As a Customs agent in Florida in the mid-1980s, Robert Mazur spearheaded an undercover money laundering operation that penetrated the closest circles of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, led to more than 80 arrests and brought down the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), then the seventh-largest bank in the world.
In The Infiltrator, Bryan Cranston is Mazur, a family man who often struggled to balance his home life with his role in one of the most successful undercover operations in United States history. The Brad Furman-directed film — which also stars John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Benjamin Bratt and Amy Ryan — is out this month, thirty years after the conclusion of the operation in 1986.
“[Mazur’s] job was very similar to my job; you slip into the shoes of someone else,” Cranston said at a recent press junket for the film in Beverly Hills.
“The difference is, if I mess up, I get to do it again. If he messes up, he might never live to do it over again,” he added.
Breitbart News caught up with Cranston at the press junket to discuss his experience playing Bob Mazur, and how The Infiltrator can reinforce negative perceptions of the federal government and its seemingly endless maze of bureaucracy.
On playing the good guy, instead of playing the bad guy like his most famous character, Breaking Bad‘s Walter White:
“I thought I would feel less pressure, because Walter White was constantly looking over his shoulder, thinking at any moment he was going to get caught. And so by being the policeman, I’m the one who’s pursuing. But Bob wasn’t the ‘policeman,’ he was one of the bad guys, right? Because he had to truly launder money at an entry-level position in order to gain trust, to get to a higher level and launder more money. He actually was a money launderer. Bob Mazur was a criminal. In order to get there, he needed to do what was illegal to do, which is a strange thing to wrap your head around.”
“To me, what resonates with me, when I see a film, is how does that man, who did all that looking over his shoulder, having all that tension that if he’s found out he’d be killed — not only killed, but his family would be killed — how does that man then reconcile that with going home and being a dad? Helping his daughter with a math problem. Or making sandwiches for [his children’s] lunches, or something. How does this become that? That was my main interest.”
On the best way for an actor to get into character:
“It’s an illusion. It’s a magic trick. So there’s no one way, because we’re all individuals. Just like we now know that children learn in a variety of different ways, and you cannot apply one size fits all to education, you have to pattern it and be individual in your approach to children. Same thing with actors. We all approach things differently. The traditional way of describing it is some actors are outside-in, and some are inside-out. I use kind of a combination of that. Sometimes it’s something that happens on the outside, the look, or the feel, that informs the inside or plants a seed. Ultimately, for me, you need to grow the emotional core. I need to understand that character. And once I truly understand that character, the character then seeps inside of you as if through osmosis. And from that point on, you’re thinking and feeling through the filter of that character. But there is no one way. And it doesn’t matter how you get it done.”
On meeting the real-life Robert Mazur:
“I would ask Bob more personal questions. I spoke to [his wife] Ev, I talked separately with his children. I wanted to know, ‘What was he like as a father?’ That’s what I wanted to know. And as you can imagine, there was trouble. There were some hurdles that they all had to go through.
His daughter told me that they had a code-word. When Bob was driving around as Bob Mazur, as Dad, with the family, if he saw someone that he thought was part of an undercover operation — even if he wasn’t sure, just thought it might be — he would give that code-word out, and the kids would drop to the floor and remain silent and still, laying on the floor of the car. So that’s the life they lived. He had to be exceptionally careful. But in so doing, it impinged on the lives of their children, and Ev.
So I think Bob wrote this because he needed to purge his feelings. Here’s a man who is receiving a tremendous amount of information, secret information, that he cannot discuss with his spouse. He’s not allowed to by law. So what happens to a human being if you just take in and you don’t release? You’ll explode.
But he still won’t be filmed on camera. You saw him, but there is still a level of danger. These people went to jail and they’re not happy about that.”
On the film’s political implications, and whether it makes a statement about what can be done, if anything, to address the illegal drug trade:
“I suppose people can read into that. There’s a certain amount of that that is omnipresent, when you have bureaucracies and different departments, and as we’ve seen, the CIA was getting involved, and they’re not communicating with each other…
I think if you’re bent that way, of saying that you have a distrust for government, this [movie] will probably reinforce that. If you are trusting of government, it may open your eyes to say, ‘Oh, I suppose there are those things that are going on.’
And in truth, there are. There are things that governments cannot tell their citizenry. And should not tell their citizenry. Just like Bob, now, is not going to sound alarms like his life is still in danger to his family. It’s the prudent thing to do.
I always say that honesty is only beneficial if it helps someone. Is it necessary? Is it honest, is it necessary? If someone told me that one of you is a horrible journalist, would I say that to you? Would it help you? Is it honest? Well, it is honest, that’s what the person said. But would it help you? And I’m not saying you, but it’s one of you! (laughs)
On films that he finds himself going back to again and again:
“Oh, there’s so many. I call them the ‘stop and put the remote down films.’ The Godfather, of course. There’s Casino, Donnie Brasco, as far as in this realm. Shawshank. There’s a number of movies that when you’re flipping through, ‘Oh, there it is, put the remote down because I know I’m going to watch the rest of this.’ So yeah, several.
On the biggest challenges while shooting The Infiltrator:
This was a tough film to shoot. We shot most of it in London, we were there for three months. It was challenging, weather-wise and communication, accessibility to things. We were all over the place. In the same scene, we would shoot one direction in London and another direction in Tampa. It was a patchwork of issues, so it took a lot focus to be able to not lose that coherent kind of consistency.
On how he’ll prepare for his next role, as Zordon in the upcoming Power Rangers movie:
“I love it. I’ve never really done a sci-fi kind-of superhero thing, and this became a possibility, and I have a history with Power Rangers. When I was a young actor starting out, I did voices for Power Rangers, and they tell me that they named the blue Power Ranger after me, his name is Billy Cranston. This is 35 years ago that I did that. So this is cool. And I can tell you from reading the script and talking to the director, this isn’t anything like the television series, which was campy, like the old Batman series. This is going to be nothing like that. It’s a bona-fide, big-budget, fully-realized superhero movie. Very sophisticated and interesting.”
The Infiltrator is in theaters now.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum