In the last five years, millions of viewers have come to know Aaron Paul for his astounding portrayal of drug dealer Jesse Pinkman on TV’s “Breaking Bad.”
The actor has found a different kind of rush in the old-fashioned, adrenaline-fueled “Need for Speed,” directed by Scott Waugh, a former stunt man.
Waugh — who visited sets of some of the great 1970s action and car-chase films when his father was a stunt man — wanted to do a throwback to those kinds of movies, but with a contemporary spin.
Paul’s name first came up as a possibility for the film’s villain, but Waugh, who had not seen “Breaking Bad” and had not heard of Paul, saw a “Steve McQueen quality” in him and suggested Paul for the lead.
Paul, visiting The City with Waugh on a publicity tour, says he was surprised by the humanity in the screenplay. “I was expecting a popcorn movie, but this is an honest, human story and not over the top.”
He was even more surprised when Waugh wanted to do the chases and stunts in-camera, which meant no computer-generated effects.
“I thought, well, he wants to do it mostly without CG,” Paul laughs. “They’re never going to allow him to drive a car off a cliff and then be caught by a helicopter. That’s just not in the playbook.”
On-screen the stunt has an impact that a special effect could never duplicate.
“I think people know when they’re being lied to and when things are actually happening,” Paul continues. “When it’s real you feel it in your gut. You feel it in your spine.”
To prepare, Paul took a 3½ month driving course. He learned how to drift around corners, spin 180s and 360s, and deal with problematic situations.
Waugh was nervous about the arrangement, fearing his star might not be up to the physical challenge. But when he checked with the stunt coordinator on the first day, the response was: “If his acting career doesn’t work out, he could be a stunt man.”
“I’m still strongly considering it,” says Paul, laughing.
A final bonus: Paul and leading lady Imogen Poots already worked together on “A Long Way Down” and had chemistry.
“The fact that I was in a car with her for 80 percent of my scenes, you want to get along with the person,” he says. “We did. She’s phenomenal.”
IF YOU GO
Need for Speed
Starring Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper, Michael Keaton
Written by George Gatins
Directed by Scott Waugh
Running time 2 hours, 10 minutes