It’s been over two years since we saw Jesse Pinkman race off into the night while both laughing and crying on the finale of “Breaking Bad.” And in that time, the actor behind everyone’s favourite drug pusher, Aaron Paul, has been busy trying to escape the shadow of Pinkman.
From starring in the adaptation of the video-game series “Need for Speed,” to taking a supporting role in the Netflix animated comedy “BoJack Horseman,” versatility hasn’t been a problem for Paul. But none of his more commercial projects has caught fire like “Breaking Bad” — yet.
This weekend, he stars as a conflicted drone pilot in the indie film “Eye in the Sky.” Starring opposite Helen Mirren as a colonel determined to kill a terrorist, he comes to a disagreement with her on how to engage when a young girl enters the kill zone, leading to a powerful commentary on modern warfare.
“Eye in the Sky” won’t get the kind of attention to make us stop thinking of Paul as Jesse Pinkman, but that hasn’t deterred him. He recently starred in the heist movie “Triple 9,” and he’s about to star in an intriguing new TV show from Hulu “The Path.” And if you follow him on Twitter, you know he’s campaigning hard to star as drug addict Eddie Dean in the screen adaptation of Stephen King’s classic book series “The Dark Tower,” which was greenlit with Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba attached.
Business Insider talked to Paul at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City about the challenges of making “Eye in the Sky,” box-office failures, “The Dark Tower” rumours, The Rock’s nickname, and shaking Pinkman.
Business Insider: So what can you tell us about the “Dark Tower” rumours.
Aaron Paul: Rumours are a funny thing. These rumours about “The Dark Tower” have come up a handful of times over the last couple of years. There’s always a big part of me that thinks, “What don’t I know?” Just wishful thinking. I’m a huge fan of that book series for many years and the idea of them turning it into a franchise is very exciting to me. As a fan.
BI: Are your people talking to the studio?
Paul: I have no idea what’s going on. It was funny [tweeting] out to Stephen King last night. That’s the wonder of the internet. It’s the power of numbers: get enough people to retweet something, someone might see it.
BI: You’re being coy with me right now. It sounds like you might know something, but there’s nothing to say.
Paul: There’s nothing to say.
BI: Well, let’s dive into “Eye in the Sky.” What did you know about the subject of drones before taking on the project?
Paul: A very scary weapon being flown over a country that the pilot of that weapon is not in. Being in the safety and comfort of their own bunker. Signing on and doing more research into this world, it’s not the safety and comfort of a bunker — it’s a very scary, terrifying situation that these pilots are in. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, they are just the eye, surveillance. Making sure everyone is safe. Checking out where the bad people are going. Is that a bad thing? No. Dropping payloads on buildings and killing innocent civilians, is that a bad thing? It’s a touchy subject.
BI: Did you talk to drone pilots for the movie?
Paul: Yes. I talked to this guy Chris, who had been flying drones for many years. He used to fly jets, him and his brother, and then he started flying drones. And not just one drone at a time. Sometimes he’s flying four at once. Which is crazy. Again, because most of the time you’re just the eye.
BI: How was it performing in a movie like this? Because I would assume you’re just on set and someone is feeding you lines off-camera. Helen Mirren isn’t giving them to you.
Paul: Right. We had someone reading the script for us off-camera and then for the things that we had to see on the monitor, [director] Gavin [Hood] would explain it off-camera. He would bark out orders to us, or he would explain what we’re seeing, he would be like “Now you’re seeing she’s leaving her property, she’s walking along the side of the building. Oh no, she’s setting up bread, she has six loaves of bread, she has to sell those six loaves of bread!” It’s an interesting way to work. I had never worked like that before.
BI: You’ve done great choosing indie roles, but the studio movies haven’t gone so well. Do you have any regrets about some of the roles you’ve taken since “Breaking Bad”?
Paul: I did a big studio film straight from “Breaking Bad,” it was really a business move —
BI: “Need for Speed.”
Paul: Yeah. And it wasn’t just a business move. I love cars, I have two classic cars of my own. Just the idea of how to really learn to drive a car like what we did in the film was a dream come true.
BI: But if it takes off, you get a franchise.
Paul: Yeah, it’s great. And of course we wanted it to become a franchise. The fact that it didn’t perform so well in the States is a bummer. But it performed well elsewhere. I had a blast doing it. No regrets. Now I’m just focusing on material — it has to be on the page.
BI: Are you surprised “Triple 9” didn’t do well?
BI: I thought with that cast and the director, John Hillcoat, it would take off. On paper, you’re thinking home run.
Paul: Easy. And I talked to John Hilcoat about this the other day. It feels like the universe is against the man. He’s a brilliant filmmaker, but no one sees his films. It’s so bizarre. The fact that we did $6 million in the opening weekend, well, “Deadpool” is a monster. It was the third week that movie is out, but it still did a killing.
BI: Were there specific goals you wanted to accomplish after “Breaking Bad”?
Paul: That show opened up so many doors for everyone involved. Before the show, I constantly had to bang on everyone’s doors, do the hustle. And I’m all about the hustle still, I don’t take anything for granted, but it’s a point of the career now that you can be picky. My end goal is just to do projects at the end of the day that I’m proud of.
BI: Is one of those goals to have people think of you less as Jesse Pinkman?
Paul: Oh, absolutely. And I know jumping on “Triple 9,” there were similarities. I mean, my character was holding a pipe in his hand. When it got to that part of the story, it got me thinking a little bit about Jesse, because I have said no to so many drug roles since “Breaking Bad” ended.
BI: And if “The Dark Tower” happens for you, the character you’re interested in playing, Eddie Dean, is an addict.
Paul: Yeah, but, c’mon, that’s “Dark Tower,” that’s fine. That is why people think I would make a great Eddie Dean, the smartass drug addict. But it’s a completely different character, it’s not Jesse Pinkman. And I love that.
BI: But would you go as far as, say, taking on a romantic comedy, just to flip it on people and do something incredibly different?
Paul: I don’t really seem to gravitate to romantic comedies.
BI: I would pay money.
Paul: Would you?
BI: I’d put down cold hard cash to see you in a romantic comedy. I think it would be fun.
Paul: Well, who knows. But I do tend to gravitate to the more dramatic side of things. I love feeling intense emotions when I’m acting. I just love characters and stories with conflict. I love stories that put you on the edge of your seat and make you feel something. But I do have a comedy coming out.
BI: With The Rock and Kevin Hart.
Paul: Yeah, “Central Intelligence.” I play DJ’s CIA partner.
Paul: Dwayne Johnson.
BI: Oh, you must be good pals to get away with calling him DJ.
Paul: Yeah, DJ’s a good guy.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.