Exclusive Q&A With Aaron Paul and Need for Speed Director Scott Waugh

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Aaron Paul spent five seasons on and won two Emmys for his role as wounded drug addict and meth manufacturer Jesse Pinkman on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Praised for his complex performance and beloved for his character’s propensity to tag the word “bitch” onto the end of his sentences, Paul had a wealth of scripts waiting on his desk by the time “Felina” rolled around. The day after wrapping the series finale, the actor was in California, beginning work on Need for Speed, an adaptation of the popular racing video game series.

In the film, Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a motor mechanic who’s out for revenge after he is framed for a crime that he did not commit. The actor gives the role the drive and intensity that any Breaking Bad fan would expect, but he gets to have a bit more fun in this action vehicle, which marks his first leading role in a major Hollywood film.

A couple of weeks back, Paul and director Scott Waugh arrived in Toronto for a sold-out advanced preview of Need for Speed. After the movie, CBC television host George Stroumboulopoulos moderated a Q&A between the audience, including myself, and the actor and director. Among other things, they discussed how they prepared for the film, why Aaron was cast, how they managed to pull off some of the stunts and much more.

Check it out below, and enjoy!

George Stroumboulopoulos (GS): So, people don’t know this that [Paul] wasn’t the first choice to be the good guy. He was supposed to be the bad guy.

Scott Waugh (SW): Yeah, he was originally…

GS: [Paul] didn’t know that, by the way, until the press tour.

Aaron Paul (AP): I’m literally just finding out about all of this in the last couple of days. [To Waugh] Why did you keep that a secret?

SW: You know, I just wanted you to feel important. I didn’t want you to think you were second best.

AP: Thank you.

SW: He knows how much I love him. Here’s the deal, truthfully. There was a kid that we were looking at to play Tobey, and…

AP: [to Waugh] Who? Who? Who?

SW: I’m not going to say. We tested him and tested him, and I was not extremely happy with the decision. Steven Spielberg was telling me, Let’s look at who we’re going to surround this new kid with. We should see who’s going to play Dino. So casting put down a bunch of names. Dominic Cooper, who played Dino, was one of them. And Aaron Paul, he became one of the others. And they said, what do you think about Aaron Paul? And I was like, who the fuck’s Aaron Paul?

GS: You didn’t watch Breaking Bad?

SW: No, I didn’t watch Breaking Bad, which is hilarious because everyone said the same thing. “What do you mean you don’t watch Breaking Bad?” I don’t watch Breaking Bad. I don’t watch television.

[Audience laughs]

SW: So they show me a bunch of tape and I saw Aaron and I was truly blown away. Oh my God, this kid is amazing! I keep calling him ‘kid,’ like he’s a lot younger than me, because he is. I said, why aren’t we considering him for the lead? That’s a much different choice from where we’re going right now. They said, no, the studio would never go for that. And I said, really? I just think it’s such an interesting choice and I think Aaron brings so much. But they turned me down and they went to the studio and they did the same thing to Steven. They put up the new kid, then they put up Dominic Cooper, they put up Aaron. And Steven looks at Aaron and goes, God, I really like that kid. Why aren’t we considering him for the lead? Bingo! He called me and said, let’s go out to Aaron Paul.

AP: [To Waugh] I love you and Spielberg so much!

GS: [To Paul] But you had met Spielberg before.

AP: Yeah, I had a brief encounter with Spielberg about 17 years ago when I first moved to L.A. I was working at a movie theatre as an usher and we were doing a premiere and he came walking by me. And I took his ticket… and I almost shook his hand. That was it. And I thought to myself, oh my God, I had made it! 15, 16 years later, he asked me to do [Need for Speed].

GS: [To the audience] You got questions out there? Let’s fire away.