With just five hours of Breaking Bad left to air, you might assume Aaron Paul would be bracing himself for a life of people shouting “Yeah, bitch!” at him in the street. But, as Jimi Famurewa discovers, his future is looking bright and busy
"Doing good, buddy, doing good.” These are the first words Aaron Paul speaks to me down the phone line – in that distinctive husky drawl – and, as a general appraisal of his life at the moment, it’s hard to dispute. Recently married and just back from a late honeymoon of sorts (“We started off in Chicago for Lollapalooza then went to Ixtapa in Mexico and just hung out”), the 34-year-old Emmy-winning actor can still be seen in the final five episodes of Breaking Bad: AKA the greatest show (not) on television.
What’s more, it seems he’s destined for more than a life cashing in on his stint as big-hearted meth dealer Jesse Pinkman. He’ll soon be seen in existential Nick Hornby adaptation Long Way Down, engine-revving blockbuster Need For Speed and micro-budget family drama Hellion. He even turned down HBO Cold War spy drama The Missionary.
Basically, the Idaho-born actor doesn’t need to contemplate an alternative career bellowing, “Magnets, bitch!” at packed convention centres any time soon. But before all that there’s the small matter of Walter White’s last stand. And an emotional final scene that was very nearly ruined by a stray arse crack…
The final episodes of Breaking Bad are imminent. Does any part of you wish it was carrying on?
Oh, of course. I think all of us would have liked it to continue. It was such a family on set and I loved going to work every day. But after reading the final eight episodes I’m so happy that they ended it the way that they did. I think everybody is going to be happy as well.
How would you have spun out the action for a few more seasons?
I have no idea. I just kind of sit back, let the writers do their thing and enjoy the ride. Hopefully, you know, I’d like to see Jesse get out of this mad, mad world. But who knows?
Have you managed to keep the ending secret? Were friends and family badgering you to tell them?
Oh yeah, absolutely. My friends don’t want to know. They don’t want it to be spoiled. People always say, “How does it end?” And I’m like, “Do you know what, I’ll tell you...” And they go, “No, no, no. Don’t say anything.” No one actually wants to know. It’s exciting that I know how it ends and no one else does.
By all accounts the cast had a blast in Albuquerque, and New Mexico’s tourist board has embraced the show. But is there anything you won’t miss about filming there?
Yes, I won’t miss the cold, windy nights and blistering hot summers. I’ve got to tell you, we were shooting in the middle of the summer on the first few seasons and Jesse Pinkman would be in the most ridiculous clothing. Like giant sweatshirts, hoodies, beanies on top of his head when it was 110 degrees outside. It was awful.
How often do people shout catchphrases such as “Science, bitch!” at you in the street?
I honestly couldn’t even begin to count. Definitely on a daily basis, sporadically throughout the day. It really depends on where I’m at. If I’m walking around Beverly Hills it might be two or three times a day, if I’m in [hip LA neighbourhood] Silverlake it’s much more. If I’m at a music festival I basically have to bring a disguise. It’s pretty funny but, without this show, I wouldn’t have a career. Once, we were just the little meth show. Without our fans our show wouldn’t have become this kind of cult classic, so I’m definitely there for the fans.
What are some of the strangest requests you’ve had from fans?
Oh man. A lot of people ask if I will impregnate them [laughs], which is pretty funny. They’re like, “I promise we’ll name the baby Jesse. I love you.” People ask me if I can get them meth. They’re like, “Dude, get me some crystal, man.” I’m like, “I don’t have any, I don’t know how to cook it and if I did try I would blow us all up.”
Did you grab any props or memorabilia from the set as a memento?
I got Jesse Pinkman’s licence plate. Vince Gilligan [Breaking Bad creator] is giving me the burned pink teddy bear from Season 2, the one that was floating in the water. I actually tried to get a Tuco grill [the Mexican drug lord’s flashy dentistry], but there weren’t any left. And I tried to get the door to the Winnebago with the bullet hole but they said the whole thing might go to the Smithsonian, which is just incredible.
