Last year I did a piece for Variety as part of their dedicated Emmy award coverage, on some of the first time nominees -- focusing on shows and performers. One of the actors I interviewed for the piece was Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) partner in the meth business and former student, on AMC's Breaking Bad. Paul was a first time nominee for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series. Since the piece covered quite a few people and programs, there wasn't enough room for more than a few quotes from Paul. Here then, at last -- as the show premieres its third season (on the heels of a terrific second season) -- is my full interview with Paul.--Craig P
Congratulations on getting the Emmy nomination. Has that lead to other offers down the road, other films or series – how has that changed things for you?
As of right now I’ve been getting so many amazing congratulatory phone calls from people I haven’t heard from for ages. But otherwise as of right now nothing’s really changed. My life’s been turned upside down by all this attention. I was not expecting this at all. Just to be on a show that I’m so unbelievably proud of, I really consider everyone a part of it like a family to me, so to see the show recognized is such an honor.
You and Bryan [Cranston] have such great chemistry together, how has working with him rubbed off on you as an actor?
Just being around Bryan just makes me a better person because he’s the kindest man probably the funniest guy I’ve ever met in my entire life. But working opposite him, everything he does is so honest and genuine, it’s not forced. Working with someone like that, as an actor, makes me a much better actor, he’s taught me a lot of things.
How do you think your character, Jesse, himself changed from season 1 to 2 --?
Season 1 didn’t really have a lot of room for – we saw some character arc but season 2 delved in for every character involved much more character development. We saw much more where Jesse was coming from. And season 2 compared to S1, Jesse wasn’t as much a fan of Walter White [Cranston’s character] at the beginning of the series but he’s grown very fond of Walter, he truly believes he’s an artist. The buddy angle really works for the story and won’t ever really go away – that Odd Couple relationship that Jesse and White have. But Jesse in Season 2 has just been constantly beaten down, anything that could go wrong goes wrong. So he grows a tougher skin, a harder shell. And who knows what happens with Season 3.
I read that your character wasn’t originally going to even make it to Season 2, is that right?
Yeah, originally – this is when Vince Gilligan, our amazing show runner, was pitching the arc of the first season to AMC, and at the end Jesse was to meet his demise. And after we shot the pilot, they really liked the chemistry between these two characters. When Bryan and I were on screen, we just battled it out and they loved that dynamic. Once it got picked up they changed that. I didn’t know about that at the time but I’m so glad they didn’t do that. So many pilots in my career that never got picked up [for a series] and then finally one gets picked up that I’m so unbelievably passionate about, that I would’ve been just devastated if they killed me.
That was the plan before I was cast. Vince told me when we were shooting the 5th season, that he had something he was gonna tell me that couldn’t wait anymore. He told me over lunch, “You know at the end of the season you were gonna die. But that’s not gonna happen anymore.”
So now I’m like panicked. He reassured me, “No, no, you don’t understand -- Jesse is not gonna die anymore.” Ever since that moment it’s been so funny because everybody teases me. “Yeah man you’re not gonna make it past the second episode of the third season.” One of the producers last year, Karen Moore, took me aside and was like, “Really quick – how tall are you exactly?” “I don’t know, 5’8 ½ depending on the time of day.” “Okay well we need the specific measurements. We’re getting the casket made for Jesse.” Oh man. Those stories are always getting played on me because they know how freaked out I was. But Vince says I’ll be around for awhile.
Do you have any input on your character as far as what happens to him in future scripts?
Not really, I don’t know what’s happening with Season 3. They keep it under wraps. They’re totally open as far as suggestions and ideas, things they might play with. But the writers do such a great job with what they’re doing, I’m happy to leave it up to them, they’re the ones molding this magic so I leave it in their court. But going into season 3 I know that Jesse will be in recovery obviously from losing the love of his life, he’s never really had that kind of relationship before, and she was taken away. And at the end of season 2 he was dragged by Walt out of that crack house and into a rehab facility. So that’s where we’ll start off. Jesse and the rehab, and dealing with his grief and emotions. So who knows if Jesse will stay clean and keep his head on straight, but I’m excited about finding out.
How do you prepare for some of the physical abuse and punishment that your character has to go through?
With the physical stuff, wearing knee pads really helps, but with the emotional aspect I just try to make it as human as possible so I can get to that point of emotion, so that it feels like I myself am going through what Jesse is. With the drug use, I got addicted to the show Intervention, and YouTube, watching documentaries online. I didn’t know the effects of heroin the first time you use it, how your speech is, whether it slows down or speeds up. From my research I found your speech slows down and you’re in your own world. So I did as much research as possible.
Watching Intervention is tough because you’re seeing what it does to the families too. And at a certain point, that’s what’s so horrible about these drugs we’re dealing with on the show – in the first season we were dealing with the effects of meth, but in second season it kind of bled into the whole heroin aspect. At a certain point the user doesn’t have control of the drug anymore, the drug has 100% control of them. It’s not even really their fault at that point. So they end up needing other people to come in and help them because if they don’t have that, then they’re lost. At a certain point they can’t do it, they need other people’s help. That’s what’s so devastating about watching Intervention, some of the shows have happy endings but a lot of them don’t, just like life.
The whole drug world is just so tragic. It’s so intense...
Do you get feedback from former drug users?
The greatest compliments I get are from [those] people – [the show] is almost their fix, rather than using. And the show does not glamorize crystal meth by any means.
But then on the other end of the spectrum I get, “Hey so do you got any hookups, get me some blue meth?” “No I absolutely cannot.” It’s disturbing, but I guess it’s like a compliment to the show in a weird way.
Getting back to the Emmy nomination, do you get any feedback, or how would you yourself assess it as far as whether you did anything special or different to get you the nomination?
Yeah, I think the second season really hit its stride more and there was much more character development. I guess what was happening in that season, there were more levels of emotion with Jesse, more that he went through, I think that’s what people saw and that’s what people noticed. It’s all so surreal.
I moved down to Los Angeles about 12.5 years ago and went through ups and downs, the rollercoaster of emotions, from great jobs to the kind of jobs that I didn’t really want to but I kind of had to do to survive. But I’m finally doing a job that I’m so unbelievably passionate about, to be in this [Emmy] category with an unbelievable group of people – William Hurt, are you kidding me? Michael Emerson – I’m the biggest Lost fan.