A new kind of ‘speed’


Angela Conners

Aaron Paul

By Arts & Culture Editor

Aaron Paul, best known as America’s beloved, drug-addled delinquent Jesse Pinkman on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” is headed back to the big screen to play the lead in Scott Waugh’s new street-racing film “Need For Speed,” scheduled for release March 14.

In homage to films like “Bullitt,” starring Steve McQueen, “Need For Speed” is a modern take on the classic car chase film that incorporates elements of EA’s popular video game series of the same name.

The son of a Baptist minister, Paul moved to Los Angeles from Boise, Idaho to pursue acting, which eventually landed him roles in “Mission: Impossible III,” and the HBO series “Big Love.”

Since then, Paul’s character acting won him two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role in “Breaking Bad.”

In “Need For Speed,” Paul plays the strong but silent lead Tobey Marshall, a small-town mechanic turned vengeful street racer who is locked in a heated cross-country race against rival Dino Brewster, played by Dominic Cooper.

Leading lady Imogen Poots, who plays British bombshell Julia Maddon, starred alongside Paul in the exclusive European release “A Long Way Down.”

While “Need For Speed” is only Waugh’s third film in the director’s chair, his Hollywood career began in 1988 as a stuntman. To date, he has had 41 credited stuntman roles.

The Chronicle caught up with Paul and Waugh to discuss Paul’s acting career and Waugh’s inspiration for the film.

THE CHRONICLE: Of all the classic car movies, which would you say was the most influential to the film?

SCOTT WAUGH: “Bullitt.” What I love most about the car sequences was there was no music. It was just 18 minutes of motor noise and great tension and all real, no [computer-generated imagery]. I think that was really the focus when we made this. I was really looking at that and really trying to figure out why we still quote a 50-year-old movie as the best car movie of all time. We just really wanted to make a movie that paid respect to that world.

CC: Aaron, how do you feel about playing a character on par with “Bullitt’s” Steve McQueen?

AARON PAUL: I don’t know if I’m doing that whatsoever, but the fact that [Waugh] wanted to [pay] homage to the greatest car racing movies ever. Films back then couldn’t rely on CGI or green screen. So everything was actually captured on camera, and that excited me.

SW: When I was looking to cast Tobey Marshall, the lead, it was all about who actually is that next young Steve McQueen. That’s a big frickin’ boot to put your foot in. That would not only be an energetic, edgy, charming, likeable, humble guy that Steve was, but also physically.

AP: When it was sent to me, they said, “read with Tobey Marshall in mind.” I’ve got to be honest, I was a little hesitant. I had my own ideas about what I thought this script was going to be, and the moment I read the script, I was so surprised. I had such a fun time reading [it]. That’s a blast.

CC: Scott, how did you come up with all the stunts?

SW: My father was a stuntman, so I grew up on that planet my whole life. I didn’t know anything different. That’s what they did. They did it all for real back in the day. I’ll go to locations first. I’ll know what the plotline is supposed to be within the sequence—Tobey goes from last to first; that’s all I need to know. Let me come up with my stunt coordinator. Crazy things I’ve never seen before [are] given up by the environment.

CC: Aaron, you have said in the past that you are more of a character actor than a leading man. Has your perspective changed?

AP: Not at all. I still consider myself a character actor. I don’t see myself as a leading man. I don’t think I ever will.

SW: I think that’s what makes him such a great Tobey, who doesn’t see himself as a leading man either. Sorry, buddy, you’re going to be doing leads the rest of your life.

CC: Aaron, do you want your edgy roles to define you as an actor, or would you rather want to branch out?

AP: I want to branch out, yeah, but for some reason I gravitate toward characters that are affected by life because I think that’s how life is. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, which would be nice if it was, but that’s just not the case. I like zipping on skins that kind of just make me feel deep emotions—that make the audience feel emotions. [On “Breaking Bad”] I was playing [Jesse] for six seasons. God, I loved him so much, but he was also so damaged and lonely and struggling to keep his head above water looking for that glimmer of hope. Playing him made me feel all those emotions. My day-to-day—I feel like I’m really happy. I feel very blessed. I’m madly in love, you know. It’s nice to jump into something that’s so different.

CC: Aaron, being from Boise, Idaho, was it easy to become the small-town, blue-collar character of Tobey?

AP: Yeah, because I kind of knew that world, but every character is different. This particular character was so on the page; I really instantly connected to not only Tobey but with all the characters. He couldn’t catch a break and I think we’ve all felt that at times in our lives where nothing seems to be going right. You’ve just got to keep fighting and pushing forward.

CC: Which elements of the “Need for Speed” video game series are present in the movie?

SW: It’s great because the game actually does have a very wonderful format, and if you watch the movie in a very subliminal way, it follows exactly the format of the game. If you’re [a] newcomer, which I am to the games, you can’t just jump into a super car—you’d lose control quickly. You have to work your way up to those skills. You start in an old, classic car, work your way up to a modern car, a rally car, then you’re up to super cars. Also, the perspectives are very similar to the game. I was just lucky enough my dad developed the first helmet camera back in the ‘70s, so way before games were even part of the world.