Bryan Cranston is best known for his role as Walter White in the hit TV series Breaking Bad. His convincing portrayal of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned ruthless drug kingpin required Cranston to undergo a dramatic physical transformation over the course of the show’s five seasons. One of the most notable changes was Cranston’s appearance in the later seasons, where Walter White is seen with a shaved head and looking noticeably thinner and frail as he battles lung cancer. This led many fans to wonder – did Bryan Cranston actually shave his head and lose a drastic amount of weight for the role? Or did he use prosthetics and makeup effects to achieve Walter White’s sickly look? Let’s take a closer look at how Cranston transformed into his iconic character and find out if prosthetics were used.
Bryan Cranston’s Weight Loss
When Breaking Bad first began, Bryan Cranston wore a wig to give Walter White more hair. But towards the end of the first season, Cranston decided to shave his own head to match Walter’s hair loss from chemotherapy. So the bald head we see in the later seasons is all Cranston – no prosthetics involved. However, achieving Walter White’s gaunt, skinny appearance did require some extra help.
Here is a comparison of Bryan Cranston’s weight over the course of Breaking Bad:
|Bryan Cranston’s Weight
|Around 180 lbs
|Around 160 lbs
|Around 150 lbs
|Around 130 lbs
|Around 125 lbs
As you can see, Cranston lost around 55 lbs over the course of the show, going from a healthy weight in Season 1 to incredibly slender in the final season. He achieved this transformation through diet and exercise, stating that he stopped eating carbohydrates and switched to a diet of fruits, vegetables, and fish. He also started running and taking tae bo classes to lose weight quickly. According to Cranston, his weight got down to the 130s through this diet and exercise alone.
The Prosthetic Hand and Makeup
So while the weight loss was real, Bryan Cranston did wear a prosthetic device during Walter White’s final emaciated stages in Season 5. It was a prosthetic hand and arm that made his wrist and forearm look extremely skinny. The hand prosthetic extended up past his wrist, blending in seamlessly with makeup effects. This created the shocking bony and frail look of Walter White in his last few episodes.
Cranston’s makeup artist Nicki Ledermann revealed how they achieved the realistic prosthetic:
Bryan was fitted for a wrist extension and hand prosthetic which visually showed the same deterioration and emaciation as Bryan’s face makeup applications. Once it was applied, I would blend it in with makeup so that you couldn’t tell where the prosthetic began and the real hand ended.
So while Cranston lost a tremendous amount of weight through diet and exercise, the skeletal robot hand we see in his final scenes was a movie effect. The hand prosthetic, plus subtle makeup effects like shadowing and highlighting the hollows of his face, enhanced the impression that Walter White was wasting away due to cancer. It was a perfect combination of Cranston’s real weight loss and well-designed prosthetics.
How His Weight Loss Impacted His Health
Even though some makeup effects were used, Bryan Cranston did still undergo a major physical transformation for Breaking Bad that took a toll on his health.
Shedding 55 lbs in just a few years can be dangerous without medical supervision, and many fans were concerned about the impacts on Cranston’s health. The actor did develop some negative side effects from the rapid weight loss:
- He got kidney stones from the high-protein diet he followed for weight loss.
- He struggled with anemia due to iron deficiency.
- He had less energy and found everyday activities more challenging.
- He was always feeling cold from having less insulation.
- His immune system took a hit, and he got more sick than usual.
Despite these issues, Cranston maintained that the weight loss was worth it for the authenticity it brought to Walter White’s arc. And he made sure to regain the weight healthily after the show ended, which helped resolve the side effects.
Makeup and Costuming Tricks
Aside from the prosthetic hand in the final season, Breaking Bad’s makeup and costume designers used some other tricks to make Bryan Cranston look frailer as the show went on:
- Tight costumes: Cranston wore restrictive clothing as Walter White lost weight, which emphasized how bony and slender he looked.
- Thinning hair: His hair stylist thinned out his hair lightly with clippers to mimic hair loss from chemo.
- Shadowing: Makeup artists used shadowing and contouring around his eyes, cheeks and neck to create a hollow, sunken-in look.
- Cranston’s acting: The actor perfected subtle mannerisms like sagging posture and slower movements.
So while a good portion of Walter White’s unhealthy appearance was thanks to Bryan Cranston’s commitment to the role, the costume, makeup and hair team also played an essential part. The prosthetic hand helped take it to the next level for the final episode appearances.
The Most Iconic Walter White Looks
Let’s take a look back at some of Bryan Cranston’s most memorable Walter White looks showcasing his dramatic transformation:
In the very first episode, an inconspicuous Walter White sports a full head of hair and mustache. His regular physique and plain, oversized clothing reflect an unassuming family man.
Shaving His Head
After his cancer diagnosis, Walter shaves his head as his hair starts falling out from chemotherapy. His facial expression says it all in this solemn moment.
The Pork Pie Hat
The famous pork pie hat became Walt’s signature look as he took on the Heisenberg persona and descended deeper into the meth trade.
The Final Episode
In the series finale, a haunting, ghostly looking Walter White returns to tie up loose ends. His skeletal appearance speaks to the disease ravaging his body.
How Cranston Felt About His Transformation
While playing Walter White took immense physical and emotional investment, Bryan Cranston was highly dedicated to portraying the character’s full arc as authentically as possible.
Discussing the role, Cranston said:
“It was important to me that audiences see this man’s descent – from the beginning to the end. The physical appearance had to show the decaying of this man.”
He never shied away from the grueling requirements Cranston explained:
“It wasn’t easy because food is so appealing and I had such restriction. But because I was so committed to the role, it actually became enjoyable.”
Cranston also highlighted how much the makeup and wardrobe teams contributed:
“The makeup and wardrobe departments did a fantastic job creating the illusion of the decay of his health and mental state.”
While the prosthetic hand helped in the final scenes, it was a very small aspect of the total transformation.
The Enduring Legacy
Walter White’s harrowing metamorphosis, so vividly portrayed by Bryan Cranston, is a huge part of what made Breaking Bad a cultural phenomenon that still looms large today.
Seeing the shocking contrast between Walt’s unremarkable beginnings and his scarred, broken final days added powerful emotional weight and complexity to his story. It forced audiences to really sit with the consequences of his choices.
While the skeletal hand prosthetic played a role in the final scenes, it was through Cranston’s bold total commitment that Walter White was given life – and allowed to deteriorate before our eyes. The iconic character transformation will continue to be discussed by fans for decades to come.
In summary, Bryan Cranston did wear a prosthetic hand and arm device to achieve the extremely frail and bony look of Walter White in Breaking Bad’s final season. However, this was only a small part of his incredible physical transformation for the role. The overwhelming majority of Walter’s deteriorating appearance throughout the seasons was thanks to Cranston’s dramatic real-life weight loss of 55 pounds, along with excellent makeup, costuming and hair effects. While the prosthetic enhanced his look in the very last episodes, it was Cranston’s incredible dedication to authentically portraying Walter White from start to tragic finish that made the character so riveting. The amazing actor brought Walter White completely to life – then painfully stripped that life away.