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Aaron Paul: Welcome to the fast lane
7:00am Saturday 8th March 2014 in Celebrity Interview
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 American actor and finds out why he's now completely 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 - who's wearing a black leather jacket, black jeans and T-shirt - 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, racing up to speeds of 140mph and drifting around roads in a Koenigsegg Agera R and a customised Shelby Mustang.
"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.
"Tobey's got a good view on life. He's a true gentleman. But after Breaking Bad, I can see why people would not automatically think of me [for different roles]."
Director Waugh's vision for the film was to make a throwback to classic car films like 1968's iconic Bullitt with Steve McQueen, Paul notes - something that was "raw, gritty and honest without being too polished".
"As an actor, those concepts and aspirations for the movie were very, very exciting to me," he adds, before taking a moment to reflect on how much things have changed, since he was cast alongside Bryan Cranston's Walter White in Vince Gilligan's highly acclaimed Breaking Bad, which first hit screens back in 2008.
"My life has changed quite a bit. I think it's changed quite a bit for everyone involved in Breaking Bad," he says.
"The show has become a global phenomenon. We started with such a small core audience, but people really started to tune in. I was very sad, all of us were very sad when the show ended. But Bryan and I still talk all the time."
He says he's open to reprising the role in the upcoming spin-off prequel, Better Call Saul: "If Better Call Saul decided that they wanted me to be a part of it, big or small, I would be there in a heartbeat. Vince Gilligan gave me my career, so yeah. And it'd be fun to play Jesse in his lighter, happier days."
For now, Paul is focusing on his film career.
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 and if the film does well and people want to see more, we'll do another."
Extra time - Who's who in Need For Speed
:: Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) - Former Nascar driver Dino is Tobey's rival, both on the track and in love. "He's a troubled soul. He's obsessed with money and success, which sends him into a state of madness," says Cooper.
:: Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) - Tobey's British companion, who joins him on the road. "She's so brilliant and says the most random things that alternate between hilarious and insightful," says Paul.
:: Joe Peck (Ramon Rodriguez) - Tobey's chief mechanic, who builds the engines.
:: Benny (Scott Mescudi) - A part-time Army Reserve pilot, he uses his skills to help his friend plot his cross-country course.
:: The Monarch (Michael Keaton) - The former racer-turned-billionaire orchestrates and commentates the De Leon race.
:: Need For Speed opens in cinemas on Wednesday, March 12
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