Following his award-winning turn as drug dealer Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul’s career is really revving up. Shereen Low catches up with the actor and finds out why he’s now addicted to fast cars.
It’s a simple combination; roaring engines, supercars, some ‘everything hangs on this’ races with a pinch of personal drama and rivalry thrown in for good measure.
But, it’s a winning combination too – you only have to look at the success of the Fast And Furious franchise and films like Rush and Death Race for proof of that.
The latest actor to get behind the wheel for a movie is Aaron Paul, who swaps drugs for the driving seat in Need For Speed, the big screen adaptation of the hit racing video game.
“Oh my God, it’s embarrassing how much fun we were having,” he says of shooting the movie. “We shot in seven different states across the US and we were driving around in these insane cars, incredible racing and races.
“It was a dream come true,” he adds. “We were just big kids playing with big toys. It was so much fun.”
Until a few years ago, the 34-year-old was practically unheard of, on this side of the Atlantic, at least.
But thanks to his star turn as crystal meth dealer Jesse Pinkman in the mega-successful TV series Breaking Bad, Paul is now a familiar face.
In real life, he is open and friendly with striking blue eyes and perfect white teeth. And although he feels ‘a bit repetitive’ with all the interviews today, he doesn’t show any sign of weariness.
Much like the game, the movie is packed with fast cars (American muscle machines and European hyper-cars), high-octane thrills and death-defying stunts that will leave jaws dropping.
The original story follows mechanic and street racer Tobey Marshall (Paul) who, fresh out of prison after being framed, is intent on settling the score with his powerful nemesis Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) in a high-stakes underground race, the De Leon.
Director Scott Waugh, a former stuntman, wanted to make the film without using computer-generated imagery (CGI) or green screen, preferring the actors to either do the majority of the stunts themselves or employ stunt doubles.
Paul relished doing his own tricks, which included 180-degree slides and racing up to speeds of 140mph.
“Let’s be honest, I didn’t do any of the crazy, crazy stuff,” he admits. “When you see a car jump over four lanes of traffic or driving off a cliff and being caught by a helicopter, that was not me, for obvious reasons. But a lot of the sliding, drifting into alleyways and driving backwards, that was me. There was no hesitation whatsoever, that was just fun.
“The majority of the first race at Mount Kisco, I was racing around a Gran Torino – that was all me. It was such a blast.”
With the super-powered vehicles off-limits once the cameras stopped rolling, the self-confessed car lover found ways of spending as much time behind the wheel as possible.
“I [would] always ask for more takes. Sometimes because I wanted another take because I didn’t feel right about it, but the majority of the time, it’s because I wanted to keep driving,” he says, with a cheeky glint in his eye.
“They frowned upon us taking these cars for a joyride. Whenever we were practising on a skid pad or closed track, then yeah [we could drive them], but those moments didn’t last.”
Before the shoot, the cast, including Paul and his co-stars Cooper and Imogen Poots, embarked on a stunt driving course.
“Scott wanted us to learn the practicality of the manoeuvres but also, how to look cool when doing it,” Paul explains. “The first few days was just learning how to get out of problematic situations, and then I got to learn how to do the fun stuff, like the 360s [spins] and drifting around corners from every direction.”
The Idaho-born actor adds: “I wouldn’t say I’m a huge petrolhead, but I appreciate cars. I think I love them much more now that I know how to manoeuvre them in a completely different way.”
Need For Speed marks Paul’s first film since Breaking Bad ended its run last September, and viewers will draw some similarities between troubled Tobey and his previous law-breaking alter ego Jesse.
“I feel like I always gravitate towards complex characters because they’re more fun to play,” says the star. “Maybe it says something about me. Perhaps I have some deep-rooted issues going on,” he adds, smiling.
Next, he’ll appear in Ridley Scott’s Biblical drama Exodus and Michael Uppendahl’s drama Quad, and is also up for playing Tobey again in Need For Speed sequels.
“Absolutely,” he says. “I had such a blast doing the first one.”