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Examiner
  • 'Breaking Bad' star Aaron Paul talks about his new movie, 'Need for Speed'

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  • By the time Aaron Paul Sturtevant finished high school in his Idaho hometown, he was already hooked on acting. He hopped into his 1982 Toyota Corolla and headed southwest, with the idea of knocking on doors in L.A. and landing an acting career. There were some lean years of getting gigs in TV commercials and small guest spots on everything from “Melrose Place” to “Veronica Mars.” But things seem to have worked out. Not only is he starring in the new car chase-revenge film “Need for Speed,” these days he’s driving a 1965 Shelby Cobra. Most TV viewers know him from his stint as the meth head Jesse on “Breaking Bad.” But he started feeling success a few years earlier, when he had the recurring role of Scott on “Big Love.” He recently spoke about acting and Steven Spielberg and why he dropped his last name.
    So what happened to the name Sturtevant?
    I tried to do Sturtevant when I first moved to L.A. I was just this young kid from Idaho, super nervous in these meetings, and the casting directors were always saying, “How do you pronounce your last name?” Then someone said, “Well, what’s your middle name?” I told them Paul, and they felt that had a good ring to it. I’d never even thought about that, but then I did, and I figured, well, Paul is my name, as well. So I decided to go with that.
    You’ve gone on record as saying that working on “Breaking Bad” was great and it gave you lots of visibility. But you’ve also given props to “Big Love.”
    Yeah, that was my first somewhat regular gig. I was a recurring character for four seasons. But with that show, a lot of people thought, “Wow, you’re on TV, you’re on a series, you’re making money.” But that wasn’t the case. I was getting my face known, but I was barely paying my bills. Doing “Big Love” was the most stressful time in my career. I don’t want to say how much I made, but after taxes it was $600 per episode. And living in Los Angeles, my rent was twice that each month. But that show did open doors.
    “Need for Speed” was a big video game series. How did the script come to you?
    It just showed up one day. I was a fan of the games, but I didn’t know if they would necessarily translate all that well [to the screen]. But I read it, and I was just so pleasantly surprised. I thought it was such a fun story and I was invested in the characters from the very beginning, and they let the racing sequences breathe. I could tell on the page that they wanted to have these races be raw and gritty, and the pitch to me was we want to do a throwback to the ’60s and ’70s films like “Vanishing Point” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” And they wanted to do all of the stunts practical, no CGI. Just like those films back then, when they didn’t have CGI. So I knew it would have a different feel and look to it, and that’s why I did it.
    Page 2 of 2 - Is it true that you were originally going to play Dino, the villain, but Steven Spielberg [a principal partner at DreamWorks, which produced the film] wanted you to play Tobey, the hero?
    I remember being at a DreamWorks meeting, and Spielberg just kind of walked in the door and sat in on it for about 30 minutes. He was very excited that I was doing the project, and he was the reason why I got the part. They were looking at me to play Dino, which turned out to be Dominic Cooper’s role. But it was Steven who said, “Why are you guys thinking of Aaron for Dino? Why not consider him for the lead?”
    There’s a story going around that he also gave you some advice.
    He said, “Listen, [director] Scott Waugh is gonna want you to do a lot of the driving, so do what you’re comfortable with. But if you don’t feel comfortable during a certain day or shot and you don’t want to do it, just call in the stuntmen. That’s why they’re there.” That was very good advice.
    “Need for Speed” opens on March 14.
    Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

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