Few actors nail the inner torment of blue-collar fuck-ups quite like Aaron Paul. His eyes do much of the work in his new Sundance drama, Hellion, from writer-director Kat Candler, as he plays Hollis, a recent widower in small-town Southeast Texas too overwhelmed to care for his two delinquent sons, ages 13 and 10. Expanded from Candler’s 2012 Sundance-selected short, Hellion is told from the perspective of 13-year-old Jacob (astoundingly good newcomer Josh Wiggins), who turns to arson and unsupervised Motocross racing, dragging his little brother into his hooliganism, as their father disappears, emotionally and physically. Social services steps in and both of the elder members of the all-male family have to wake up to the possibility that they might lose 10-year-old Wes (sweet newcomer Deke Garner). “There’s a desperate intensity in Paul’s eyes as Hollis scrambles, without any kind of a plan, to set aside his wounds and keep hold of his sons. That he loves them is never in question,” writes David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter. Jada Yuan spoke to Paul about the role, Breaking Bad withdrawals, and his other upcoming projects.
The only thing that was really hard for me to believe was that you could possibly be the father of a 13-year-old.
I started at a very young age, when I was a young, young lad. Let’s see. I’m 34 now, so, 21?
Yeah, could work.
My sister had a baby at 16, so it definitely could work, but it’s strange cause I don’t see myself as a … [whispers] a father, quite yet.
You were saying in the Q&A that these emotionally wrecked guys are the complete opposite of you, and that life’s pretty great right now.
Yeah, it feels good, life is good, so I do find myself gravitating towards roles that kind of make me feel … that just make me feel, you know?
There’s Motocross in Hellion and then you play a street racer in Need for Speed. Do you just have a thing for going fast?
No. I jumped onto Need for Speed for multiple reasons. It’s the first studio film I’ve done in a while. I always gravitate towards the independent side of things, just because those are the stories I always fall in love with, but you don’t really get paid, and living in Los Angeles is expensive and I have a mortgage to pay. So it’s good to jump onto a studio film and then in all my other time do small passion projects.
Are you doing the driving?
I did a lot of my own driving in Need for Speed, yeah, where I’m jumping over cars. Hanging from a helicopter, I didn’t do that, but they actually did that. That was the whole thing with our director [Scott Waugh], he wanted to actually do all of the stunts and have hardly any green screen.
Did you ever feel your life was at risk?
All the time! [Laughs.] No, they were very safe, and they said, “Listen, if you do not feel comfortable doing something, don’t do it, that’s why we have the stuntmen.” The majority of all of the crazy driving was done by professional stuntmen.
Were you a hell raiser as a kid?
Not at all, I grew up in a very loving home with great morals and I would like to think that I kept my act in order and I was a good kid. I wasn’t that guy. I just wasn’t. I’m getting it all out now, in all my roles. [Laughs.] I didn’t have my first beer until I was 19; I didn’t cuss until 25. My father’s a Southern Baptist minister. I wasn’t lighting cars on fire, I just wasn’t.
How are you coping with withdrawal from Breaking Bad? Is there any?
Yes, of course, we’re all having withdrawals. It was such a beautiful, functional family that we didn’t want to leave one another, and we’re still very close. I’m just keeping busy. I think that’s the thing. I haven’t stopped since we wrapped. We had a little break for the holidays, which is nice, so that’s when I took my belated honeymoon, and now we’re doing all this, and then jumping onto another thing.
Do you text each other constantly?
Me and the Breaking Bad family? Yeah. The day after we wrapped, I was already in northern California on set shooting Need for Speed. I worked on the final day of Breaking Bad — Bryan and I were shooting on the final day and there was a plane waiting for me to take me to northern California to start shooting Need for Speed and the next morning, I got a text from Bryan Cranston saying, “I miss you already.” We really loved — we really love — one another.
You went snowboarding last time you were here two years ago with Smashed.
I went snowboarding, yeah, and I’ll go snowboarding again this time. I love it.
I dunno. I’ve been snowboarding my whole life. My wife’s really good, and I just try to keep up with her.
You didn’t go snowboarding for your belated honeymoon, did you?
No, we were far away from any sort of snow. We were in the Maldives, hanging out on hammocks and drinking out of coconuts.
You said you haven’t stopped working since Breaking Bad, so you did Need for Speed and raced cars around —
Raced cars around, and then right after that I did — was it Hellion? Maybe Hellion ... and then took that beard with me to do Exodus.
The Ridley Scott movie, which is about Moses.
It follows Moses, yes. It’s about a lot of things, but yes, it does have Moses. I play Joshua, I am one of the Hebrew slaves who becomes Moses’ right-hand man in freeing all the Hebrew slaves and bringing them to salvation, so that was an incredible experience. And then in between that we pitched a show to Netflix, and they decided to pick us up, so we’re doing a cartoon that’s just wrong on every single level possible.
It’s about a horse named BoJack, the show’s called BoJack Horseman.
Was it your idea?
No, I was approached with it. It was just a ten-page script, and I was the first person that got attached to it.
You’re not the horse?
I’m not the horse; we got Will Arnett to be the voice of the horse. It’s about a horse who’s a nineties washed-up sitcom star trying to get his career back in order, but he uses drugs and alcohol and he has zero morals whatsoever, and I play Todd, his human house guest who just never, ever leaves. It’s such a fun show, and I know people are gonna love it. Netflix was the first place that we pitched it to, just because it felt right, and they loved the idea.
And it’s based on horses you know?
Yes! It’s based on one particular horse that I know. I think we all know that horse.
Moving on from Breaking Bad, do you have any Jesse mannerisms you find yourself still doing?
I mean, I get called “bitch” every day, and people ask me to say “bitch” every day, so I say that. I think eventually that’ll die down, but I don’t see it dying down anytime soon.
I loved how you knew exactly what was required of you during Vince Gilligan’s Golden Globes speech. One final, “Yeah, bitch.”
Yeah. I gotta be honest, that was not improv, that was planned!
It was? Way to ruin the illusion.
Yeah, Vince said, “I don’t think this is gonna happen, at all, but if it does, can I send it to you with a final thought?” And I go, “Absolutely,” and I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and that was that.