Interview date: 03/04/2009
Run date: 03/09/2009
It’s good to be part of the AMC family these days. First, “Mad Men” blew everyone’s minds and made it clear to viewers that the reported home of American Movie Classics was actually a good place to find quality television as well. With all eyes on the network, they proceeded to draw in viewers a second time by offering up the meth-driven drama and black humor of “Breaking Bad,” an intense series which earned Bryan Cranston the Best Actor Emmy for his work as cancer-ridden high school chemistry teacher Walter White.
But, hey, let’s not forget about Aaron Paul, people.
As White’s former student, Jesse Pinkman, we watched Paul turn in some seriously twitchy performances as a guy who’s torn between his desire to make a killing in the meth industry and not be killed in the process. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Paul about his work on the show, what we can expect from Season 2 of the series, and we get the scoop on the “X-Files” episode that bonded him to “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan before the two of them had ever met. We also ask the status of his character on “Big Love” (Scott), find out how he turned up in a Korn video, and get the real story on Paul’s appearance as a contestant on “The Price is Right.”
Bullz-Eye: Hey, man, how’s it going?
Aaron Paul: Good, Will. How are you doing, brother?
BE: Great. Pleasure to talk to you.
AP: Yeah, you too. Thanks for your time.
BE: Oh, no problem. Thank you for yours. Well, unfortunately, this isn’t actually going to go live until after the second season of “Breaking Bad” premieres, but since you and I are talking a few days before that, how anxious are you about it?
AP: I am so, so amped. I can’t wait for our fans to see what Vince and the other writers have come up with. It is absolutely insane.
BE: I know it just came out, but have you already started hearing from people who are discovering the show on DVD?
AP: Yeah, it just came out, but…you know, living in Los Angeles, it’s funny. I get approached sometimes, but it’s really kind of going out of town when most people decide that they feel like they can approach me. But everyone is just so excited, so many people that could not wait for the show to come out on DVD. Like, “I saw the first episode, but then I missed a couple, and I tried to watch more midseason, but…” Or, “I generally wait until shows come out on DVD, and then I go rent them or go purchase them, so I can watch them all in a row.” I think everyone seems so amped about it, and this next season, we finally got our 13 episodes. It wasn’t cut short, and so this next season is going to be insane. Did you end up seeing any of the second season?
BE: Yeah, I got the first three episodes. They’re awesome. In fact, I was going to say that you kind of had the shit beaten out of you in Season One, and…well, not to give anything away, but you don’t exactly have it easy in the first few episodes of Season Two, either.
AP: (Laughs) No, Jesse never really has it easy. It’s incredible; yeah, the first season, he absolutely got the shit beaten out of him, but this next season…? I can say that, quite possibly, it might happen again.
BE: I was very psyched to see that Badger returns. But even though he’s great when he’s on there, I’m guessing the writers have an idea that a little Badger goes a long way.
AP: Yeah, Matt Jones, who plays Badger, is such an amazing actor and such a great person. But he actually has quite a big part in the grand scheme of things in the second season, so I’m very happy about that.
BE: Excellent. How much more of Jesse’s family are we going to be seeing this season?
AP: We’re not going to be seeing much, but they do play a huge part in the second season, and once you watch it, you’ll see why. They definitely do come back in the second season.
BE: Okay. Now, I’m probably not the only person who views the disintegration of the bathtub as the moment when they officially decided, “Okay, I’m in this for the long haul.”
AP: (Laughs) It’s true, but you know what? There’s been a…not really the younger viewers, but I have had viewers that come up to me, and they’re, like, “You know, we used to watch this as a family, and once the melted body came falling through the ceiling, my mom was just, like, ‘I can’t watch this show anymore. This is just way too disturbing for me.’” So it’s not for everybody. But I think it’s a beautiful show, even though it deals with such a dark subject matter.
BE: I understand that the aftereffects of the bathtub collapse were not a lot of fun for you and Brian to play.
AP: No, it absolutely was not. I mean, it was disturbing. It was disgusting. I mean, us kind of wearing these masks and just trying to clean up this…well, it was obviously a fake melted body, but it just seemed so real.
BE: So when you first picked up the role of Jesse Pinkman, how well-defined was it? Did they have all seven episodes written when you were hired?
AP: No. Actually, when I was hired…and I didn’t know this until the middle of the season…but I kind of had an idea of who Jesse was, but, obviously, the more scripts I read, I got deeper into his back story and where he came from. But the plan was originally to kill off Jesse at the end of the first season. They decided to change that after we shot the pilot. And then when we got picked up, they…I don’t know if it was the test audience or what, or if it was just AMC and Sony decided to kind of change the format of the show, but they really liked the butting-heads aspect of Walt and Jesse, the tug-of-war, and they thought it really worked. So Jesse and I are both very happy that they changed their minds. (Laughs)
BE: How weird was it for you to go into the series and kind of be the comic relief against Bryan Cranston, a guy who, prior to this, had been known predominantly for comedy?
