Before he was Walter White/Heisenberg in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston found fame playing Hal, the clueless, but lovable, dad from Malcolm in the Middle. Though he came to love the role, his first impression of the character wasn't great. By working with Linwood Boomer, the show's creator, Cranston was able to mold the character into something he could be proud of.
The actor reflected on his time on Malcolm in the Middle during an interview with IFC. The interviewer asked what the 63-year-old found appealing about Hal when he first read the script. Cranston honestly answered, "I actually didn't. When I read the pilot episode it was really all about Lois, the mom, and Malcolm, the son...my character had four, maybe five, lines and I didn't get a sense of him at all or where he was and I didn't know what to do with it." Though there wasn't much about the character that appealed to him, Cranston did admit that he was impressed by the script and thought it was a "terrific story."
After talking to his wife about his issues with the character, Cranston came to a decision. "I finally said the only thing I can think of is to fulfill the place in the story that is not being told. That is, what would make a good mate to Lois? What is she lacking?" Lois was "tough," "not afraid of anything," and "insightful," so it made sense to Cranston that Hal would be her total opposite. Instead of being resilient or particularly clever, he was "fearful" and "obtuse." Cranston recalled, "I started drawing those opposites and the character started to come together."
Furthermore, Bryan Cranston wasn't crazy about one scene that depicted Hal "sitting there reading the paper and not listening to his wife or his children." He knew the character wouldn't work unless he loved his wife and his children. "So how do you justify him not paying attention to them?" The answer was simple. "The distinction with Hal is that he's distracted, not disinterested...He didn't purposefully ignore his family, but he can't help but take his little brain vacations and then would snap out of it," Cranston said.
The end result was the lovable doofus audiences came to love, and they're not the only ones. Cranston gushed about the show, calling it "one of those rare shows that make people laugh and feel good...I have such pride connected to Malcolm, I just feel so pleased and fortunate to have been on that show." Cranston's intervention in the character of Hal, and his input that helped develop him, is part of the reason the show worked so well.