaks out of Breaking Bad mold and works on the right side of the law. He stars as Bob Mazur, a real-life undercover federal agent tasked in the mid-1980s with helping to bring down infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellín Cartel. Posing as money-laundering businessman “Bob Musella,” Mazur ends up bonding with Escobar’s colleague, Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt). The two actors were at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Miami to talk about the movie, based on Mazur’s 2009 autobiography of the same name.
How did you approach the roles, playing real people?
Cranston: Whenever you start a project, it feels huge. The more you do your research and go back to the text and talk to the people who were involved, it starts to get more manageable. You want to stay subjective. You don’t want to pop out and make a judgment of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Pretty soon the character — which starts outside of you — you trust that it kind of sinks into your soul. You go, ‘Oh! I got him! I know this character.’ Now you think and feel and answer questions through that filter and start to own him. I need to do that in order to be comfortable in my work. I need to know about who he is as a person, a man, and in this case, a law enforcement official.
Bratt: You always feel a certain responsibility when you play someone who existed and is actually alive. In his day Alcaino was quite dangerous. I don’t want to test to see whether he still is or not! He’s kind of a bad guy, which means there’s an ambiguity there. He loves his wife and kids; there’s that nuance. It’s not clear cut. There’s good and bad in everybody.
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Did the book help you understand the complexity and risks of the operation?
Bratt: It’s remarkable to recognize that this happened. When you read the book, you’ll see the film doesn’t really doesn’t take that much dramatic license. It’s a true reflection of what went down. As an actor you always use the screenplay as your guide, as your road map. The book is the back story. But we had tremendous additional research material at our fingertips. To have the presence of the real Bob Mazur [on set] — on top of that some of the secret recordings between him and Roberto — and to hear his thoughts and decisions, all that stuff becomes gold. It was daunting making a movie, so you can imagine what it was like for him, with his life truly on the line.
What is the real Bob Mazur like?
Cranston: He’s a retired police officer turned private citizen who continues to keep a low profile. He’s watching his story being told so it’s odd. He was in the audience at the premiere in Tampa, and we made mention of it but couldn’t point him out! He’s hiding in plain sight. He put a lot of people in jail, and there’s still a lot of anger and resentment toward that. He has to play it careful.