MIAMI — Aaron Paul took home two Emmys when TV’s “Breaking Bad” made him a star.
But his favorite trophy from that series was something he could purchase with his “Jesse Pinkman” money. Paul bought himself a “weekend car,” a classic 1965 Shelby Cobra.
“It’s been my dream car, ever since I had a little model of it when I was a kid,” he says.
Now, he’s following up his work on the meth labs-on-the-move series with a genuine car movie. “Need for Speed,” inspired by a video game, put the 34-year-old behind the wheel of assorted souped-up cars and supercars.
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We caught up with the Emmett, Idaho, native — born Aaron Paul Sturtevant — in Miami Beach.
Q: You’ve been telling folks, such as Jeremy Clarkson on the BBC’s “Top Gear,” that “Everything you see in this movie actually happened.” As in, “no digital cars, no digital car crashes.” How important is that to you?
A: What they can do with green screens and CGI (computer-generated imagery) is incredible. But you also know when you’re being lied to. You just kind of accept the fact that ‘There’s no WAY that happened.’ But this? This is real and you can feel it in your spine, your gut. That just adds to the fun. And it was pretty brave of the studio to make it this way. For us, as performers, it made things easier. We didn’t have to imagine high speeds and crashes. They were happening right in front of our face.
Q: What prep work did you have to do?
A: I’ve been a car guy ever since I was a little kid. But our director said, ‘We need you to be in the driver’s seat. We need the audience to know that you’re behind the wheel.’ So I hit the track off and on for months, this place called Willow Springs an hour north of Los Angeles. Long days, sunrise to sunset. Seat time. I got it.
Q: You can tell, any number of times in the movie, that’s you driving as you power slide to a stop right into the camera.
A: Steve McQueen made it that much more exciting to watch him by doing his own driving in “Bullitt.” You knew, as a fan, he was in the driver’s seat. He was a racer before he was an actor. I just love Steve so much, the classic American bad-ass.
Q: Favorite car?
A: Every car was so different to drive. Supercars (Saleen, Lamborghini, McLaren, Bugotti and Koenigsegg are represented) are very touchy. I’m more of a fan of the old muscle cars. DreamWorks was kind enough to give me the ’68 Gran Torino that I drove in the movie as a gift. It was my favorite car to drive and favorite car aesthetically. They modified it to turn it into a race car, this special ‘E-brake’ lets you slide it through the corners.
Q: But after (“Fast & Furious” star) Paul Walker’s death, you folks made sure there was a “Don’t try this at home” disclaimer on the movie.
A: Obviously, we don’t encourage or endorse illegal street racing. Our characters pay for their actions, one way or another. The fact that it’s all real, that everything was caught-in-camera, makes it seem even more dangerous than if we’d just had computers fake it.
What happened with Paul is so sad. We lost an incredible person that day. I had the privilege of meeting him a few times. His death is just a sad reminder that a movie’s a movie, that cars are dangerous and you should be safe when you’re driving. We drove incredibly fast and did some amazing stunts, but it was all prepared by professionals.
If you want to drive fast, there are racetracks all over the country. And most of them have “track days” where you can rent a lap. Drive as fast as you want.