AP: Yeah, I know. I’m such a huge fan of Bryan’s. It’s great. You know, this show is so dark, but it’s so humorous at the same time. We were just talking about the melted body falling through the ceiling, and you find yourself kind of, like, “Oh, my God,” and then you find yourself laughing, and you’re, like, “Why am I laughing at this melted human being falling through the ceiling? I’m a very disturbed individual!” But that’s everyone’s reaction…other than that one person’s mother. And Bryan, when I heard that he was playing Walter White, this was when I was testing, I’m such a huge fan that I’m, like, “Wow, I can’t wait to see him in a drama!” I mean, I know that he has done drama and dramatic roles before, but I had never seen them. So I was really excited to see him put himself in those shoes. And I mean, from day one opposite him, I was just, like, “Wow, this guy is incredible!” And he has just gotten better and better and better. So it’s incredible. It’s an absolute honor.
BE: The stock line for our site is that anybody who was surprised by Bryan Cranston winning the Best Actor Emmy had clearly never watched “Breaking Bad,” but was there at least a little surprise for you guys when he won? I mean, given the stiff competition and the fact that you were a freshman series.
AP: Yeah, I know. I think all of us were a little shocked, but, I mean, we all know he absolutely deserved to be in the running for the Emmy, even though we only had seven episodes and a lot of people had not seen the show. Critically, it’s been getting such praise, and Bryan’s performance, as we all know, was brilliant. I actually called Bryan the day before, I was having lunch at Aroma Café in the Valley, and I called him up. He’s, like, “What’s up, man?” And I go, “I just want to be the first one to congratulate you on your Emmy tomorrow night.” He’s, like, “Do not say that!” I’m, like, “I know everyone is saying congratulations on the nomination, but I want to be the first one to tell you congratulations on the win, because I know you’re going to take it down.” Even though I’m such a huge fan of all of the other contenders, working opposite Bryan…I just felt it, and he was brilliant. I took my mom to the Emmys that night. My mom is the hugest Bryan Cranston fan. Her favorite show is “Malcolm in the Middle,” and it’s been her favorite show since it came out. She lost her mind when I booked a role playing opposite him. So it’s been such a crazy rollercoaster, and it’s been so exciting.
BE: So how much chemistry have you learned from doing the series?
AP: I’ve actually learned quite a bit. Not as much as Bryan. I mean, he’s just really diving into the whole chemistry world. I know the meth formula, but he knows the ins and outs of chemistry, and he’s always wanting to learn more. It’s really inspiring.
BE: Having watched Raymond Cruz on “The Closer,” it was just bizarre to see him playing a completely bat-shit crazy. Were there any moments where despite yourself, you were a little bit intimidated?
AP: Actually, you know what? Raymond, he is such a nice guy, and he’s intense, and he really just gets into his character. But Raymond Cruz is so opposite from Tuco. I mean, Raymond grew up and has never had a sip of alcohol in his life, never has done any drugs. You know, he has very strong morals, and he’s such a good guy. But during the scenes, he’s absolutely terrifying, which completely helps Bryan and me out, working with him. We’re just, like, “Oh, my God!” He really is, he’s absolutely terrifying. But offset, he’s fantastic. I mean, he builds cars. He just built a VW bus that runs on vegetable oil. It’s incredible how polar opposite he is from Tuco.
BE: Scott, your character on “Big Love,” is much more of a straight arrow than Jesse. Which one would you say is more like you?
AP: I would say kind of a mix between both characters. I mean, I’m not into drugs, but I’ve definitely been around that scene, just because, living in Los Angeles, it’s hard to be away from that. But I’ve definitely been around both. My father is a Christian Baptist minister. I grew up Southern Baptist, and he actually used to be part of the LDS church, and then he got excommunicated because he started doing youth ministry at a Nazarene church. So it’s definitely between both characters. It’s nice, because I never really get to play the straight-edge kid; I’m always a little off beat or kind of play darker roles or really over-the-top humorous roles. But (Scott) is kind of a straight-laced kid. You know, a good boy. Some viewers think I’m kind of this creepy, older guy going after this young girl (Sarah Henrickson, played by Amanda Seyfried)…which, technically, I guess somewhat I am. But originally I just wanted to help her out, and then I just fell for her.
