When we traveled to the Michigan set of Need For Speed in June and watched director Scott Waugh work on day 57 (of 67) of principal photography, we had the opportunity to watch star Aaron Paul work his magic. At the time, the last set of episodes for Breaking Bad had yet to air but it Paul had already earned the love of fans for his performance as the series’ Jesse Pinkman – a role that helped him land the Need For Speed gig.
Aaron Paul was in high spirits and before we watched an epic car chase sequence play out before our eyes, we got to see Paul working some close-up, in-car dialogue scenes. We chatted with him about about the nature of his character in Need For Speed, comparisons to classic car films of the ’70s and to the Fast & Furious franchise, the NFS video game series, the cars he gets to drive and the stunt training required to prepare for the role of Tobey Marshall.
Was there any apprehension about jumping back into the crime genre?
Aaron Paul: I definitely wasn’t trying to stay away from the whole crime element in future opportunities. I like crime. It’d dangerous. It’s super-fun. With this film, it gives me the opportunity to drive really fast in really crazy cars. So why not?
How is the Mustang?
The Mustang is amazing. His Gran Torino is unreal. The Koenigsegg is pretty freakily fast, too.
Do they let you drive very fast or are they scared you’ll kill yourself?
A combination of both. I do drive fast. I’ve probably gone, maybe on camera 120. And it’s legal and I’m flying by cop cars. It’s so great.
What kind of preparation did you have to do?
In terms of driving, they had me do just a stunt course outside of Los Angeles. It’s mostly to teach me how to get out of problematic situations if something were to go wrong in the car. I learned how to drift around corners, do reverse 180s and 360s. I don’t why they had me learn that. I don’t do it in the film. But it was badass.
Do you now apply it in your life?
Everyday, yeah. In rental cars. The Winnebago I haven’t tried to flip yet (laughs). We’ve been having a blast.
Do you get to keep one of these beauties?
Oh man, I’m trying. Trust me, I am trying. I think everybody wants the Gran Torino and we only have two of them. I know Scott, our brilliant director, wants to take one home and I know my stunt driver, Tanner Foust, who is truly the one making me look like I know what I’m doing. In all reality, he’s doing most of the driving.
We’ve heard this film is very grounded in reality.
When it was placed in my lap, I instantly thought, “Oh, it’s going another ‘Fast & Furious’ film”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those films are super-entertaining. That’s why they’re so highly successful. I read the script and I went, “Oh, wow. This is really interesting.” Then I heard the pitch from Scott Waugh and heard that he wanted to do a full throwback to the ’60s and ’70s classic car-culture films. Stuff like “Bullit”. I thought that was very interesting.
Can you talk about the energy that Scott brings to set?
Oh man, you walk on set and — you can’t really tell today, but it’s such a testosterone-driven set. He’s a second or third generation stuntman and he has a very specific, unique vision of what he wants for this film and it’s very gritty and edgy. Really, to be honest, I think this film is going to surprise a lot of people. But he’s a wild man. He knows what he wants and he’s really a perfect director for it. He’s super energetic. Super excited. Some days are more stressful than others, but he’s a madman. He’s great.
The game doesn’t really have a plot. Can you talk about having that blank canvass to build a film on?
That’s what’s so great. There have been so many “Need For Speed” games, but there’s no narrative. It’s truly a blank canvass for the writers. You’ll see when you watch the film that you actually feel like you’re behind the wheel. For a lot of the camera angles, you feel like you’re actually driving the car. It kind of makes you feel like you’re in the game in a way. In terms of character, it’s a blast being a badass but also the good guy. Being a badass in these crazy cars. It’s just been fun.
Do you play video games?
Yeah, on and off. Not really so much right now. But I dabble. I definitely was a huge gamer.
Is it fair to say that playing a video game pales in comparison to driving a car at 120 miles per hour?
Does this film have its lighter moments?
Even with “Breaking Bad,” even though it got super-dark, the show is pretty funny. You find yourself laughing at very terrible things. Bodies being melted by acid. It’s funny, but in reality it’s not. Here, we’re having fun. It’s really an intense story, but there’s the story between Tobey and Julia, the two people stuck in the Mustang on the cross-country venture, that’s a pretty funny one.
So it’s very much “Smokey and the Bandit” with you as Burt Reynolds and Ms. Poots as Sally Field?
Can we talk about your wardrobe? (He was sporting a leather jacket)
Actually, this is pretty much the only thing he wears in the entire film. It’s a story of this guy desperately trying to make it across country in a very short period of time. He doesn’t have a lot of time to change. But it’s definitely very different than the attire I wear on “Breaking Bad.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
DreamWorks Pictures’ Need For Speed is directed by Scott Waugh and stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Ramon Rodriguez, Rami Malek, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson, Harrison Gilbertson and Michael Keaton.
Need for Speed hits theaters on March 14, 2014.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.
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