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

  • "Need for Speed" star, Aaron Paul, at the Langham Hotel.
"Need for Speed" star, Aaron Paul, at the Langham Hotel. (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
March 12, 2014|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

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.”

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