Hitting high velocity without Meth

Hitting high velocity without Meth

Making it big

Hitting high velocity without Meth

Among the downsides of making and selling crystal meth are all the ancillary chores one must attend to.

As Jesse Pinkman, one-half of the drug-dealing pair on the AMC series Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul had to dissolve a corpse in acid, help baby-sit for a DEA informant shackled in his basement and endure a vicious beat-down by a crazy guy named Tuco. And that, as any dedicated Breaking Bad fan can tell you, was just in the first season.

So it’s probably no wonder that when AMC announced that the award-winning series would end in 2013 after a five-season run, Paul, 34, was eager for something a bit less taxing. “Breaking Bad was emotionally and physically exhausting,” he said.

“I loved Jesse Pinkman to death, but he was a broken, sad, tortured individual who just couldn’t catch a break. I wanted something fun.”

What Paul found for his first major project to be released since the series ended was Need for Speed, an action movie based on the popular racing video game.

In the film, Paul stars as Tobey Marshall, a diamond-in-the-rough grease monkey who just happens to possess the driving skills of a world-class auto racer. It’s one of those movies that big studios (in this case, DreamWorks) can spin off into a franchise, but Paul nearly passed it up.

“I was a fan of the game, but I’ve never been a fan of movies based on video games,” he said. “When I saw it on my desk, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I even want to read this.’”

When Paul finally cracked open the script, he discovered a character-driven story that felt more like a 1960s-era car chase film like Bullitt (from 1968, starring Steve McQueen) and Vanishing Point (the 1971 original) than The Fast and the Furious. Over at DreamWorks, however, Paul wasn’t being considered for the lead, but for the role of Dino, the rich jerk who serves as the foil to the film’s blue-collar hero.

This was 2012, after all, and few were thinking of the guy who played Jesse, AMC’s resident tweaker, as Hollywood’s next action star. But Scott Waugh, the film’s director, had different ideas, possibly because he had no preconceptions of Paul whatsoever.

“I was one of the few aliens on Earth who hadn’t seen Breaking Bad,” Waugh said. “I didn’t even know who he was. But when I saw his tape, I told the studio, ‘I think this should be our Tobey.’”

The casting department fought back, Waugh said, but Steven Spielberg, the head of DreamWorks and a fan of Breaking Bad, also saw Paul in the lead role. He won the part, with a requirement from the director: He’d have to do a lot of the driving himself, without the crutch of CGI wizardry.

“I grew up as a stuntman, and my father was a stuntman, and I still believe there’s no reason to use CGI unless you’re doing a sci-fi movie,” Waugh said. “If everything is real in the movie, the audiences react in a certain way, like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy could really die.’”

To prepare for the role, Paul trained at Willow Springs International Raceway, graduating from beater cars to speedy Mustangs. Tires were popped, lots of them, and cones were toppled, but by the end of the training, Paul could put a high-performance vehicle into a slide and stop within inches of a camera lens.

In the film, that’s Paul flying around corners and speeding down a closed freeway at 125 miles an hour. Not that he did all the driving, of course. That “grasshopper jump” over four lanes of traffic? That was somebody else; same with the drive off the cliff, a clear homage to the 1991 film Thelma & Louise, albeit without the fatal drop and teary goodbyes. “They didn’t want me to do it, nor did I want to do it,” he said.

While Paul clearly loves cars — his off-duty ride is a 1965 Shelby Cobra — his co-star, Imogen Poots, who plays the car broker Julia Maddon, doesn’t quite share that same passion. Born in London, Poots doesn’t drive and was blissfully unaware of the Need for Speed series of racing games, a franchise that has sold over 150 million copies since it began, in 1994.

“I live my life pretty much as a dinosaur,” she said. Part of what sold her on the project was Paul himself, whom she had met while filming the domestically unreleased dark comedy A Long Way Down.

“It sounded fun to do something with him again, and I felt that if I was ever to attempt to dip my toes into this sort of genre, then I’d want to be holding hands with somebody I really admired and liked a lot,” she said.

Paul continues to pursue larger roles in feature films, explaining, “After wrapping the series, I just thought it was time.” But he was also reportedly in recent talks to reprise his role as Jesse in a Breaking Bad television prequel. Does Paul ever miss Jesse, as troubled and as troubling as he could be? “Yeah, I do,” he said. “I love him. I really do.”