This weekend, Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul takes his first foray into the world of action movies with the lead role in the highly-anticipated (and ridiculously freaking cool) Need For Speed cinematic adaptation. It’s the first big screen version of the long-running racing video game series, and back in February I had the good fortune of sitting across from Paul to discuss the film and what it may mean for his career.
We will have a full review up this weekend, but before we get to our conversation with Paul it only feels right to tell you Need For Speed is an incredible film. In a world where every big film leans on the use of CGI to make itself cool, NFS has zero digital effects. There are real people driving real cars in incredibly dangerous situations, and the tension that creates onscreen is so visceral you may find yourself slowly moving to the edge of your seat as the story unfolds. You may have seen a video game brought to life before, but you have never experienced a film quite like Need For Speed.
Question: You’ve done both television series and one-off films, and this is going to be your first franchise. Do you see yourself acting in other franchises?
Aaron Paul: We’ll see. I had an amazing time doing this film – I just thought it was a fun story, and it gave me a really good excuse to drive around this country of ours in really fast cars. If Need For Speed does well, then yeah – why not? It really depends if the character is there. Right after Need For Speed I did a film that I think was made for $400,000 called Hellion. It was a small, low-budget, independent movie – which I love.
Q: This is your first major lead – are you starting to feel the pressure of it?
AP: The more I do interviews like this, yes! People always say, “Are you feeling the pressure?” and “How are you taking this pressure?” I don’t know though, honestly I try not to think about it too much. We’ll know soon. I think that the movie speaks for itself and it’s a truly fun movie. The film probably surprised you, right?
AP: See, it surprised me too when I read it. I just had my own thought of what it may be, which is fine, but I was wrong. It’s a big difference.
Q: Did you ever play any of the Need For Speed video games?
AP: I did, I did. I remember when I made the switch to the iPhone from the Blackberry that was the first game I downloaded. I’m not really a big gamer anymore, but I was a big fan of those games.
Q: I definitely had my own expectation of the movie from playing the video games and from what we’ve come to see from onscreen video game adaptations, but what really surprised me the most was that although Need For Speed wasn’t a message movie at all, some of the featured car crashes really make you think about the impact street racing may have on innocent people. It’s realism that I’ve never even considered.
AP: I agree with you. Obviously I don’t condone street racing whatsoever, but that’s one of the reasons why Scott (Waugh) wanted to do everything practical. There was no CGI, and these characters within the movie are paying for their actions. I think we’re used to watching films where there’s a lot of CGI, which is fine. They’re fun, and many have a purpose, but they’re lying to us. A car can’t jump in the air at 500 feet and go through a building and land on the other side without a scratch.
I love that they wanted to do a throwback of how car movies used to be done, like Bullitt or Vanishing Point – that’s what they pitched me when they sent me the script and the director told me what his vision was, as he grew up on the sets of those movies. I just loved that they did everything practical.
Q: Now you’ve worked opposite both Bryan Cranston and Christian Bale – what’s the process like now that you’re the lead and don’t have someone to play opposite against?
AP: It’s all the same, you know? I think we had a stellar cast for Need For Speed and it’s very strange to be at the top of the call sheet, but it felt the same. The whole goal is to get lost in the moment and believe what’s actually happening. Working with Bryan, though, was just taking a master acting class every day that I went to work. I wouldn’t be the actor that I am today if it wasn’t for him and working opposite him for six years. Christian’s just incredible to watch.
Q: Is it any different for you acting while spending half of your time inside a vehicle as opposed to spending the majority of your time standing up?
AP: Yes – as an actor, I know that for the most part we usually dread doing car scenes just because it’s so claustrophobic. But, I think that with this film, since I was actually driving, it wasn’t bad. But it’s still honestly weird to think about – that the majority of the film takes place in a car, and really fast and really fun cars for that matter.
Q: Is this the most pre-production you’ve ever done?
AP: I had to gain a lot of weight to do this movie. If you guys actually rewatch the final season of Breaking Bad, you slowly start to see me balloon out – and that was on purpose. This was definitely, including the driving training, by far the most pre-production I’ve taken part in.
I thought it was great because every day that I went out to the track, I got better. I learned something new. There are tracks literally all over this country, and you can actually go take courses and learn how to do this stuff. It’s actually so much easier than you think, too. To slide the car around, do a reverse 180º or even do a full 360º is so much easier than you’d expect. It’s actually kind of simple.
Q: What was your favorite car in the movie to drive?
AP: My favorite car in the movie, hands down, was the Gran Torino. I just wanted that car so bad – we all wanted that car. There were two identical Gran Torinos that they just gutted and made brand new. They were beautiful cars and super fast, but they ended up wrecking the first car in the first race by accident. The director and I then fought over the remaining one, but neither of us got it.
Q: Are there any particular directors that you’d want to work with in the future?
AP: There’s so many, but I just worked with one of my all-time favorites in Ridley Scott. He’s a legend. I would love to work with Spielberg as a director, P.T. Anderson, Wes Anderson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Quentin Tarantino – there’re so many…
Need For Speed will be in theaters this Friday, March 14.