Tomorrow night, Walter White is heading to the White House. OK, not quite—but the man who played him sure is. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston takes on the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson in HBO’s new film, All the Way. The special, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET on May 21, follows Johnson’s first year in office following John F. Kennedy’s death. And while the story is largely focused on the Civil Rights Movement, with Anthony Mackie playing Martin Luther King Jr. and Hilary Ward starring as his wife, activist Coretta Scott King, it’s Cranston’s character that’s truly front and center for the majority of the film.
“It really is LBJ’s story,” Ward told InStyle when she stopped by our New York City offices earlier this week. “Everybody is cut in and around LBJ.” As the focal point of so many scenes, it only makes sense that Cranston underwent a dramatic physical transformation to look the part. His new appearance was so shockingly realistic that it actually had some of his co-stars fooled during filming. “When I walked onto set for the first time, I didn’t recognize Bryan—even though he was about 10 feet away from me,” said Ward. “They truly transformed him, and the hair and makeup is incredible.”
Of course, it took more than just a costume to execute such a convincing portrayal. “Bryan Cranston is just so funny and smart and tough,” said Ward. “He’s able to really ram this thing through.” Along with the help of director Jay Roach and the rest of the cast, there was “a really collaborative and positive tone” on the set, said Ward, noting that Anthony Mackie went above and beyond to be a supportive co-star. “He is just the loveliest and most generous human being,” she said.
Ward appreciated Mackie’s devotion to the project during one day of filming in particular. “Filming was behind schedule, and a lot of extras who had been there all day were getting really tired,” said Ward. “We filmed Anthony giving a speech during the Nobel Prize scene, and by the time the cameras turned around to get my coverage, there was an extra in the scene who was actually asleep. Anthony stood up and got all of the extras excited and laughing. He got their energy up, and then we were able to get my coverage in a couple of takes.”
Laughs aside, it was also extremely important to tell this story the right way, according to Ward. “The film is being released at a time when it’s so necessary for us to be reminded that these people literally died just to vote,” she said. “It’s been a crazy year, and I think everyone’s so cynical. So I’m glad it’s coming out now to remind people to just show up and make a choice.”
Watch the trailer for All the Way below, and tune in for the premiere tomorrow at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.