Aaron Paul Talks "Need For Speed" And Future Projects

Tessa Roy ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad. Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC.
Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad. Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC.

Aaron Paul races onto the big screen for his newest project. The Emmy-winning actor best known for his portrayal of Jesse Pinkman in television’s wildly popular Breaking Bad plays Tobey Marshall in the action-packed Need for Speed.

Emertainment Monthly was able to sit down with Paul at a round table discussion about the film, where he proved he’s just as entertaining in person as he is on screen. As he cracked jokes, Paul provided insight into the making of the movie, his own acting process, and what he sees in the future of film.

A lot of directors, when they’re casting, try to follow the mantra that the actors they’re casting have to have some part of the character in them. Is there any Tobey in you?

Aaron Paul: Maybe. The driving element I loved, and I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated cars. I have an old classic car myself.

How were you able to transition from Jesse to Tobey?

With Jesse, it was definitely hard to say goodbye to him because I cared so much about him. I know that sounds crazy because he’s not a real person, but I really did. I felt like I lived and breathed every moment of his. But he was such a tortured individual, so it was kind of nice to leave that part behind. Jesse is quite different from Tobey. Jesse’s a kind of insecure, tortured, beat up, easily manipulated kid. Tobey I think is much stronger, confident, and driven. I started this film the day after we wrapped Breaking Bad.

As a matter of fact, your last scene in Breaking Bad was you driving away. 

Yeah, that’s right! I drove away straight into this film (laughter all around).

*Need for Speed is based off a video game. What did you think of this premise?

Honestly, I was very hesitant. I mean I was a fan of the game Need for Speed, but when I saw the script I thought, “I don’t know what this is going to be like.” Once I read it, though, I thought it was really fun. This game Need for Speed has no narrative so we were really just working with a blank canvas. We could put any story we wanted, really, as long as we were using fast cars and every now and then putting the audience in the driver’s seat. They came up with I think a really fun, great story, which is what drew me to it. And the fact that they weren’t going to do any CGI was just going to make it even more exciting.

*You’ve said before you were terrified to get in some of the cars. Was there anything about this role, about this movie, that made you nervous?

Not necessarily. What I meant by being terrified to get in the cars was just because I didn’t want to scratch them. I didn’t want to destroy any of them, but I had a lot of fun flying around in them. There wasn’t much I was worried about because safety was the main priority. We always felt extremely safe. The highest speed I got the cars up to was maybe 125 or maybe 130, but that was on closed down freeways. For the most part, I was just excited.

If you were going to alter any scene at all in the film, which would it be?

I don’t know. I was trying to get them to allow me to be the one in the car during the scene where it’s flying off a cliff. They were not going to let that happen. So I let the stuntman do that.

Aaron Paul in Need for Speed. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks.
Aaron Paul in Need for Speed. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks.

What were the most difficult scenes stunt-wise and acting-wise?

I think the most nervous I got stunt-wise was when I had to slide a car straight up to the camera. I mean, there’s a human being holding that camera, and that was our director. I had been practicing the slide with a cone. When we did the first take I was doing maybe about 55 at the camera. I slid and I stopped about 15 feet away from it. [Director Scott Waugh] said “You gotta get closer than that.” So I picked up the speed a little and stopped about 6 feet away. He said “I need you really close to the camera. If you hit me I’ll just roll over the car.” He’s a stuntman so he does that stuff. He said he’s been hit by many cars but that didn’t really make me feel any better! So I did it, and it ended up being a lot of fun. Acting-wise, hm. Did anything stick out to you that looked kinda bad (we all laugh)? No, I’m kidding. I think the emotional scenes that you have to shoot over and over again from a million different angles can be kind of tough.

When you’re sitting behind the wheel and the camera is on you, what thoughts are going through your head? What do you think to do with your expressions?

You just forget the camera is there. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and you just have to forget the camera is there so you can put yourself in your character’s situation. It’s easier when you’re driving because you have to stay focused. We’ve all seen movies where people are driving and people turn their heads and they just continue having a conversation with their passenger, and they’re not looking at the road. But with this movie, we didn’t really do that.

What’s your favorite movie about cars?

Oh, man. I’d have to say Bullitt, maybe. I just think Steve McQueen’s such a badass and I love that he was a racer before he was an actor. That was Scott’s whole pitch. He wanted to do a throwback to the films that really started this genre. That’s what excited me. We were going to do all these stunts and not do any CG, just like all the classic films that didn’t have CG because there was none. Hey, what’s your favorite car movie? Besides this one of course (more laughter).

I think Cars.

Oh! Let me change my answer. Yeah, I’m gonna go with Cars.

What kind of roles do you generally look for?

I always try and do something different. I tend to gravitate towards the more affected characters. When I read scripts, if it effects me emotionally, I tend to like that because it makes me feel different sorts of emotions. Sometimes I like the damaged characters because it seems that’s how life is sometimes. Anyways, with this I wanted to do something a little lighter and not so affected.

What actors/directors would you like to work with?

Oh, God there’s a million. Who’s your favorite?

Christopher Nolan.

Ah, yeah see, Christopher Nolan. He’s great. Scorcese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino. All those.

Scott Mescudi and Aaron Paul in Need for Speed. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks.
Scott Mescudi and Aaron Paul in Need for Speed. Photo Courtesy of DreamWorks.

Michael Keaton is in this film and you just finished filming with Christian Bale in Exodus. Is this an elaborate scheme to be cast as a Batman character?

Yes! I just… I love Batman (laughs).

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m terrified of… No, I can’t say that (naturally, this brings the “ooooh, come on tell us” reactions and more laughing). Let’s just say I’m just terrified in general! Let’s see, I was born on my bathroom floor. My mom delivered me by herself. She was a little terrified that day too.

You’ve become a poster child for independent films because you’re a guy who’s done really well in big budget films like this, so how do you keep independent movements going and make some really amazing movies?

I think independent films are true storytellers. It’s hard because there are either super small independent films or large blockbusters. I do big films because they’re fun, and that allows me to do independent films where no one’s getting paid because everyone’s doing it out of pure passion. You know everyone’s name and it’s a super small crew. I think independent films are always going to be around.

Need for Speed hits theaters March 14th.

* denotes a question asked by Emertainment Monthly

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