You love Aaron Paul. Drake loves Aaron Paul. The critics love Aaron Paul. But there was no guarantee the hostile, sold-out crowd of 18,000-plus at WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” at Allstate Arena on March 3 would love Aaron Paul.
Wrestling fans tend to boo celebrities when they appear on WWE programming — just ask Diddy, Snooki and Maria Menounos. And with the crowd more hot-blooded than usual because of the absence of its beloved hometown hero CM Punk, who reportedly quit WWE in January because he believed he was being misused, it felt as if the “Breaking Bad” star and two-time Emmy winner, in town promoting his upcoming car racing film “Need for Speed,” was getting fed to the wolves.
Paul made his grand entrance on “Raw” behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang with WWE superstar and fan favorite Dolph Ziggler riding shotgun. If this was a strategic move by WWE to win over the audience, it worked. The crowd that had chanted “boring” during a wrestling match earlier in the night and “you can’t wrestle” during a match later on welcomed Paul with a “Jesse Pinkman” (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) chant, a reference to Paul’s “Breaking Bad” character, as he cheered on Ziggler from ringside during his match. Once backstage and away from the crowd and cameras, a wide-eyed Paul, still on an adrenaline rush, could be overheard saying, “That was fun.”
“I knew (the risk),” said Paul, leaning up against the wall in a backstage hallway minutes after appearing in the ring. “I’m an outsider. I’m not part of the WWE family.” Paul was also warned about the Punk backlash. “Oh yeah, he’s the guy that quit a few weeks ago,” Paul said when asked if he knew about Punk. “I think a lot of people think he’s going to show up tonight. I don’t think so.”
Ziggler was just as excited as Paul about what had transpired. He admitted to preparing Paul for the worst.
“(WWE fans) don’t take too kindly to outsiders coming in, no matter how great your show is,” Ziggler said backstage after his match, his hair disheveled and nose bleeding from what looked like a scratch. “They got the Pinkman chant going, and I go, ‘It’s hard to win these guys over, but when you do, they’ll love you forever.’”
If only Hollywood worked that way.
Paul was part of one of the most beloved TV shows of all time before it wrapped in September. Now he is making the transition from TV to film, with “Need for Speed,” the indie drama “Hellion,” “A Long Way Down,” based on the book by Nick Hornby, and director Ridley Scott’s biblical film “Exodus” with Christian Bale. But as we’ve learned so many times before, success on television doesn’t always translate into success on film. For every George Clooney, there seems to be a hundred David Carusos.
Maybe that’s why it appears like Paul has had a hard time moving on from “Breaking Bad.” Well, that and the fact that fans and media won’t let him move on. (Paul has said in interviews that he gets asked often to quote Pinkman.) Paul told The Associated Press recently that he would be open to appearing in AMC’s “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul,” and has had “serious talks” with show creator Vince Gilligan about it.
“I have talked to Vince about it,” Paul said backstage. “It wasn’t like he called me up to say, ‘Would you like to be part of ‘Better Call Saul’?’ I was the one who pulled him aside and said, ‘If there’s anything you want me to do, let’s make it happen.” Asked about the likelihood that he appears in the spinoff, Paul said, “We’ll see. You’ve got to ask Vince.”
Paul plays a streetcar racer in “Need for Speed” who drives cross-country, after getting released from prison, to seek revenge on the man who framed him for murder. The film (in theaters Friday) co-stars Michael Keaton, Imogen Poots and rapper Kid Cudi and is based on the video game franchise of the same name.
“Post ‘Breaking Bad,’ I wanted to do something that was, first of all, different but mostly just fun,” Paul said. “Something a bit lighter from ‘Breaking Bad’ that allowed me to have fun with it.”
On Thursday, Paul appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and at the Hollywood premiere of the film. There was almost no risk of getting booed or heckled like at “Raw.”
He didn’t have to win over the crowd. They were going to eat up everything he said and fawn over him no matter what. But actors can get that predictable adoration just about anywhere.
You know what they can’t get anywhere? The sound of 18,000-plus hard-to-please fans embracing them.
Jesse Pinkman (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)
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