For Aaron Paul, Need for Speed is a very important part of his career. Though he’s won Emmys and is well respected as an actor, he’s looking to transition into a movie star, and this is his first stab at it, and he pulls it off well. When we talked to him, we covered driving and the transition out of playing Jesse Pinkman. Check it out.
How much, if any, of the actual driving did you do? First year of driving, what did you remember about it? Did you get tickets or in accidents? And do you consider yourself a sort of a daredevil in real life?
Aaron Paul: Well first of all, driving. I did quite a bit of my own driving. I didn’t do the grasshopper jump, obviously, and I didn’t drive off the cliff. When I was driving fast and kind of weaving through cars in freeways, that was me. I did a lot of the kind of sliding around. That was the main thing. When (director) Scott Waugh talked to me about this movie, he said if you want to do it, great, but I’m going to need you to learn how to drive these cars. I need the audience to know that you’re in the driver’s seat. He didn’t want to lie to the audience. He didn’t use any CGI and all of the stunts were practical. They actually happened. Daredevil? I think so. Maybe. A little bit. Not like these guys I don’t think. What was the other part?
Did you do roller coasters, motorcycles or anything like that?
Aaron Paul: Oh yea. I grew up on dirt bikes when I was a kid. My next door neighbor had a whole dirt bike track for a backyard but these are like little 50s. It’s not crazy bikes.
The last question was your first year of driving. What did you remember about it? Did you get into any accidents or tickets?
Aaron Paul: Not so much. I was just happy I was just able to drive on my own. It was a 1982 Toyota Corrola. Anytime it rained the trunk would fill up with water. It was a manual stick-shift and it was terrible. I had to skip from the 1st to the 3rd gear because the 2nd just didn’t work, but I loved that car so much and it got me from point A to point B.
Kind of an interesting thing to the success of these sort of movies is that they’re very sincere. When it feels like whether it would be a video game adaptation or just sort of these movies where the cars are so much of the focus, instead of it being just goofy or fun it’s very straightforward and serious. What was some of your preconceptions or your initial impressions of when you got it and how did it change as you were getting into the character?
Aaron Paul: To be honest, when I saw Need For Speed the script on my desk, I thought to myself oh no. Before I read it I did not expect much from it. Nothing against the game, the game is great and super fun. They’ve made 18 of them. They definitely know what they’re doing, and now they’re making it into a movie. What’s so great about Need For Speed, the video game had no narrative so we could really put any story we wanted to the name Need For Speed, as long as we were using the same sort of dynamics used in the game. As long as we were using super fast cars and we put the audience in the driver’s seat. I thought they put a really great, honest, fun, touching story. When I started reading the script, I was instantly invested in these characters. I cared about these characters, and then after I was done reading it, it was such a fun ride and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it.
What was the hardest part of the stunt driving?
Aaron Paul: Probably the most difficult for me technically, there was a shot that I knew they wanted me before we even started shooting, because on the track they had me practice it so much. On the day, it’s me flying over the bridge. Everyone saw it, yea? (SPOILER) After Pete falls off the bridge and dies, (END SPOILER) it’s when Tobey flips the car around. So I had to flip the car around, bring the car back and fly to the camera about 75-80 miles an hour. Then I had to pull the E-brake and have it slide almost to a 180 and stop within inches of the lens.
So that was a little scary, because I didn’t want to hit… and it wasn’t our camera guy during this particular shot, it was Scott our director. He took the camera, because I don’t think any of the cameramen wanted to be in that position, and so Scott’s holding it and first take I came about 15 feet shy of the camera. He came up to me and said “Listen, I need you within inches of the matte box. I need the audience to know that this is you driving. I can’t even see you 15 feet away.” I go okay. “If you hit me, don’t worry about it. I’ll just roll over the hood of the car.” Uh, okay. That didn’t make me feel better about the situation. He goes “If you go past your mark, don’t worry about it. I’ll just sense it and I’ll roll over the car.” And so by the 3rd take I got it right next to the matte box. That was probably the most nervous I was.
How deeply did you go, or did you have to go, into the notions of mechanics, engineering and getting into the nuts and bolts of car repair and car upgrades?
Aaron Paul: In all honesty, I didn’t go too heavy into that element of it. I went really heavy into the racing element, just the pure drive passion of driving. That’s really it.
Do you have to go through a type of training?
Aaron Paul: Yeah, that was the thing. Right when I signed on to do it, the first thing was to get out on the track as often as I could. Those were long track days. That was from sunrise to sunset, all day long.
Were you working with professional drivers? Obviously.