BE: Based on what we’ve seen, it looks like your character’s arc is pretty much over for the moment. Is Scott going to be returning to the series anytime soon?
AP: Scott will be returning to the series. He’s in the final two episodes; he comes back. Yeah, our baby died, and it’s very sad, so he’s coming back to comfort Sarah.
BE: Now, prior to “Breaking Bad,” it looks like your bread and butter tended to be the flurry of one-off roles that you were doing on various series. I just wanted to see if you had any recollections about a couple of them, if you don’t mind.
AP: Well yeah. I mean, I’ve done so many just random guest star appearances, and in literally 80% of them, I’m being interrogated. You know, I’m always the guy that they think is the killer, but at the end of the episode, they realize, “Oh, it’s not him, it’s that other guy.”
BE: Do you really look that shady? Is that what it is?
AP: Exactly. I guess people just find me as a shady character. But I’m not. I’m a good kid, I swear! (Laughs) But my all time favorite guest star appearance was on this short lived series called "Threat Matrix.”
BE: Oh, right, I remember that show.
AP: I thought it was brilliant, but it only lasted a season. I was this guy madly in love with this woman, my girlfriend, and the plan was to run off to Vegas and get married. I was this bad kid, but I turned my life around, and she and I have a baby together. And on the way to Vegas, there is this Ebola virus that started at my girlfriend’s mom’s pet shop, from this dog they had gotten from out of the country. So I have Ebola, as does she, but we don’t know that, and we’re heading to Vegas, and they’re all trying to find us. So I end up dying of the Ebola virus, which was really fun to play, y’know, something eating you inside out. But it was really interesting.
BE: Well I saw that your first two roles…well, at least, based on IMDb…were a “90210” episode and a “Melrose Place” episode. Did you take a Spelling Productions golf cart from one set to the other?
AP: (Laughs) Yeah, that was pretty funny. I forget which one I booked first, but I think it might have been “90210.” And then during filming “90210”, they just asked me to do a small role on “Melrose Place.” I’m, like, “Oh, my gosh, my career is taking off! This is great!” But that was absolutely not the case. (Laughs) This business is such a rollercoaster of crazy rejections and emotions, but I knew that going into it, so you’ve got to be definitely a very strong person to try and survive this. But yeah, it’s so funny that I was a part of the original “90210,” and now the remake is already out. It’s just crazy.
BE: You’re showing your age, man.
AP: I know. I am so old, my friend. (Laughs)
BE: I think the best character name on your resume is Sky Commander Winky.
AP: Now, can I tell you a really funny story about that?
AP: That was for “X-Files.”
AP: And my first meeting for “Breaking Bad” was with Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, producers Karen Moore and Melissa Bernstein, and our loving casting directors. I had worked with Melissa Bernstein before on this short film called “Candy Paint,” so we were saying our hi’s and Vince is, like, “So I know that you did ‘X-Files,’ what episode did you do?” I’m, like, “I did this episode called ‘Lord of the Flies,’ and I was so stoked. That was one of my favorite shows of all time, and I’m so happy to have been a part of it.” He’s, like, “Wait, you played Sky Commander Winky!” And I’m, like, “Yes.” He’s, like, “That was my nickname in college!” I go, “What, are you serious?” He’s, like, “Yep, my buddy from college, he’s also another writer on the show, and he put that in for me.” I’m, like, “That is so random!” And that really broke the ice with Vince and me. That wasn’t his episode, and he and I had never met, so it really broke the ice. So thank God I did that episode of “X-Files,” because I really, truly believe that it honestly might have helped me get the role of Jesse Pinkman. Now the real question is, why was Vince Gilligan’s nickname Sky Commander Winky in college? I never got the back story on that.
BE: Clearly, I need to see if I can get him on the phone for a minute.
AP: You need to. You need to!
(Writers Note: I did indeed take a stab at contacting Mr. Gilligan, and he replied very quickly. Upon learning of Aaron's comments, he laughed and revealed that his actual nickname was Sky Marshall Winky. Unfortunately, however, he apologized and admitted that there's no good story behind it. Apparently, he and his friends just came up with silly nicknames for each other, and he assures me that the nickname "Sky Marshall Winky" was probably the most interesting thing about him in college.)
BE: So are you a Korn fan, or was the “Thoughtless” video just another gig for you?
AP: I am a Korn fan. I actually knew this guy Jonathan who worked with the Hughes Brothers. Jonathan was friends with all the people from Korn, and the Hughes Brothers directed that music video. And they were just searching and searching and searching for this character for weeks, you know, this actor to play this role, and they just could not find their kid. He just asked me one day, he was, like, “Would you be willing to do a music video?” I’m, like, “The one that you’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks?” He’s, like, “Yeah, we just can’t find the kid.” And I’m, like, “Are you kidding me? The Hughes Brothers? I would be honored to work with them.” I don’t know if you ever saw that video, but it was a really cool kind of story, you know, and they were just screaming out their emotions of what they kind of went through in high school. So it was an absolute pleasure working with them, and those guys are amazing. Jonathan, the singer, is such a gracious guy.
