Arts interview

Aaron Paul has a need for speed

Press roundtable with actor known for role as Jesse Pinkman

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Aaron Paul chatted with The Tech during a college press roundtable.
Courtesy of Dreamworks Studios

Aaron Paul is best known for his role as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” and he’s a champion of independent films as well. But while DreamWorks’ Need For Speed is a major studio release and is based on a video game franchise no less, it was too fun a role for him to turn down.

Need For Speed hits theaters on March 14. In the film, Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a street racer who is framed by his rival and seeks revenge by entering the biggest street race in the country. Director and former stuntman Scott Waugh filmed only practical stunts as an homage to classic car movies of the 1970’s that launched the genre of action films featuring classic cars.

Paul recently came to Boston and surprised the audience of the press screening with an appearance. He had never been to Boston, so he invited everyone to Cheers after the show. We sat down with him the next day to discuss his experiences filming the hardcore driving scenes in “Need For Speed” and his attraction to roles based on damaged characters.

Entertainment Monthly: What do you think of making a movie based on a video game?

Aaron Paul: Honestly, I was very hesitant. I was a fan of the game Need For Speed, but I didn’t know what the script was going to be like. But then I read it and thought it was so fun. With Need For Speed, there’s no narrative, so we were really just working with a blank canvas, just 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 a really fun great story. That’s what drew me to it, and the fact that they weren’t going to do any CGI and do everything practical.

The Tech: What is your favorite movie about cars?

AP: I’d have to say Bullet, maybe? I just think Steve McQueen’s such a badass. I just love that he was a racer before he was an actor. Scott Waugh’s whole pitch was he wanted to do a throwback to the films that really started this genre. Bullet, Vanishing Point, Smokey the Bandit. We were going to actually do all the stunts and not use any CG, like films back then. They had no choice because there was no CG. What’s your favorite car movie? (Besides this one!)

TT: I love Pixar, so I’m going to say Cars.

AP: You know what? Let me change my answer. I’m going to go with Cars.

Forces of Geek: Many directors want the actor they’re casting to have some part of the character in him. Do you think you have any Tobey in you?

AP: Maybe. I’ve always enjoyed cars and appreciated cars, and I have an old classic car myself. What kind of roles do you generally look for?

AP: I always try to do just something different. I tend to gravitate towards the more affected characters, sometimes more damaged characters, because it seems like that’s how life is. With this, I wanted to do something a little lighter and not so affected.

Harvard Crimson: How were you able to transition from Jesse Pinkman to Tobey?

AP: It was definitely hard to say goodbye to Jesse because I cared so much about him. It sounds crazy because he’s not a real person, but I really felt like I had lived and breathed every single moment of his. He was just such a tortured individual, so it was nice to leave that behind because Jesse is quite different than Tobey. Tobey is much stronger, confident, driven. I literally started this film the day after I wrapped Breaking Bad. I left that night.

HC: You were driving away during the last scene in Breaking Bad.

AP: I drove straight into this film!

EM: Was there anything about this role that made you a little bit nervous to get involved with it? Or about the movie itself?

AP: I was a little terrified to just get in the cars just because I didn’t want to scratch them. First of all, no one should spend that much money on a car, but I had so much fun flying them around. Safety was their main priority, so we always felt extremely safe. The highest speed that I got the cars up to was maybe 125 mph, maybe 130 mph.

I think probably the most nervous I got was after Pete goes off the bridge, and I have to flip the car around, then drive down the bridge and stop inches away from the camera. Our director was holding the camera, and I slid and I stopped about fifteen feet away from him. He was like, you gotta get closer than that. So I picked up the speed a little bit, and then I stopped about six feet. Then on the third take he said, if you hit me, I’ll just roll over the car. Because he’s a stunt man, so he does that, and he said he’d been hit by many cars.