Aaron Paul plays a mechanic and racecar enthusiast in "Need for Speed." Credit: Getty Images
Aaron Paul didn't quite take stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh at his word when he first pitched Paul on the video game-inspired "Need for Speed," a fast-cars action flick made in the pre-CGI tradition of practical effects. "I thought, OK, 'No CGI.' That doesn't necessarily mean no CGI.' I mean, they're not going to drive a car off a cliff and have it be caught by a helicopter. That's just… they don't do that," Paul remembers. "Or they're not going to jump over four lanes of traffic. They can just do that in post. But no."
That lack of a digital safety net meant Paul, fresh off finishing "Breaking Bad," had to go to stunt-driving school to learn how to pull of maneuvers like speeding toward the camera — held by Waugh — and sliding to a stop just inches from the lens. No pressure, right? "I knew they wanted that shot even before we started shooting. I'd drive toward the camera at about 75, 80 miles an hour, put it into a slide and do almost a 180 and stop within inches of the camera," Paul says. "The first take, I came about 15 feet shy, and then [Waugh] comes up to me like, 'If you hit me, don't worry about. I'll just roll over the hood of the car.' Which was terrifying."
Of course, not all the flashy on-screen automotive moves belonged to Paul himself. "I wanted to drive off the cliff and be caught by the helicopter, but they said that because of insurance they wouldn't allow that to happen," he offers, though he can't keep a straight face about it. "Honestly, I did not want to do that. So yeah, I'm glad that they didn't have me do it. If we end up making [a sequel], I hope to become a better drive and do more of my own stuff. We shall see."
Coming out of the cable TV world of "Breaking Bad," Paul admits the pace of making a big studio picture was a welcome change. "We'd shoot an episode of 'Breaking Bad' in eight days, so your days were so long, filled with so much dialogue and action. So it felt like a lot more pressure on TV," he says. "With this, Scott would come up to me and say, 'All right, it's a big day. You have two whole lines today, so I hope you have those lines ready because I'll be watching you.' And there would be a week when I would have zero dialogue, just doing the racing and driving sequences and there would be no talking."
The new driving skills Paul picked up in "Need for Speed" don't necessarily do him any favors when he's back in Los Angeles, though. "Even if you wanted to, you couldn't do this sort of thing here in L.A.," he admits. "But I don't know, aren't we all just used to the traffic and you just kind of zone out? I actually missed it when I was away. I know that sounds crazy, but it just feels like home."