Aaron Paul Talks NEED FOR SPEED, the Stunts, Studying Steve McQueen, Playing the Action Hero, Sequels, and More

     January 29, 2014


As a preview for the upcoming DreamWorks action flick Need for Speed, opening in theaters on March 14th, Collider was invited, along with a handful of other online outlets, out to the Bandito Brothers headquarters to check out about 20 minutes of the film and then chat with some of the folks involved.  Based on the video game series, the story chronicles a near-impossible cross-country journey that begins as a mission for revenge, but ultimately proves to be one of redemption.  From director Scott Waugh, the film stars Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Dakota Johnson and Michael Keaton.

The thing that instantly became clear from the footage we saw was that not only are the stunts incredibly mind-blowing and awesome – with car races, car flips, cars crashing and bursting into flames, and even a car driving off a cliff and being pulled away by a helicopter – but they were also all practically done, in camera and for real.  During this interview, actor Aaron Paul talked about why this project appealed to him, how he went to a driving school to train for the stunts, studying Steve McQueen for this role, working with Kid Cudi and Michael Keaton, being an action hero, how terrifying it was to do the stunts practically, which stunt he refused to do, and that he’s signed on for three films.  Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

need-for-speed-aaron-paulQuestion:  When you were making the decision about whether to be in this movie, did you think about the fact that it would be your first big movie after Breaking Bad?

AARON PAUL:  No, it was just a project that spoke to me.  It’s all about trying to be very careful about what your next role or what your next move is gonna be.  It’s all about trying to have longevity in this business and make smart choices.  So, when I read this script, it surprised me.  It’s very character-driven.  I loved it, and I was affected by it.  I think everyone that watches this film will feel the same way.  It’s very exciting.  And it was a blast to shoot.  We got to shoot all over the country, and drive around in the craziest cars possible.  They let me do a lot of the driving. 

Did you go to a driving school to train for this?

PAUL:  When we first were talking, Scott said, “I just wanna let you know, I wanna shoot this movie where the actors are actually driving.  It’s all gonna be practical.  It’s not gonna be done after we’re done shooting.  It’s not gonna be done behind a computer.  I want you to do this.”  I was like, “All right.”  So, the first order of business was to go through a crash course and learn how to really drive.  By the end of the first day, I was flying down a ramp, and then doing a 360 on a skid pad.  It was a blast!  Anyone who can do it, go to Willow Springs where you can pay for this course.  They teach you how to get out of problematic situations, and it was a blast. 

Do you have any favorite ‘70s car movies?

need-for-speed-poster-aaron-paulPAUL:  Oh, yeah, absolutely!  That was Scott’s vision.  That was his main thing, when he was pitching me this film.  He said, “I wanna do a throwback to these ‘60s and ‘70s, classic car culture movies.  I want you to really study Steve McQueen and watch films that he was in because he exudes that.  He lived and breathed racing.”  And that’s who Tobey Marshall is.  He loves racing, and he loves building cars.  It was a super fun film to research, for sure. 

Is there any chance that your character could end up in the game?

PAUL:  My god, that would be awesome!  That’s what’s so great about this game-turn-into-a-movie franchise.  There’s no narrative with the game.  It was a blank canvas.  All we needed to stick to was super fast cars.  That’s it.  Scott’s focus was to have the audience feel like they’re in the car with these characters.  We use a lot of helmet cam shots, so you actually feel like you’re behind the wheel, and that’s how you feel when you’re driving cars in the game. 

What did you think of the narrative that was created for this?

PAUL:  I thought it was great.  I was a fan of this game before, so when it was sent to me, I knew there was no narrative there and I was interested to see what their take was.  And it hit me, right away.  The hero of the film, Tobey, is just a good guy and an everyman.  The focus of the film is him trying to right a wrong.  You’ll see that someone that he really deeply care for dies, and Tobey gets blamed for that death and sent to prison.  And then, he comes out of prison focused on trying to right this wrong, with a lot of revenge on his mind.  And Dominic’s character and Tobey have been arch-rivals since they were kids.  They lived on opposite ends of the tracks.  Dominic’s character started racing professionally, and Tobey just kept street racing.  Now, Dominic’s character has started dating Tobey’s ex-girlfriend, which is another stab in the heart.  He’s got something against him, for sure.

So, how long is Tobey in prison for?

need-for-speed-aaron-paul-dominic-cooperPAUL:  He spends two years in prison for something he didn’t do, and it’s something that’s terrible.  Someone very close to him dies at the hands of Dom’s character, so he’s definitely out to get some revenge.

Did you have to do any jail scenes?

PAUL:  It’s so funny, I’ve done so many projects where I’ve been interrogated.  I guest starred on almost every hour drama, and I’m always the guy they think is the bad guy, but then they find out is not. 

What was it like to work with Kid Cudi?

PAUL:  Scott [Mescudi] is brilliant.  He is incredible.  I cannot wait for people to see what he has done with this character.  You see the relationship between him and Tobey, the group of guys just mess with each other throughout the entire film, and it’s so fun.  But, he was a pleasure to work with.  I think everyone is gonna love him, for sure.

Do you have scenes with Michael Keaton?

PAUL:  I do have scenes with him, but I actually never worked with him.  I never had scenes with him, face-to-face.  The characters interact via phone calls or video chats, but we were never physically in the same room together.  But, I met him and he’s awesome.  I’m a huge fan of his.  It took everything in me, not to talk about certain characters he’s done.  I just tried to play it cool and not geek out too much.

