Drama | Emmys Round Table 2013

Kevin Bacon of "The Following," Connie Britton of "Nashville," Andrew Lincoln of "The Walking Dead," Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men" and Bryan Cranston "Breaking Bad" discuss their craft and careers. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Television has been proudly brandishing its "Golden Era" calling card of late largely on the merits of the many top dramas being produced on prime time and cable over the last few years. It's a rise in quality such that any demarcation line between film stars and TV stars has been wiped away — film actors who may have once shunned the small screen are increasingly embracing television dramas, proclaiming that the most creative stories and interesting characters are to be found there, and TV actors, well, they know a good thing when they've got it.

The Envelope invited five such actors to take part in the Envelope drama panel — Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad," Connie Britton of "Nashville," Andrew Lincoln of "The Walking Dead," Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men" and Kevin Bacon in his first TV series, "The Following." Their conversation took on strong female role models, violence on television and how any of us, really, could be a killer if pushed hard enough.

Here is the transcript of that April 30 conversation at the L.A. Times; it has been edited for length:

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Critics say this is the golden age of television. How do you feel about the state of dramatic TV, and what is it like to be a part of that equation?

Elizabeth Moss: I think that it is very much a golden age. And I feel very lucky to be around at this time when there are such incredible roles for women. I feel like I've witnessed the divide between film and television and even theater kind of disintegrate and fall apart. And now that television is—it has such a high caliber and is so good and the scripts are so good ... and it allows for actors to have a lot more freedom, to be able to go to a lot more places and do more interesting things.


Andrew Lincoln: Yeah, I mean, I came [to American television] because of two people that I'm sitting with, two performances that I've watched on AMC, Elizabeth and Brian. You know, [their shows] were the things that put AMC on the radar for me as an actor in England. And I loved "The Wire" and "Sopranos." You just name all of these incredible shows that were going across the globe from this country that made me sit up and just think there's terrific writing; great character-driven stories in American television. And I never thought that I would bag one of them. There's no coincidence that it's attracting such incredible actors because it's all gotta be driven by the writing.

Is it the writing, Kevin?

Kevin Bacon: Yeah, totally. You know, when a writer is on a movie, a lot of times they're kind of persona non grata. You don't want 'em on the set. They get rewritten. And I think that it starts to get frustrating for writers. And on television, they're it. They're the big man on campus. And, and if, if you can have that kind of power and influence to be able to really create something and kinda put your mark on it, it's going to draw the best people. And, you know, from my experience, the call that I made to actually say that I was interested in doing a television show, it was a difficult call for me to make because I came up in a time when that's not where you wanted to go. I left 'The Guiding Light' — Brian was on a soap too. And I was like, "I'm never going back to television." I was kind of a snob about it like, in terms of my own involvement. But at the same time, I was watching these guys and other amazing shows, and I was married to an actress who was on a show. And from the second I made the call [to consider TV], I mean, within two weeks, I had read three of the best scripts that I had read ever. It was kind of a no-brainer. I was sorta like, "Schmuck, what took you so long?"

Bryan Cranston: Did you think that, at the time, that it would be like, a career killer if you went into television from starring in movies?

Bacon: I did. I mean, it was just, it was a leftover feeling, you know. Some habits they die hard. But, you know, like I said, the second I sort of threw my hat in the ring, first off, I felt a great sense of excitement and of relief. And it was really based on just these characters that were options to play, just like great characters that I just hadn't gotten—or I wasn't seeing that many opportunities in movies.

Connie Britton: I also think that there is a freedom in television. You really have an arc of time to create, there's a freedom to be courageous for our writers. They can push themselves and think outside the box of what they would normally think about writing if they're just writing a film, you know? Film is very finite. And so with television, there's a freedom to meander a little bit and to explore characters a little bit and to delve into something that maybe you wouldn't have the guts to do because you only have this hour and a half time period to cover. So there's something to me that's exciting about TV for that reason.

You started "Breaking Bad" when TV drama was getting good, and now it's great. So you've really seen an evolution in the last several years.

Cranston: Yeah, I had the same thought that Andy had. When I was offered the role in "Breaking Bad," Rob Sorcher at AMC—he's not there anymore, but he was developing it. And he said, "Well, don't say anything." Because I was concerned that such a beautiful pilot script, you want to take care of it, you know, because it can be fragile. You can take a wonderful piece of material and just ruin it. So I told my agency I'd like to talk to AMC because they were the movie channel. And so are they going to dive in and support this? And I got into that conversation. He said, "Wait a second. Let me send you a show that we're doing. It hasn't aired yet, but it's called "Mad Men." Let me send it to you, the pilot, and then we'll talk." It comes. I pop it in. I watch it. And I went, "Oh, my god. This is an incredible storytelling." That's the foundation, no matter what medium you're in. But I think especially for now, there's a golden age of television because I think people really got smart about this and realized that the material should dictate the medium, not the other way around. That all of our shows here would not make good movies. You would have to truncate the stories and ditch some really wonderful character development.

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Britton: Well, in the case of "Friday Night Lights," it was a movie, and I was in the movie playing the same part. And I went to the premier and thought that my character had been made mute, you know, (laughs) because I had so little to say. And part of what was wonderful about being able to do [the series] for all of us and particularly for Pete Berg, who wrote the movie and also the pilot for Friday Night Lights, he wanted very much to give the women, in particular, of that community a voice because he couldn't do that in the film.

We've got two people here who are at different stages of this arena. Kevin, you're opening a door into it, and Bryan, you're getting ready to close the door. I want to ask you specifically—

Bacon: Johnny Come Lately. (laughter)

Overall, what was the experience of being on the show like, and were there any surprises or challenges that you weren't anticipating?