Bryan Cranston is defending his decision to play a disabled character following backlash for his role in The Upside.
The film stars Kevin Hart as a lazy, skirt-chasing ex-con hoping to reconnect with his estranged wife and son. He accidentally gets a job taking care of an obscenely wealthy New York businessman who became a quadriplegic while hang-gliding, played by Cranston. (“You as rich as Jay-Z?” Hart’s character asks. “No. Richer,” comes the reply.)
The casting of Cranston, an able-bodied person, sparked a backlash on Twitter.
The Malcolm in the Middle alum said his portrayal of Phillip Lacasse was a “business decision.”
“As actors, we’re asked to be other people, to play other people,” he said. “If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy? Does that mean I can’t play a homosexual? I don’t know. Where does the restriction apply? Where is the line for that? I think it is worthy for debate to discuss those issues.”
WATCH BELOW: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart On The Upside
Cranston did acknowledge “the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities.”
He also said that the criticism he receives is all part of his job.
“We live in the world of criticism. If we’re willing to get up and try something, we have to also be willing to take criticism. We’re very aware of the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities.” he said.
“I think being cast in this role as a quadriplegic really came down to a business decision.”
People on social media discussed Cranston’s casting, arguing that disabled actors should be considered to play these roles.
“As a wheelchair user, I could never play Bryan Cranston so why the hell can he play someone like me?! That’s the thing people don’t understand… disabled actors are not allowed to play nondisabled characters, and in some cases, we could never play someone nondisabled,” one Twitter user wrote.
Others supported Cranston’s decision to take on the role.
Cranston’s comments about his decision to take the role come months after the Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization focusing on the inclusion of disabled individuals, called his casting “discrimination.”
“While we don’t know the auditioning history of The Upside, casting a non-disabled actor to play a character with a disability is highly problematic and deprives performers with disabilities the chance to work and gain exposure,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said last September before the movie’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere.
Ruderman said that “non-disabled actors are routinely cast to play characters with disabilities, while actors with disabilities are rarely even auditioned for minor parts.” He added that the “practice amounts to discrimination.”
While speaking with the Press Association at TIFF, The Upside director Neil Burger said: “It is a really interesting question. Does an able-bodied actor have the right to play a person with a disability? And there are arguments on both sides of it.”
He continued: “All I know is that we did an incredible amount of research and went at it with as much respect and honesty as we could — and certainly Bryan Cranston did — and our goal is to shed light and be compassionate and be respectful to those communities.”
The Upside is in theatres on Friday, Jan. 11.
—With files from the Associated Press