Aaron Paul: It was Lance Gilbert, he’s our stunt coordinator. He’s a third generation stunt man and he’s just a badass. He just lives and breathes stunts. He just really knows what he’s doing. The people that run the track, they have a whole school out there. So if you guys just want to do it… When I have kids I’ll definitely send them to this track because the first few days was just really learning how to get out of problematic situations, and that’s what they wanted… their main priority was safety.
Do you want to own a Shelby now?
Aaron Paul: I do, but I’ve owned it for years. I have a ’65 Shelby Cobra, and yea.
I ended up watching State and Main last night, a David Mamet film where every single word, every comma, is in place. This seems like the complete opposite of that. How was your working relationship with Scott and how much freedom did you have as an actor to just improvise or move the comma around as it were?
Aaron Paul: You know, in all honesty everything was on the page. It was. Working with Scott, you get on set and he’s just a big kid working with his favorite toys. It was such a fun working environment, but he had a very specific structure to stay on. He wanted to do a throwback to the classic films that he believes really started the genre, such as Bullitt, Vanishing Point, Smokey and the Bandit, all of these films that had no CG. They had to do their own stunts because there was no such thing as CG back then. He said that we could improvise if we wanted to, if we felt like it was necessary but most of it is kind of stuck to the page. I think Benny, Scott Mescudi, he improvised quite a bit and I thought that it was just so brilliant.
Touching upon that, what was it like working with the rest of the cast, especially with Imogen [Poots] since you’re with her in the car for most of the movie.
Aaron Paul: I dragged Imogen along with me. I was doing a film with her in London called A Long Way Down when this offer came in, and then they said that the top female choice was Imogen. I already knew that I loved her so much, and we got along so well, and the idea of being stuck with a car with her for 80% of the movie was great. So I’m like yes, pick her. That’s a great choice. So she had some meetings and decided to come play with us. The entire Marshall Motors crew, we instantly connected when we got on set. We’re still very, very close.
The post-Breaking Bad life, what is it like? Is it much different? Do you still talk to Bryan Cranston much?
Aaron Paul: I do. I just talked to Bryan the other day. It’s been good. We’re such a family on that show, and I hope it stays that way for as long as possible, but I know Bryan and I will be friends until one of us dies.
You mentioned the sort of the classic car movies, and they show Bullitt obviously. Do you have a favorite car or driver, one of those movies that kind of inspired you?
Aaron Paul: I think Steve McQueen is such a badass, and I’ve thought that for a very long time. I’ve been into cars ever since I could remember. I was always asking my uncle if he could drive me around in his ’67 Mustang, and I thought he was so cool. I think I just try to watch all things Steve McQueen, not act like Steve McQueen but you know, just take bits and pieces from…
The movie characterizes him at the beginning as a racer, as patient. Is there a certain disposition that the character needed to have to sort of embody this guy who’s the best racer?
Aaron Paul: I think it’s real confidence and just drive. I’m so used to playing a character that’s so broken and tortured and just lonely and sad. So it was kind of nice to jump into a different skin of a guy that’s really confident and driven and very focused. So I think he needed to have all those qualities.
Aaron Paul: Yes!
Recently the Rick James, Bitch sketch turned 10 years old, and now you seem to have the Throne of Bitch.
Aaron Paul: The Bitch Throne. Yes.
Do people come up to you and say it inappropriately? Or appropriately?
Aaron Paul: I do actually. Usually it’s very kind. They’re like “Oh my God, yo bitch! Hey, how are you?” And then I’m like hey, yo, what’s up bitch. But then sometimes people are screaming it loud, and I might be walking from my dinner table at a restaurant and a guy will be like a little drunk and just start screaming “bitch!” Those people I tend to ignore.
As well you should. We don’t want to speculate on how the film was going to do, but obviously with The Fast & the Furious going on and on, does the notion of returning for more, is that something that you’ve considered before you’ve signed onto something like this? Are you for or against, as part of your consideration, taking on a role like this?
Aaron Paul: That’s another big part of it, and the reason why I was a little hesitant. Of course, if this film does well, they as a studio would definitely like to do more. After reading the script, I thought it was such a fun ride and then working with this great group of people, if it does well and they want to do more, I know I can speak for pretty much everyone involved that we would love to get the band back together and do it all over again.
Since you’re a car guy, what’s the top speed you’ve driven in your personal life?
Aaron Paul: I’m not really sure. There was a closed track I was on for an Audi race car event that I was a part of. I went maybe 135, maybe 140, and then I did a Lamborghini event which I think was about 150, 160. It was all on a closed track. On this film, the top speed while shooting was probably about 125, for me but then they wanted the cars to be going around 180 they got the stunt men and women in there.
Need for Speed opens March 14.