The details of the show are scarily authentic, though. Didn’t you have police advisors and gang members in the cast?
It’s pretty crazy. Even when we were shooting the pilot we had the Drug Enforcement Agency on set showing us how to cook crystal meth properly. It was so strange. We didn’t want it to be a step-by-step lesson, but we wanted to make sure we were doing it properly. And the cousins [cartel enforcers the Salamanca cousins played by reformed gangster brothers Daniel and Luis Moncada] weren’t intimidating at all off-camera. Even though one of the guys had tattoos where on one eyelid it said “f*ck” and on the other eyelid it said “you”. They had to paint it out for the show. You’d look at that and think, “Well, that’s a little intense.” But the thing is, he’s really such a good guy, he came out of that world and he’d talk to people to tell them it was a bad road to go down.
Your co-star Bryan Cranston’s pranks, involving dildo water pistols and trouser removal, are legendary. Have any ever gone wrong?
[Laughs] They always play off perfectly. Any time he can he’ll pull down his pants in front of the camera and just moon you. I remember the final scene that he and I were shooting together, it was this serious moment, I’m talking to him and I hear everyone laughing outside of the set and I’m like, “Why is everyone laughing?” Then I realise. He turns away from me and starts walking and I can see that his ass is out. Right in front of the camera [laughs].
Moving away from Breaking Bad for a moment, you filmed A Long Way Down in the UK last year. Did you pick up any British traits?
I have fallen in love with tea. When I was shooting in London I had tea every day, all day long. A production assistant would come up to me and say, “Would you like some tea?” And I would say, “Yes, I would like some tea.” Tea and biscuits, man. All of that. Now I’m addicted.
You also went to watch Radiohead play twice while you were here. Is Thom Yorke aware of your super-fandom?
I think he kind of knows who I am. I’ve stalked him for enough years so he’s like, “Oh, I recognise that guy.” Any time they play and I’m somewhere in the vicinity of where they are, I will go to the show. I love them.
Is it true that for your role as an alcoholic in Smashed last year you filmed yourself drunk?
Yeah, with that particular character, he was dealing with some substance abuse and, I mean, I drink but I definitely don’t drink like that. I always try to dive as deep into the character as I possibly can. [To play Jesse in Breaking Bad] I talked to a lot of recovering addicts and people who were using. I would go to these AA meetings, walk around the streets of Albuquerque at 3 or 4 in the morning and find myself in some pretty sketchy places. But it brought me into that world and showed me what it was all about. It brought a whole different light to it.
What can you tell us about the upcoming film Hellion?
It’s another small passion project like Smashed. We’re shooting it in a little refinery town in the middle of nowhere in Texas and it’s all about a father trying to raise his two boys on his own after losing his wife in a car accident. He has a 13-year-old who has just lost his mind, in a way. He misses his mom and has this emotionally absent father, so he’s becoming a bad, reckless kid. He’s the hellion. The younger brother gets taken away and the father’s desperately trying to get him back. I play the father.
Are there actors out there whose careers you’d like to emulate?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Daniel Day-Lewis. Christian Bale. Ryan Gosling is doing great work. There’s a lot. Back in the day, Al Pacino was someone I definitely looked up to, too.
To finish up, let’s go back to Breaking Bad and this Saul Goodman spin-off that’s been discussed. Would you be up for a role in it?
It would be nice, but I think they’re talking about doing it as a prequel, which would make sense.
Can you think of any other spin-offs that might work?
It would be pretty funny if they did a Skinny Pete and Badger [Jesse’s dopey smoking buds] half-hour comedy. That would be brilliant, and I think people would watch it. I just don’t know if they’ll be able to sell a half-hour comedy about two guys smoking meth and talking about Star Trek.
The final season of Breaking Bad is available now on Netflix UK, with new episodes released every Monday. Seasons 1-5 are available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix UK now