Interview: Aaron Paul tries flooring it to movie stardom in 'Need for Speed'

Aaron Paul

"Need for Speed" star, Aaron Paul, at the Langham Hotel. (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye / March 12, 2014)

For his first big-screen starring role, Aaron Paul—better known as meth dealer Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad”—did not flip a car or drive one off of a cliff. Ultra-dangerous stuff like that was left to the stunt crew.

But in “Need for Speed,” opening March 14, that really is Paul in the car dangling from a helicopter. And driving as people fuel up the car while it’s in motion. And switching seats with his passenger (Imogen Poots) while the car is moving. And catching her as she jumps from a second-floor window. That fearless attitude, according to director and former stunt man Scott Waugh, made the film’s stunt coordinator say, “Well, if his acting career doesn’t work out for him, he can always be a stunt man.”

In the film, Tobey (Paul) drives across the country very, very quickly to enter a super-exclusive, illegal street race and get revenge on the rival (Dominic Cooper) who’s responsible for the innocent Tobey serving jail time. Paul says he still doesn’t feel like a leading man, but it didn’t stop the role from bringing the 34-year-old actor and his director to the Langham Hotel.

“125-130 mph”
Paul actually drove that speed for the movie: “Going that fast, weaving through traffic, just following the [camera] car, was so much fun.”

“230 mph”
In the film, Tobey drives more than 230 mph. Could Paul have gone that fast? “No, I don’t think we ever made it to 230. I think we did push 200, right? But there’s no reason to have me behind the wheel when the cars are going that fast.”

On a moment when he was scared:
AP: “There was one moment where [Waugh] wanted me to drive straight at the camera and flip it around—flip the car to a slide. Just over a 180-degree turn. He wanted me to stop within inches from the [camera], but someone was holding that camera and that would be him because the cameraman did not want to be in that position. I had to fly the camera about 75, 80 miles an hour and then pull the [emergency brake]. [I was scared] ‘cause I didn’t want to hit him!”
SW: “That’s why I was laughing at him. I’m like, ‘Hey, if anybody in this situation should be scared, it’s not you; it’s me.’ I had all the faith in the world in him. I said to him, ‘Hey, I’m not stupid, I wouldn’t put myself there if I didn’t have the confidence in you.’ But I could see he was nervous in the first two takes. He came up like 10 feet short ‘cause he was nervous of hitting me. And I came up to him and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been hit by cars many times in my stunt career, so I’m OK. Just focus on what you need to do. Don’t worry about me.’”

If there was ever a moment on “Need for Speed” that Paul had to say to himself, “I’m not Jesse anymore”:
AP: “[Laughs.] No, I learned early on, especially while shooting ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘cause I used to take [Jesse] home with me. During the first season I was Jesse the entire season, which was just exhausting. Because you work on set, and with the show I was working almost every day, pretty much all day, and I’d go home and I’d start working on my stuff for that week and the next day, so you’re kind of in the character no matter what. But I started just unzipping the skin right when I’m done with work and then taking a good hour or two to myself and just kind of being me.”

If his relaxation time involved watching the Kardashians:
 “God, no! No offense to that lovely family, but, um, no. [Laughs.] Yeah, just leave it on set. So when I’m on a different project I’m really, truly focused on who that particular person is.”

How Jesse’s RV would do in an illegal street race:
AP: “Not well. At all. That thing was awful to drive. Especially in New Mexico, the windy Albuquerque desert, it felt like on the freeway it was going to fall over. It nearly did a couple times.”

What Paul imagines for Jesse’s younger, lighter days if he makes an appearance on spinoff series “Better Call Saul”:
AP: “Just him being in a much happier place. I don’t know if Jesse’s going to 100 percent make an appearance on ‘Better Call Saul.’ We all hope that’s the case. But it’s just gotta make sense with the story. They’re almost I think done with the first season, so I don’t think he’s going to make an appearance any time soon.”

If Jesse were a juggler or something really happy:
AP: “[Laughs.] Like over-the-top, happy juggler? I think we have got a look into Jesse’s past. He’s really into art, and maybe it’ll be back in the day where he was wood carving. Him being artistic I think is something that we might see.”

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” vs. “Blow”
AP: “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”
SW: I can’t answer. Both.

“Dazed and Confused” vs. “Half Baked.”
Both: “Dazed and Confused”

“Requiem for a Dream” vs. “Trainspotting.”
Both: “Trainspotting”

“Scarface” vs. “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Both: “Scarface”

“The Fast and the Furious” vs. “Dude, Where’s My Car?”
Both: “The Fast and the Furious”

If he’ll return to Lolla as usual:
AP: “Uh, yes. I hope so. We come every single year. It’s such a beautiful city. I’ve never been here when it’s cold, and it’s cold [now].”\

If he’s ever asked Bryan Cranston to come with him to Lolla:
AP: “I’ve asked Bryan, I’ve tried to convince him to come with me to Coachella, just ‘cause that’s closer to our home. He said, ‘Yeah, no, I’ll come …’ I gotta see where’s at in April. I think he’s still going to be doing his play [‘All The Way,’ on Broadway].”

What bands he’s listening to now:
AP: “I love Jake Bugg. I just was introduced to him not that long ago. The Lumineers. They’ve been around for some time, but if you don’t know them you gotta check them out.”

With the use of a Gran Torino in “Need for Speed,” how often Paul did Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” voice:
AP: “Every day. [Laughs] I didn’t. I wish I would have done it every day.”

Waugh, on Paul being a badass :“He straight-up is a badass. When we were looking to cast the guy for Tobey, I wanted to have that vibe of the next young Steve McQueen [‘Bullitt’]. I was looking for someone that had that edge, that charisma and that humble, likable factor, and when I saw Aaron’s tape--‘cause I was one of the only aliens on Earth that hadn’t seen ‘Breaking Bad,’ and they were actually pitching me him for the bad guy. Wen I saw him I was like, ‘Oh my God, this kid’s fantastic. The obvious choice is the bad guy, but the cooler choice is the lead.’“When I talked to Aaron and I said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to do this part, I’m doing no CG in this movie. Everything’s real. It means you have to drive. Can you drive? Do you have your license?’ He was totally game … He had so much wheel control and physical control, and it was fun because I could put the camera in a lot of places I would never probably put with any other actor.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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