Acting always entails research, but “Triple 9” is a different story. In the new thriller, Aaron Paul plays a disgraced ex-cop who’s part of a gang of thieves filled out by former mercenaries and corrupt police officers. That meant doing ride alongs with the LAPD through East L.A. What he saw could have come right out of a movie, and not just “Triple 9” itself.
“We pulled over this guy — I forget his name, but it was something that’s terrifying, like ‘Psycho,’” the actor, now 36, recalls. The cop arrested him, finding a gun whose serial number had been shaved off. He had had two strikes against him, meaning he’d be in jail for the rest of his life. When they got back to the station, Paul wound up interviewing him, despite finding him to be the scariest person he’d ever seen. Then he got a surprise: “Turns out he was a big fan of ‘Breaking Bad.’”
Every cast member from “Triple 9” has stories like this; Paul recalls one from co-star Casey Affleck’s own ride along, which involved a stand-off that ended with a perp leaping out of a window holding an infant in one hand, an AK-47 in the other. For Paul such tales stressed how real the film is — how the worst things we see in “Triple 9” and “Breaking Bad” oftentimes really happen.
Paul came away with a lot of respect for cops — he emphatically recommends doing your own ride along — but also an understanding that there’s no clean line between good and bad.
“You would see these little kids, 7 or 8 years old, on their bikes. They’d see us pulling up, and they’d jump off their bikes and run into a store,” he recalls. Paul would watch the cops run after them and come back with proof they were selling drugs for a gang. “These kids don’t have a choice. It’s all they know. For the adults it’s all they know. They’ve grown up on the streets their whole lives.”