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Aaron Paul on His Sundance Drama Smashed, Playing Drunk, and Breaking Bad

Aaron Paul. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

In the Sundance drama Smashed, Aaron Paul plays an alcoholic married to another alcoholic (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The happy drunks spend their evenings singing karaoke and frequenting bars with their enabling friends, but when the wife decides to sober up, Paul’s character keeps on boozing. Paul, who’s currently on Breaking Bad hiatus, sat down with Vulture to talk about playing an alcoholic, getting wasted as character research, and what he really thinks of Mr. White.

Obviously people will draw parallels between this role and Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, since they both have addiction problems. Do you think playing Jesse helped prepare you for this character?
I don’t know if he necessarily prepared me for it. Alcoholism is such a different animal from what Jesse has ever really dealt with. I’m not saying one’s worse than the other. They’re both horrible addictions, but all I did for preparation was — I’m not really a big drinker, but I definitely drank a lot on set. No, I’m kidding, I’m joking. I did have a couple nights drinking and filming it, just having friends filming a night of going out. Actually, one night going out and one night at my house getting pretty much obliterated.

You filmed yourself or you filmed them?
I filmed myself and my buddy Phil. We grabbed my phone and just filmed me. It’s interesting watching the next day because a lot of the stuff I didn’t remember doing. I just wanted to take it to that level and we definitely did. Researching those videos really helped me prepare for this role because 90 percent of the time [my character], Charlie is drunk or drinking.

Where are those videos now?
I have one video saved because it was shot on a Flip cam, but the really priceless video is lost because it got deleted. My phone took a dive in some water and lost everything on it.

Sad, it won’t be a DVD extra.
No DVD extras. Yeah, that would actually be pretty nice to have.

You always hear that playing drunk is one of the harder things for an actor to do. Now that you’ve spent nearly an entire movie playing drunk, do you feel that’s true?
Yeah, absolutely. I was terrified to do it because I think in preparation, trying to play drunk, I realized that it was not working. You gotta try and act like you’re not drunk. I think that’s what the key is. We were constantly spinning around before takes, to get a little dizzy and try to not be dizzy. It really helped.

Do you get offered lots of “troubled young man” roles because of Jesse?
It’s always been that way. It’s so weird, because I’m so the opposite of the dark and troubled youth. I’ve heard so many times, “You just have such crazy eyes, it just makes sense.”

This isn’t just about alcoholism. It’s about addiction in general. Have you ever had any addictions yourself? Is addiction something you can identify with on some level?
I have addictions to concerts. If I hear someone’s playing I have to try and get the best seat possible, which is horrible. Like, it gets really spendy, and you cannot go see every concert possible. I try and get it online right when they go on sale, the moment I wake up. And I always will get tickets because I’m there the second they go on sale, but I have to just try and be close because once you’re up close you’re spoiled … It’s just stupid — sorry, this is a long tangent.

You’re saying you need to go to Concert Tickets Anonymous?
Yeah, exactly.

So, Breaking Bad: Season four ended on a completely insane note, where we find out Walter betrayed Jesse in a big way. Does it make you sad to see how their relationship has frayed over time?
I’m sad seeing it from the character’s point of view, because you know they both have love for each other. But they don’t trust one another sometimes, and they really should. But me as an actor playing Jesse? Shame on Walt. Like, I hate Walt for what he’s done to Jesse. If only Jesse knew all the horrible things that he did, oh my God. I love that they’re back together, but it’s always been such a back-and-forth struggle, a love-hate relationship. But I think at the end, in the parking lot, I think they’re there for each other. They know it was a rough ride. I think they understand each other as true partners now. I don’t think Walt considers himself as a boss to Jesse anymore. Maybe deep down, because Walt has a big ego, but I think Jesse sees himself as being equal to Walt.

They’re still deciding whether the final sixteen episodes are going to be one long season or two short seasons. As an actor, do you hope they break it up into two seasons so that you can work longer?
Oh yeah, for sure. Stretch it out. I honestly would like to keep going, but I’m happy that we’re gonna end it on our terms and are not gonna get cut short, so we’ll be able to finish the story. I would like them to split it up, because why not? Why not do eight that air, and then maybe do eight more? Keep the fun going. Then maybe another eight, then maybe a three-movie deal.

I’m surprised you’re still shaving your head even though you’re on hiatus. Is that by choice?
I just shaved this right before Sundance. It was much, much longer. I just buzzed it off because we’re gonna start shooting soon and I wanted to kind of get back into the feel. Back into the skin.

Everyone’s got a prediction about how things will end. Have you heard any predictions that you especially like?
I’ve heard some pretty funny ones. Where Krazy-8 was never actually dead and he comes back and kills off everybody. Or Tuco. I do have a way that I would like to see it end, but I don’t want to put that out there because I don’t want it to possibly steer the writers on how they wanna do it. But I do have an idea.

Does it involve any deaths?
Ummm … yeah. It does involve a death, and possible deaths. Definitely people dying.

Aaron Paul on His Sundance Drama Smashed, Playing Drunk, and Breaking Bad