Straight off the wheels (pun intended) of his award-winning role as Jesse Pinkman in Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” actor Aaron Paul’s followup to film is that of street racer Tobey Marshall in Need For Speed, an action movie produced by filmmaker Steven Spielberg loosely based on the video game series of the same name. After attending an early screening of the movie before its release on March 14, Paul and director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor), sat down with myself and the audience to talk about the movie and what it was like filming the high-octane action thriller.
Question: Before this movie was even made, it was a video game franchise. It was kind of a blank slate for you guys. How did you come up with the story?
Scott Waugh: We just really wanted to come up with a really compelling, really human story that we could develop and really take the audience along for a thrill ride. We just got so lucky enough to get a man like Aaron Paul to play the lead and really put ourself on the map that we’re a different movie and trying to do a throwback to the films that I grew up on, like The French Connection and Vanishing Point.
Q: What exactly were you looking for when you cast Aaron Paul?
SW: Man, I was so pumped when we were trying to cast the movie, and we were literally saying, “Look, I want to find the next Steve McQueen.” His name came up, I never watched “Breaking Bad,” so I didn’t know who the hell Aaron Paul was. The funny part was when his name came up, it was to play Dino. I was like “Really? Let me see some tape on him.” I saw some tape on him. I was like, “Man, this kid is for real. He is so good. Forget Dino, man. This guy should play the lead.” They said no, the studio would never go for that. So they talked me out of it, and then they put Aaron up in front of Spielberg to see which guys he wanted to play around the kid that we thought was going to play Tobey. He saw Aaron’s tape and goes, “Man, this Aaron Paul kid is really fantastic. Why aren’t we considering him for the lead?” And that was it. Long story short, 24 hours later, Aaron Paul was cast.
Aaron Paul: Yeah, it’s such a surreal thing. I never knew about the whole Dino conversation, literally until this press tour, but when it was sent to me on my desk, I always thought that they were always interested in me with Tobey. I read the title page. It said Need For Speed, you know, what is this movie really going to be about? Is there going to be a really solid story there? I read it, and I was just so invested in these characters from the very beginning, and when I talked to Scott, he told me he wanted to do a throwback to the classic car culture films, such as Bullet and Vanishing Point. I’ve been such a huge fan of Steve McQueen forever, and that just got me very excited about jumping on board.
Q: How did you go about training, getting ready for the role, Aaron?
AP: That was the thing. When I talked to Scott, when we first had conversations about this project, he said, “Now listen, if you want to jump on board, I’m going to really need you to learn how to drive.” And I knew how to drive before, but nothing like this, and so he was like, “If you want to do this, I’m going to get you some serious seat time in these cars.” Really, the first day working on this project was on a racetrack, a closed down racetrack, from sunrise to sunset, just really learning how to get out of problematic situations and then learning how to drive around corners, do reverse 180s. Just madness. Just so much fun.
TS: What was the best stunt you got to do during the shoot?
AP: All the freeway stuff. I was weaving through traffic, most of that was me, so I had to drive at pretty high speeds. We closed down freeways for five to seven miles, but it had to be that long because we were going so fast, so we were eating a lot of the road really quick. There’s a shot right when Pete went over the bridge, Tobey flips around and goes back for him. Scotty wanted me to fly directly at the camera and slide and get inches away from the camera that is attached to a cameraman that was him. That was very terrifying for me because to get it to slide the way that he wanted it, I needed to be going 65-70 miles an hour and then use the brake and then slide and get this far away. The first take we did it—
SW: He pussed out on the first two, got like 15 feet away from me. I came up to him after the second one, and I was like, “All right bro, here’s what you need to do. Don’t worry about me. I’ve been hit by a car several times. I’m cool with it. Just come in and hit your mark, and if you hit me, I’ll just flip over the top of it.”
AP: Which did not make me feel any better about the situation.
SW: It was pretty funny, so he’s coming in around 65-70 miles an hour. And I can tell, because he shifted into fourth. And I was like “Oh shit, now he’s coming in really fast.” He came in, started sliding towards me, and I will be the first one to say I pussed out and closed my eyes. The tires stopped, and I was still standing, and I opened my eyes and he’s literally two inches away from my camera. And I was like “Did I get it?” I didn’t even know if I got the shot.
Q: Scott, you used the cameras that you used to collaborate with your dad when you were younger, right?
SW: Yeah, I was so lucky, I grew up in this crazy household. My father was the original [stunt coordinator of] Spiderman in the ’76 TV show, he was a stuntman and a circus performer, and I had a trapeze in my backyard, a bunch of crazy stuff like that. My dad became a director, and he always wanted to put the audience in the movies, rather than sit back. He came up with this device in the ’80s called a helmet camera, which is like a film camera on your head. So, it’s not like a go-pro, it’s like 30 pounds on your head. So, take a dumbbell when you go to the gym, set it on your head and go walk around. I used to tell my dad, “This is going to kill somebody,” because it’s too heavy. And, of course, my dad would put it on my head, and that’s why I don’t do stunts anymore, because my neck is stretched all the way to my chest. But what happened was because of my dad. It really gave me the insights to come up with the new technology to do first person so you can drive. The audience gets to drive in this movie, kind of like Act Of Valor. You got to actually participate in the Seals’ escapades. It’s just that I’ve been able to fortunately do what my dad always aspired to do because technology has finally caught up with us.
Q: Aaron, to finish this off, what was your favorite car, and can you call me a bitch?
AP: First of all, my favorite car had to be the Gran Torino. I mean, all those cars are so much fun to drive, but I just wanted to take the Gran Torino home with me. We were fighting for the Gran Torino during the entire shoot. We had two identical Gran Torinos. One got totaled by accident during one of the races, so there was one remaining, and we would just look at each other and just mess with each other during the rest of the shoot. Neither of us won because DreamWorks has the keys.
Oh, and also, you’re a bitch.