After his tenure as Jesse Pinkman on the Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul has Hollywood at his feet. Not only did Paul showcase his dramatic flexibility, but he also remained faithful to a complex project despite its initial commercial failure. In Hollywood terms, Paul is a film dream: a talented actor with the charisma to turn any piece into a hit.
Therefore, Hollywood and Paul fans alike puffed incredulity upon the announcement of Paul’s latest project: Need for Speed, a car-racing movie based on a video game. Really?
In a recent interview with The Daily Free Press, Paul admits that he was floored by the stark transition as well.
“I was driving away in that last scene [of Breaking Bad] and I just drove straight into this next film … in a $2.5 million Koenigsegg, which was like, ‘What is happening right now?’”
Despite being a fan of the Need for Speed video game, Paul was initially hesitant before eventually deciding that the film would be “fun,” which is really all it is. Need for Speed follows Tobey Marshall (Paul), a former racing superstar who now satisfies his need for speed with drag races in upstate New York. After a conflict with former racing rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), Tobey is wrongfully convicted of murder when a drag race results in the death of his friend, Pete. Once out of prison, Tobey rips across the country in a Shelby Mustang to compete in the De Leon, the premiere road race that will allow Tobey to avenge Pete’s death and settle his score with Dino.
At its best, the Need for Speed plot is predictable. At times, it’s absurd. The stunts, however, are revolutionary in an industry blinded by CGI, which ultimately saves the film. In Detroit, the Mustang vaults off of a highway median to launch over a bridge. In Utah, it drives off of a desert mesa, only to be airlifted to safety by a Black Hawk helicopter. And the best part: The stunts are real.
“That’s what excited me, that we were going to actually do all these stunts and not use any CG, kind of like films back then that had no choice because there was no CG,” Paul said.
Paul performed many of the stunts himself after extensive driving training, which included one that required him to slide a Koenigsegg into a stop six inches from a camera.
“The first take I did … I slid, and I stopped about 15 feet away from [director Scott Waugh] … and he’s like, ‘If you hit me, I’ll just roll over the car.’ I think that was the most terrifying, [but] it was actually a lot of fun,” Paul joked.
Despite the visceral reality of the stunts, Paul admits that he was much more nervous about harming the cars themselves.
“I didn’t want to scratch them … First of all, no one should spend that much money on a car. I just didn’t want to destroy it. But I just had so much fun flying them around.”
Even with these exaltations of his Need for Speed “fun,” the intelligent Paul anticipates criticism from those disappointed in his latest career choice.
“Did any scenes pop out at you that looked kind of bad?” Paul asked.
Such candor reveals that even Paul sees the depreciation in artistic quality that fans will lament since Breaking Bad. In a public screening the evening before our interview, Paul even confessed that this choice might have had something to do with the high cost of living in Los Angeles.
“I always try to do just something different, just mix it up,” Paul said. “If I read a script and it affects me emotionally, I tend to like that … But with this, I wanted to do something a little lighter.”
Paul gushed about his desire to return to independent film, as if the intimation of his preferred work wasn’t clear. Most recently, Paul led Hellion, a standout at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and also starred in the indie Smashed, a selection at the 2012 Festival. Independent film is the type of moviemaking “where [his] heart is,” Paul explained, making it clear that films like Need for Speed are only profit swells to propel his pursuit for more complex art.