Following critical praise for his complex portrayal of Jesse Pinkman on the acclaimed TV series “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013), Aaron Paul now has his first major lead with the upcoming film “Need for Speed.” The Daily recently participated in a roundtable interview with Paul, in which he discussed the pressure that comes with headlining a movie, classic car films and what the future may bring.
The Tufts Daily: You’re known for a lot of indie work, or supporting roles, but this is your first major lead. Are you starting to feel the pressure of it? This is your movie, your name is on the marquee.
Aaron Paul: The more I do interviews like this, [the more I say], “Yes.” People always ask, “Are you feeling the pressure? How are you taking all this pressure?” But honestly, I try not to think about it too much. And the film comes out soon, so we’ll know [then] if it does well or not. The movie speaks for itself. I think it’s a fun movie, and I think it has a great story. [The script] surprised me when I read it.
TD: Is this something you want to keep doing? Being the lead in a big budget film like this?
AP: Not necessarily – it depends on whether or not the character is there. Right after “Need for Speed” I did a film that we did for around $400,000. It’s called “Hellion.” [It’s a] super small, low-budget independent [film], and I love making those movies. I’m just trying to mix it up [and] try something different.
TD: Having played the video game, I had my own expectations going into the film, but what really surprised me were the car crashes. It really made you think about the impact of street racing. Despite the coolness of the street racing, these crashes seemed so real. Did that realism draw you to the film?
AP: Yes, I agree with you. This film does not condone street racing whatsoever. That’s why Scott [Waugh], our director, wanted everything to be practical, [with] no [computer-generated imagery ]. We’re used to watching films where there’s a lot of [CGI], which is fine, but they’re lying to us. I loved that they wanted to do a sort of throwback to how car movies used to be done, like “Bullitt” (1968) or “Vanishing Point” (1971). That’s what they pitched me when they sent me the script. Scott grew up on the sets of those movies, and I loved that he wanted to do it [practically].
TD: Were you thinking you wanted to get into the world of action?
AP: I knew I [wanted] to do something lighter because I had been part of a show that was so heavy for so long, [which] was amazing. We were such a family, and in between takes we were having the best time. But the character was just so heavy, so tortured. I wanted to do something that steered far away from that sort of thing. Will I play more tortured roles? I’m sure. For some reason, I like to put myself through that. I wasn’t searching for this. It just came my way out of nowhere, and I’m happy it did.
TD: You’ve worked opposite the likes of Bryan Cranston and Christian Bale. What was it like to be the lead? How was it different when you didn’t have someone like that to play off of?
AP: It’s all the same really. We have a stellar cast, but it’s kind of strange to be at the top of the call sheet. The pressure is slowly seeping in. It felt the same, though. The goal is to just get lost in the moment and [to] believe [in] what’s actually happening. Working with Bryan made every day a master acting class. I would not be the actor I am today without him. Working opposite him for six years, you naturally become better at what you do. Christian was just incredible to watch.
TD: Since you had to do a lot of driver training, is this the most pre-production you’ve ever done?
AP: Yes. I had to gain a lot of weight to do this movie. If you watch the final season of “Breaking Bad” you can see that I slowly start to balloon out. I loved all the prep, though. Every day that I went out to the [race] track I got just a little better. I learned something new. There are tracks all over this country, and you can go there and take courses to learn how to race. It’s actually a lot easier than you’d think. To slide the car around is super simple, [like doing] a reverse 180 or even a full 360.
TD: What was your favorite car to drive in this film?
AP: My favorite car, hands-down, was the Gran Torino. We all wanted that car so bad. There’s two identical Torinos that they gutted and remade to use in the movie. They ended up wrecking one of the cars during the first race by accident. Then Scott and I fought for the second one, but neither of us got it.
TD: Are there any particular directors that you look forward to working with in the future?
AP: There’s so many. I just worked with one of my all-time favorites, Ridley Scott. He’s such a legend. But I would love to work with [Steven] Spielberg. He [was involved with] this, but he didn’t direct it. Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Nicolas Refn, [Quentin] Tarantino – there’s so many great directors that I would love to work with.