A role in a speed thriller gives Aaron Paul the chance to shake off his Breaking Bad persona, writes Michele Manelis.

The action thriller Need for Speed features Aaron Paul in the driver's seat in his first lead since his career-defining role as Jesse Pinkman in the TV hit Breaking Bad.

Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a street racer wrongly convicted of murder. Just out of jail he's on the revenge trail.

Although the movie may look and sound - especially with all those high-revving engines - like the next off The Fast and the Furious assembly line, Paul begs to differ.

"When I first saw the script on my desk, I thought, 'Oh, it's going to be a Fast and the Furious film', but I was wrong. You have to remember that Fast and the Furious didn't start the genre of car films. I realise everyone will make comparisons, but truly, the only thing in common is that we both have cars in the movie," Paul says.


It's hard not to refer to The Fast and the Furious without mentioning the star of the franchise, Paul Walker, who died in a car accident last November. Paul had met Walker a few times.

"When I heard the news I was crushed. It's a reminder that these vehicles are dangerous. We are not condoning street racing by any means. It's for entertainment purposes only, meaning it's for the big screen."

Need for Speed originates from the small screen - the videogame franchise of the same name which dates back to 1994 and has delivered more than 20 titles and sold more than 140 million copies.

Of course, Jesse Pinkman had a thing for videogames, but he seemed to prefer first-person shooters.

Before coming to prominence as Pinkman in his five seasons on the acclaimed show, Idaho-raised Paul had risen through guest roles on Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 in the 90s before doing the rounds in such dramas as The Guardian, The X-Files, ER, CSI and Big Love.

Unsurprisingly, Paul has been offered some edgy roles since Breaking Bad ended. And although it may be something of a head-scratcher as to why he'd take on Need for Speed, especially when every kind of movie imaginable is on offer to him, Paul felt he needed to get behind the wheel of something big and brash.

"I was very picky about what I was going to jump on to the moment the show was done because Breaking Bad was such a phenomenon. Need For Speed was a business move. But I didn't just sign on to it because it's a big action film - I jumped on to it because it was a big action film and it was also very story-driven. I loved the character and I got to drive around in those crazy cars all across the country. And it's just a super-fun movie."

Paul discovered after one meeting with director Scott Waugh that he had similar cinematic tastes and jumped on board with little hesitation. "Scott wanted to do a throwback to the classic car culture films from the 60s and 70s and I was a huge fan of Steve McQueen, especially Bullitt. I loved how Scott described the movie and what he was trying to do. When you watch the film, you can tell the audience is not being lied to; these stunts are actually happening; that excited me."


Much car-carnage is on display throughout Georgia, Alabama and Michigan, where the film was shot.

Waugh, a former stuntman, says: "Pretty much all my work has never included CG and the studio knew that when they hired me. "As far as I'm concerned, CG is the easy way out unless you're doing something like Avatar.

"But for car movies, it should be real. You look at movies like Smokey and the Bandit, or French Connection and the reason they are still the best is because they're real," says Waugh. "There's no music montage, it's just motor noise and cars."

Paul is at an enviable place in his career, however, whether he can shake Jesse Pinkman as easily as he'd like remains to be seen.

"I think people are probably going to be calling me 'bitch' for quite some time. "Jesse Pinkman was such an iconic character and while I am not too worried about my future, my goal is to depart from that character as much as possible.

"I want to try to do roles that are the polar opposite of Jesse Pinkman and this is a great example of that."


Meanwhile, Paul is nervously awaiting the movie's release before ascertaining whether his first time out as leading man will be a success.

"It's terrifying," he says. "It's very scary."

Who: Aaron Paul, former Breaking Bad star
What: Need for Speed
When: Opens at cinemas on March 20.

- TimeOut