Aaron Paul makes a play for big-screen stardom in 'Need for Speed.'
(Photo: Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY)
(Warning: the following story is laden with Breaking Bad spoilers, so beware, any fans who have not finished the TV series. And what's taking you so long?)
LOS ANGELES (USATODAY.com) - Shortly after signing on to anchor his first big film, Need for Speed (out Friday), but before filming began on Breaking Bad's final season, Aaron Paul penned a letter to the TV show's writers about his preferred swan song.
"I told them that I had come to love Jesse Pinkman," Paul says of the meth-cooking foil to partner Walter White in the Emmy-winning series. "I asked them to let Jesse live in the finale. But if he had to die, to let him commit suicide. It would have driven a stake through the heart of the fans, but I felt like Jesse should get to choose his own destiny."
Alas, Jesse didn't have to choose. As White's grim ending became more apparent toBad die-hards, Jesse's fate became the burning question as the show barreled to its conclusion last fall. And his tear-filled escape from his captors gave the show its quasi-fulfilling ending. Or at least its closest semblance to a happy one.
Like his former character, Paul, 34, finds himself bursting from the methamphetamine world into an unknown future. This time, it's in the form of big-studio release Need for Speed, Disney's $65 million video-game adaptation. Still, the Bad world remains, not only for the film's star, but for its director, who hadn't seen an episode of the TV show before filming began.
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"I was already blown away by his (audition) tapes," Scott Waugh says. "But everyone said I had to watch Breaking Bad. So I started and watched all the way through. I cast him thinking of him as a young Steve McQueen. But (Breaking Bad) was a side I couldn't believe, until I finally saw it."
That side, vulnerable yet resilient, has been a trademark of Paul's nascent career. Jesse was to die in the first season of Bad in 2008, but writers fell in love with the character. Likewise, Paul was to play Need for Speed's villain but so impressed Waugh that he made Paul the hero (driver Tobey Marshall).
"I get why people fall for him," Waugh says.
Those fans still call out, specifically for Paul to swear at them. If Jesse had a trademark slogan, it was the dropping the b-bomb (memorialized in a YouTube video compilation).
"People still want me to call them one," Paul says. "A couple guys asked me to call them that on the walk here" in the block from his home to the Chateau Marmont, where he has stopped for coffee.
Did he? "Of course! Fans rule!"
They also clamor for more Jesse. While Paul concedes he's interested in pursuing film - and, in particular, something lighter than Bad's dark tones - he will remain aBreaker at heart. He talks with co-star Bryan Cranston regularly and told series creator Vince Gilligan that he'd like to be in the Bad prequel series, Better Call Saul."I owe that man everything, and the show looks great."
And Paul concedes that he can't help but wonder what Jesse did after breaking through the fence of his kidnappers.
"I like to think Jesse went to Alaska," he says. "I believe in the happy ending."