Aaron Paul wears his seatbelt. (With Imogen Poots and director Scott Waugh, on the set of "Need for Speed")
In June of last year, Aaron Paul was patiently waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the final episodes of "Breaking Bad." Decked out in a leather jacket, sunnily smiling, he was standing on the sidewalk near Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit -- what you could also call a race track in forthcoming car flick "Need for Speed."
The action-packed film was just one project of many on the actor's slate at the time, but perhaps the one he could most frequently apply the term "badass." Before signing on to "Speed," he was motioned toward films like "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Bullitt" as references, rather than the "Fast & Furious" franchise; since the "Need for Speed" video game doesn't have a plot, Paul was furthermore intrigued by a wide-open story that would have him zooming past cop cars and drifting past rivals in custom-built and classic vehicles.
Co-star Imogen Poots was on set during the Detroit shoot last year, with director Scott Waugh nearby. The Detroit set up was one of many, like in the video game. Here's what Paul had to say about "Need for Speed," "Breaking Bad," driving school, video games, rock 'n' roll and leaping back into the driver's seat of a dangerous role.
Below the story, check out new photos from Detroit shoot for "Need for Speed" with Paul, Poots and Waugh on the edge of their adoptive race track.
Was there any apprehension about jumping back into the crime genre?
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 Konisegg 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.
Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associ...
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? Is there more badass leather?
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.
Is this your character's company? (Indicates logo)
Yeah, it's Marshall motors. I'm Tobey Marshall. It was his father's business but his father has, tragically, passed away. So has his mother. So he's left alone, struggling to desperately keep this business afloat. It's not looking good for him.
What is like knowing how "Breaking Bad" ends when the world doesn't?
It's great. I don't have a problem not telling people. No one wants to know. Everyone asks me but
deep down, they don't want to know. And I know that, so it's not that big a deal. Before I read the final
eight episodes, the final eight hours of the show, I was thinking that it was all so tragic. I couldn't believe the show was ending. I didn't want it to end. After knowing how the final eight hours play out, I couldn't be happier with how it all ends. Hopefully you all agree and I feel pretty confident that you all will.
Did you have a ritual for reading the final scripts?
Actually yeah, a little bit. That's what I did with the part one. The first eight. I took my time with all of them, but I honestly couldn't wait. I got an e-mail on my phone of the final eight and I said I was going to wait until they were in paper form. Sit in the house, drink some wine and take my time with it. In all reality, though, six of the last eight I read on my phone on a plane. I just could not wait. I'm a huge fan of the show as well. You guys are going to sh*t your pants.
What kind of music does Tobey listen to on a cross-country trip?
There's actually not a ton of music.
What about just in terms of his personality? What fits him?
He seems like 70s classic rock maybe. He's a very old-school, blue-collar guy. A real man's man.
Where is he from originally?
New York. A small little town in New York.
It sounds like, in a lot of ways, you're trying to revive Steve McQueen.
Yeah, that was definitely one of the pitches they gave me. Steve McQueen was one of the ultimate badasses because he wasn't trying to be. That's just who he was. Hopefully I can pull it off.
Can you tell us a little about Tobey's revenge plans?
He is desperately trying to make it to a race to make a wrong a right. He knows this particular guy is going to be at this race at the end of the film. He's seeking some very intense revenge. I don't want to give anything away, but it's going to be fun.
After five years as a columnist and editor at Billboard, Katie Hasty joined HitFix in 2009 for music and film reporting out of New York. The Midwest native has worked as a writer, music promoter and in A&R since 1999 and performs with her band Numbers And Letters.