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Bryan Cranston Explains How to Break Up a Cartel in this Featurette for The Infiltrator

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Bryan Cranston’s last few roles have had the actor bringing life to historical figures like Lyndon B. Johnson and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. His most famous role to date remains that of Breaking Bad’s chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin Walter White, alias: Heisenberg. His next role is a bit of an amalgam of the two, only if you turn the druglord part on its head: in The Infiltrator (July 13), Cranston plays Robert Mazur, the real-life U.S. Customs agent who went undercover in the mid-1980s to break up the Medellín drug cartel, infamously led by Pablo Escobar.

In the exclusive featurette above, Cranston discusses the appeal of playing a character who is, in many ways, three men in one. The film opens on a cocaine bust led by Bob Mangione, a street-level crook whose identity an undercover Mazur assumes. It continues with Mazur’s metamorphosis into Bob Musella, a businessman with mob ties who sets himself up to launder money on behalf of the cartel in order to execute one of the largest undercover operations in U.S. history, ultimately taking down more than 80 criminals. And then, of course, there’s Mazur himself: devoted husband, family man, fairly average Joe.

“I just liked the idea that there was a man who was committed to trying to improve his country, his society, and in order to do that, he had to become very good friends with some very bad people,” says Cranston. Mazur, whose memoir serves as the source material for the film and whose voice and appearance remain protected, explains that those friendships, though pursued under false pretenses, were a particularly trying part of the job. “There is a role that I have to play as a friend, as a confidante,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not an easy thing to live with after the fact.”

The Infiltrator co-stars John Leguizamo as Mazur’s scrappy partner; Diane Kruger as a fledgling agent to whom Mazur must fake an engagement; and Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino, one of Escobar’s top dogs. As for Cranston, after spending five years playing the role of getting the better part of the Southwest hooked on the blue stuff, with The Infiltrator, he finds himself at last on the right side of the law.

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Write to Eliza Berman at eliza.berman@time.com