“The Dangerous Book for Boys” is set in Akron, Ohio — but its foundation was built in New Mexico during the run of “Breaking Bad,” shot in Albuquerque with star Bryan Cranston.
“I actually got the book from [‘Breaking Bad’ co-star] Anna Gunn. She said, ‘This book reminds me of you,’” says Cranston, who co-created “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” with Greg Mottola. (The six-episode series premieres March 30 on Amazon.)
“It was maybe two years before we went off the air. The book was on my coffee table in Albuquerque. Sony came to us and said, ‘We own the rights to make this story. Do you guys have an idea?’ It was in their drama department, at first, and I couldn’t crack it.”
Several years later, Cranston was in Boston for a pre-Broadway run of “All the Way” (for which he won a Tony Award), when the idea of how to turn the book into a series suddenly hit him. “I was running around the Charles River on my normal every-other-day run and I couldn’t figure it out, so I had to let it go,” he says. “As it is, many times in my life, when you stay focused on something, sometimes that’s the blockage that won’t allow the thought to come through. So I just let it go — and just then the [show’s] structure and theme popped into my head and I ran home and I called [Mottola] and I said, ‘I’ve got it,’ and I pitched him the whole idea.”
The gently comedic series is based on British authors Conn and Hal Iggulden’s international best seller about three young brothers — Wyatt (Gabriel Bateman), Liam (Kyan Zielinski) and Dash (Drew Logan Powell) — who discover a tome called “The Dangerous Book for Boys” that was written for them by their late father, whimsical inventor Patrick McKenna (Chris Diamantopoulos, who also plays Patrick’s identical-twin brother, Terry). Erinn Hayes (“Kevin Can Wait”) plays the boys’ mother, Beth, with Swoosie Kurtz as their groovy grandmother, Tiffany.
“It’s a ‘how-to’ boy book — how to embrace boyhood, how to build a fort, talk to a girl, use a compass, learn about the rules of baseball, use an arrow head — boy stuff,” says Cranston. “The whole premise is that the father in this show knew he was dying and spent the last two years of his life constructing ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’ as a surrogate father because he knew he wasn’t going to be around.”
The series was originally bought by NBC in 2014. “All four broadcast networks bid on it. We had them laughing and crying in the room and NBC stepped up and showed the most interest,” says Cranston. “They decided not to pursue it and I’m not quite sure why. I think they got cold feet a little because the central theme is that the patriarch of the family has died. They said, ‘Can’t he not have died?’ I said, ‘No. No. This is what it is.’”
[TV irony: NBC now airs “This Is Us,” the weepy melodrama about three siblings trying to come to grips with their beloved father’s death.]
“If you’re lucky enough that someone close to you has not passed away in your family then you know of someone … who was raised by grandparents or an aunt or uncle or only one parent,” Cranston says. “It’s a very familiar construct, and we deal with death honestly and with real sentiment, real pathos, and yet we turn it and there’s fun, adventure, happiness and hope.
“It’s a beautiful story and a great series and I’m so excited about it because it truly is a family experience,” he says. “You can sit down with a 6- or 7-year-old on up and watch it, and I think everyone is going to get something out of it and feel great.”
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