BE: You’re in the remake of “Last House on the Left.” Had you seen the original flick, or were you intimidated at the thought of remaking it?
AP: I have seen the original, and when I first had a meeting set up, they called me and they’re, like, “Okay, we’re sending over a script, they’re remaking ‘Last House on the Left.’” I go, “Wait, wait, wait. No. Absolutely not. I don’t want to go into this meeting.” Because, generally, when they remake old horror movies, at least in the past, they have all just been…well, terrible, to be honest. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a part of that. And, also, I had never heard of this director before. The meeting got set up again, and the casting director, Nancy Nayor, she’s, like, “You need to watch his film that he wrote, produced, and directed. It’s called ‘Hard Core,’ and it’s brilliant.” And so they sent it over to me, I watched it, and I was, like, “Wow, this director is so artistic and so raw and beautiful, even though he’s telling such a hardcore story.” It was beautiful to watch. It was an artistic piece. And so once I kind of got his vision, and then I read the script with his vision in mind, I’m, like, “Wow, this could be really good and really interesting.” I actually just saw it a couple of weeks ago, and I mean, walking away from that project, all of us were very proud of what we did. We shot that in Cape Town, South Africa. We were all very proud. We thought we did something new and something very artistic. And so I just saw it a couple of weeks ago, and there are definitely some scenes in there that are absolutely terrifying and brutal and I can’t watch. But it was also beautiful to watch. I know that sounds crazy, but this director, what he does with the lens, man, is incredible. So it’s not going to be for everybody, but the fans of the original are absolutely going to love it.
BE: Were you really a “Price is Right” contestant? That claim floats around everywhere on the net, but I’ve never heard you address it personally.
AP: I absolutely was, and my friends and I would always…we would go, and there is a method behind that madness. It’s not random. It’s really not. You all wait in line from, like, five or six in the morning. There’s 300 people that sit in the audience, and you never want to be in, like, the first 100 people, because they only pick nine people per show. So we found this out after trial and error: we realized they never pick people from the front rows, and if you’re the first one in, you’re going to be at the very front row, to the left. They just line you in. So if you ever watch the show, it’s always from the middle to the back, because they want the people jumping up and running down the aisle. They want that. It’s just good television. They want people that are energetic and excited to be there. So, honestly, once we realized that, every time we went, one person from our group would get picked. Incredible. Like, four or five of my friends have been up to Contestants’ Row. One of my friends, Braden Anderson, he won the Showcase Showdown.
AP: He won a trip to Fiji, London, and New Orleans. I made it to the Showcase Showdown. When I got on the stage, I won a desk. Then I had a chance to win a car, and I lost it. Then I went to the wheel and I spun a 60, then I spun a 35 and got 95. And then I made it to Showcase Showdown. I bid $132 over my showcase, and so I lost. I was actually depressed about that for…probably about four or five months.
BE: Last question: what do you have to say to the cynical bloggers out there who already have their “sophomore slump” reviews ready to roll?
AP: Oh, man. Just watch and learn, guys. Watch and learn. This show…I mean, before this series aired, so many people were against this series even being made, because they just automatically assumed that we were glorifying crystal meth. But that’s absolutely not the case. It’s just a story that has not been told on television. But the sad reality of it is this story is out there. This happens. This is a dark side of our society, and meth is a horrible demon that affects many, many, many people's lives. I think it’s a story that needs to be told. I mean, during the first season of our show, while we were shooting it, a principal from a school was arrested for selling crystal meth. It’s out there, you know, and people need to see it. I know there are humorous sides to this dark story that we’re telling, but it’s a very true story. And, again, I’ll say it’s a story that we’re telling, and we’re very proud to be telling it.
BE: Excellent. All right, man, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Like I’ve said, I’ve seen the first three episodes of season 2, and I’m very psyched to see where it goes from there.
AP: Oh, great! Yeah, the first three are pretty intense. I can’t wait for you to see the rest. I mean, the first three, it’s kind of like a trilogy. It gets so much darker and just so much deeper into this drug world. And then how this season ends…? No one is going to see it coming. It’s beautiful.
AP: I couldn’t be happier.
BE: Awesome. All right, man, good talking to you.AP: Well yeah, it was a pleasure, man. I hope to talk to you again. Take care!