Bryan Cranston talks about bringing LBJ to life in HBO’s ‘All the Way’

To prepare for his latest role, Bryan Cranston was in luck: He sort of looks like former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Fortunately my own natural makeup is what every man hopes for — beady eyes and thin lips,” Cranston, the former “Breaking Bad” star, joked last week. “That’s what I share with LBJ.”

Cranston plays the 1960s president who was at the center of everything from the introduction of Medicare to the escalation of the Vietnam War in “All the Way,” HBO’s upcoming movie adaptation of the play by Robert Schenkkan. The movie, slated for the spring, focuses on Johnson’s relationship with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., played by Anthony Mackie.

Despite his physical similarities with Johnson, Cranston said he still had to spend more than two hours in makeup every day of shooting. But the effort was worth it to bring his interpretation of one of the most controversial figures in U.S. history to a wider audience, he said.

“Theater is theater,” Cranston said. “In the six months we were performing ‘All the Way’ (onstage), we could now reach millions more and tell this important story by way of HBO.”

Steven Spielberg serves as executive producer of the film, with Jay Roach directing.

Schenkkan said the story will remain faithful to the complexity that was LBJ. He quoted former White House aide Bill Moyers, who once said: “The 11 most interesting people I ever met was Lyndon Johnson.”

What’s more, Schenkkan said, viewers will see how LBJ continues to impact America. “We live in LBJ’s world today,” he said. “All the things we’re still arguing about today, in 2016, we started in 1964.”

And Johnson’s magnetic personality is at the center of it all.

“You like him and you’re appalled by him and you’re pulled into him and you’re repelled by him,” Cranston said. “You’re constantly doing this trombone with LBJ, and that really comes out in the story.”