Do you feel the weight of being an action hero now?

need-for-speed-set-image-3PAUL:  I never really thought of myself as being an action hero or a leading man, or any of that.  I’m a character actor.  This was such a surprise, when DreamWorks came to me and said, “Would you like to do this?”  But, it was fun.  I never thought of myself as being an action hero, but it was a blast.  I’ll continue to do this, for sure.  In between these films, if we do more, I’ll definitely try to stick to character-driven stuff.  This is definitely character-driven.  If there’s action, great.  If not, that’s fine.

Were there any stunts that you were particularly nervous about?

PAUL:  Most of it, yeah.  I was terrified by most of it.  No, I’m joking.  There’s some stuff that I obviously didn’t do.  I actually asked if I could do it, but they were like, “You’re out of your mind!”  There’s a scene where a car drives off a cliff and a helicopter carries it, and they didn’t let me do that, for obvious reasons.  But, there are a lot of scenes that I did do.  We locked down an entire freeway and I’m flying, chasing out of the picture car.  I had to stay this far away from the camera that was on a long arm.  I looked down at the speedometer and I was driving 120 and 140 mph, trying not to laugh because it was so much fun.  It was great.  We just tried to push the envelope as much as possible, really.

Did you get to do the grasshopper stunt yourself?

PAUL:  No, thank god!  I did not want to do the grasshopper.  Before the grasshopper jump, everyone was walking around hugging each other, trying to comfort the stuntman who was doing the stunt.  They kept saying, “I’ll see you on the other side.”  They’re just such a big family.  It’s scary because everything is practical.  Nowadays, a lot of the time, they just do it in post, but Scott was very persistent.  But, that was not even a question.  Obviously, they weren’t going to be like, “So, what we want you to do is drive about 100 mph down the freeway, go up the ramp, and then fly over cars of traffic.”  They didn’t want me to do that.

Was it comforting to have Scott Waugh as a director, knowing he comes from a stunt background?

need-for-speed-aaron-paulPAUL:  Absolutely!  It was such a perfect match, but it was also a little terrifying.  With Scott being a stuntman and his father being a bad-ass stuntman, I think he automatically thought I’m a stuntman, which I’m not.  Steven [Spielberg] said to me, “Now listen, Scott is probably going to try to get you to do as much of this stuff as possible.  If you do not feel comfortable with it, you have to say no.  That’s why there’s a stuntman.”  And Scott did try to get me to do as much as he possibly could.  I’ve gotta give some credit to Tanner Foust, who is one of the greatest stunt drivers out there.  For some of the scenes that I was not in, he definitely made me look like I was absolutely in control of this crazy car.  It was so much fun.

Did you have to take Spielberg’s advice, at any point, and just refuse to do something?

PAUL:  Yeah, there was one time in Moab, Utah where we were shooting in this canyon where there’s no railing.  There’s a cliff that the cars were flying around.  Scott wanted me to be driving really fast and going around these corners, and it’s loose dirt.  I was driving around that area and the car doesn’t really have much traction there.  He was like, “Do you wanna do this scene?  You’ve gotta fly down this road, and then take a curve and make a fishtail around.”  I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do that.  If I fishtail around just a little too much, I’m gonna die.  I’m gonna spin out of control, and then fall 500 feet.”  So, I said no.  But, he asked me if I wanted to do it ‘cause he wanted to get that shot.  I said, “No, the stunt driver can do that.” 

What will audiences get to see in Tobey that they didn’t get to see from you, as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad?

need-for-speed-kid-cudi-aaron-paulPAUL:  They’re such polar opposite people.  The moment Tobey Marshall comes on screen, hopefully they won’t see Jesse Pinkman.  Jesse was struggling to find his way, throughout the entire show.  He never really had his footing, ever.  He never, ever caught a break.  Tobey is a very strong man.  He knows who he is, and he’s got his shit together.  It’s just right there. 

The writers already have ideas for a trilogy of Need for Speed films.  Are you ready to play this character for a few more films, if this is successful?

PAUL:  Oh, absolutely!  When they approached me with this, there was always the possibility of a franchise.  It was not signing on just for one, it was signing on for three.  And absolutely!  It was so much fun.  It was a joke, how much fun this film was.  It wasn’t just because of the cars.  Obviously, the cars are a lot of fun, but this film has a great story attached to it and great characters.  I would love to dive deeper into these characters, and dive deeper into Tobey’s past, which is a very intense one.  I’d love to just run with it, for sure.

With something like this, now you’ve always got to sign on for a few films.  How does that feel?

PAUL:  It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I like that.  That’s what’s so great about television.  You’re able to tell this long story, where you couldn’t really do that in a film because you have to tell a story in an hour and a half or two hours.  But if it’s a trilogy, you can dive deeper into these characters’ lives.  That would be fun.

Would you ever consider another TV show?

PAUL:  Absolutely, yeah!  I’m the first to admit that I lucked out with Breaking Bad.  It was a very special thing, and who knows if that’s ever going to happen again on television.  Especially with the character of Jesse Pinkman, there was just so much going on there.  But, I’m definitely open to doing more TV.  Not right now, though.  I want to just take a break from it and see where things go.  But, TV is great.

Need for Speed opens in theaters on March 14th.  For more on the film:

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