Aaron Paul on El Camino: It's a proper way to say goodbye to Jesse Pinkman
The new Netflix film El Camino picks up with Jesse Pinkman right after the end of Breaking Bad. It sees actor Aaron Paul reprise his role as the troubled meth cook six years after the show concluded but, he tells Laura Harding, it was like visiting an old friend
WHEN Aaron Paul left the set of Breaking Bad for the last time in 2013, he thought he was saying goodbye to Jesse Pinkman forever.
His character had changed immeasurably during the show's five-series run – from lackadaisical student to half of the biggest meth production operation in the history of the United States, to prisoner of white supremacist drug dealers.
The conclusion of the show (those keen to avoid spoilers should look away now) was widely considered to be as satisfying as they come, as Bryan Cranston's anti-hero Walter White freeing Jesse, taking a fatal bullet in the process.
Jesse was last seen speeding away from captivity in a Chevrolet El Camino, which belonged to one of his captors.
But now, six years later, we find out what happened to him in the minutes, hours and days that followed in a new Netflix film, fittingly entitled El Camino, and penned by the show's creator Vince Gilligan.
"That was the one burning question – what happened to Jesse after Breaking Bad?" Paul, now 40, says a few days after the film's release.
"It was a question that Vince couldn't stop thinking about, so here we are."
And despite the six-year gap, stepping back into Jesse's shoes was like "revisiting an old friend", he says.
"It was incredibly familiar to me, it was zipping on a very familiar skin, it was like no time had passed whatsoever.
"The first time I read the script, I knew how I was going to play every emotional beat. I know the character so well, and this was just a deeper look at what went on while he was being held captive."
The film drifts back and forth between Jesse's bid to flee Albuquerque after the bloodbath left by Walt's intervention, and flashbacks to his time in captivity, as well as conversations with other key characters in his life, such as Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter) and (another warning of spoilers) Cranston's Walt.
"What I love about this is it's such a love letter to the character and to the fans that love the characters. It's such a proper way to say goodbye, and a proper send-off."
That makes it sound very final. Is this really the end?
"I think so. I thought that before though!" he laughs. "But I really do. I think the purpose of this film is to give a proper send-off to this guy."
The sight of Walt and Jesse together again is meaningful to even the most casual of Breaking Bad fans, but is soured slightly by what we know the former chemistry teacher will become.
"That flashback with Walt was such a beautiful scene," Paul says. "And was so eye opening.
"It really showed what Walt was all about when he says to Jesse ,'You're so lucky it didn't take your entire life to do something special', and he's talking about making meth. It's pretty terrible."
But the reunion between Paul and Cranston was just as meaningful. The pair have become fast friends since they started working together in 2008 and have even gone into business together, launching their own brand of mescal.
"He's very much still a mentor of mine," Paul says with great affection, "and I love the man to death. "We quickly became very close just from the pilot episode and years later, we are in business together. We started a mescal a few years ago and now it's finally out, I talk to the man nearly every day, I love him."
But bringing Cranston to the set in secret, for a project that was already shrouded in secrecy, was not without its difficulties.
"He was doing a play [starring in Network on Broadway] and they had to shut down a day.
"I think Netflix ended up buying all of the seats in the theatre for one day, at least that's the rumour, and they flew Bryan in on a private plane to make sure no questions were asked.
"The whole thing was shot in secret, we all had to wear these big cloaks heading to set, which I always thought brought more attention, but apparently it worked."
But Paul's presence around town in New Mexico, where all of the Breaking Bad projects have been filmed, did not go entirely unnoticed.
"People would come up to me on the weekend," he concedes. "During the week, I was just at work and then after work, I wanted to go be at home with my baby [he is father to one-year-old daughter Story with wife Lauren Parsekian] and have a nice quiet night in. But on the weekends, I would go out with my wife and daughter.
"I couldn't hang out with any of the other cast, because it would raise suspicions, but people would come up to me and ask what I was doing there.
"I wouldn't lie, I would say I'm doing this 'passion project', but I would add the word 'indie'.
While the film reunites audiences with some of the most beloved characters from the Breaking Bad world, there was still plenty left on the cutting room floor.
The original cut of the film was a whopping two hours 57 minutes, while the finished product is a more economical two hours two minutes.
But Paul is hopeful we might see some of that extra footage one day.
"There is quite a bit that was taken out. I don't want to give too much away because hopefully, who knows, one day there could be an unedited version out. There is a whole other alternate ending, a big chunk that was taken out, so I would love to see that slip back in.
"I fought for it, it actually had a lot to do with Robert Forster [who plays Ed] and I think the world would love to see that."
Whether we ever see it or not. Paul is hopeful that Jesse is happy now.
"Once Breaking Bad ended, I sort of made up an idea of what happened to him.
"I actually thought maybe he finds himself in a small little town in Alaska and is hiding out. Maybe he opens up a wood shop and starts making things with his hands again and keeps his head down.
"It's going to be a bumpy road ahead, but I think he's on the right direction."
:: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is streaming on Netflix now.