Aaron Paul was born and raised in Idaho, and enjoyed a fruitful if quiet career in Hollywood starting in the early 90s. He found his breakout role in Breaking Bad as Walter White’s partner Jesse Pinkman, a part he played throughout the show’s run. Now he’s turning his eye to movies again, starting with Need for Speed, which opens this Friday, and continuing with Ridley Scott’s Exodus coming out later this year. He talked to the press about Need for Speed at a recent press conference for the film.
Question: How much training did you have? I know you did quite a bit of your own driving.
Aaron Paul: Yes, lots of training. They didn’t want to throw me into a car and say “good luck.” I was just out at Willow Springs, just about an hour outside of Los Angeles and I was on that track as often as I could be. From sunrise to sunset: whenever I had some free time. Even so, the first few days was really just kind of learning how to get out of problematic situations if something went wrong. Once I got that under my belt, the fun began. I just kind of tripped around corners doing reverse 180’s, learning how to do 360’s and… you know, the fun stuff.
Q: How mechanically inclined are you? Can you fix your car? Can you change a tire?
AP: I can change a tire but other than that no. I have no idea how to change my own oil but I’m sure I could figure it out. But yeah, I can change a tire.
Q: You’d always done movies while Breaking Bad was going on, but as you approach the end of that series, was this really a chance to transition into leading big movies?
AP: It was the time for me to jump into the studio system. I always just gravitated towards the small passion projects and I still do those. Right after I shot Need for Speed I did a little film called Hellion that was at Sundance this last year and we did it I think for $400,000. Everyone was doing it because of the pure love and passion of it. And I just love independent filmmaking: you walk on set and there’s about 30 people on the crew just making something that they all believe in. You know everyone’s first and last name and you know their stories. With the studio system I’m just learning that the crews are just so giant and it’s really impossible to meet everyone. I mean, I just wrapped a film right before the holidays, Exodus, and there’s about 600 to 700 crew members. It’s taken some getting used to. But it’s another arrow in the quiver, another way of making movies. And it lets me still do the little ones.
Q: How does the scale of this compare to the scale of a Ridley Scott biblical epic?
AP: Before Exodus, Need for Speed was the biggest thing I had ever been a part of. I mean, you go to set and there’s 13 super cars, 12 cop cars, 2 helicopters… it’s just crazy. Then you go to a Ridley Scott biblical epic and you’re surrounded by 200 camels and elephants, and there may be a couple cheetahs and you’re like “okay, it can always get bigger.”
Q: How much of the stunts did you do in this and was there a time when you wanted to do a stunt where Scott said absolutely not?
AP: In all honesty I want to give the stunt men and women all of the credit. They did all of the really the heavy lifting. Everybody likes talking about the actors who do their own stunts, and the director liked pulling on the old Steve McQueen habit of showing him behind the wheel, but in truth you’ve got to take your hat off to the men and women who do it hard-core.
I think the diving line was the speed of the vehicle. If it was under, say, 130 miles an hour, it was probably me. Faster than that, it was definitely a stunt man
Q: There’s a great underlying note in Need for Speed of a cross country buddy growing picture. How much of the country did you actually get to enjoy and experience and what stands out for you?.
AP: I think we shot in seven different states, and it’s incredible. We were there for some time and I had a lot of time to really enjoy it. It was the first time I ever experienced Mohab, Utah. If you haven’t been there, you have to go. The Salt Flats were great, but Mohab… it’s like you’re on a Mars rover, It’s just gorgeous but, yeah, it’s a beautiful country and I definitely enjoyed it all.