Aaron Paul: “I try to look at the hopeful side of things”

Aaron Paul kicked off the streaming age with Breaking Bad. In the isolation age it might be streaming that gets us through – so it’s lucky he’s back with a thriller we can watch at home

While there’s a constant supply of bad news breaking, we should be more grateful than ever for Breaking Bad.

Five seasons following Walter White’s ascent in the drug world (and descent in all other areas of his life) transformed the way we consumed television, turning us into TV addicts, always eager for a quick fix, hungry to binge entire series to the point of overdose. And now, as we contemplate the reality of self-isolated life inside for who knows how long, binge- watching is going to become our sweet relief.

Alongside Walter White was Jesse Pinkman, the dope-slinger with a heart played with grounded maturity by Aaron Paul. Jesse gave Breaking Bad soul and helped turn it into a popular culture phenomenon, setting the stage for streaming services to become dominant.

“I’m not gonna take any credit. I just happen to be blessed to be a part of shows that people tend to binge watch,” Paul tells The Big Issue, modestly. “Breaking Bad was the very first sort of bingeable new series. We were just about to air our fourth season and they dropped the first three seasons on Netflix, and the rest is history.”

After Breaking Bad, Paul went on to produce and lend his voice to BoJack Horseman, which is my top Netflix binge-watch recommendation, and he has recently joined the cast for the third season of twisted dystopian theme park thriller Westworld.

“There are such great stories being told,” Paul continues. “And we are so blessed that we are also so spoiled that we have access to these great stories. I hear people complaining that there’s just not good stuff on particular streaming services and I want to slap them in the face and say – are you out of your mind?! There are incredible pieces of art just a click away.

Breaking Bad protagonist Walter White

“With that said, there is also some trash out there,” he adds. “But you just can ignore that and just focus on the really interesting stories being told.”

His new film, The Parts You Lose, was released digitally this month. Paul produces, alongside Breaking Bad producer Mark Johnson, and is on familiar territory playing an outlaw, who normally wears a beanie cap, on the run in a desolate landscape – though this time it’s the snowfields of North Dakota rather than the parched deserts of New Mexico. Known only as ‘the man’, he’s a darker, more vicious version of Jesse Pinkman.

After a bank robbery goes disastrously wrong, the injured man is found by a 10-year-old deaf boy, Wesley, who hides him then nurses him back to health. Wesley finds the man to be a father figure he’d otherwise been lacking. The pair bond over checkers games and the man tells him how to do things like take on school bullies – “stay calm, stand your ground, look him straight in the eye and break his goddamn head open”.

The relationship between the pair comes alive with the chemistry between Paul and the scene-stealing young English actor who plays Wesley, Danny Murphy.

Murphy said about his co-star: “I thought he would be a bit snooty because he was so famous but he was really nice. We had a really good relationship – there were a lot of jokes and wind-ups and we had snowball fights together. It was good fun.”

“That’s so funny,” laughs Paul, so down to earth he’s at ground level. “We did have snowball fights. I love that kid so much. From the very beginning, he and I really hit it off. I mean, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this kid.
“It was really important to us to find a young deaf actor to play this boy that happens to be deaf. We cast a wide net and Danny decided to put himself on tape. He just he sent it in himself, I don’t think he told his family that he was doing so. We saw this audition and we were blown away that this boy could access these real, honest emotions.”

This isn’t the first time Paul has been involved in an unlikely pairing of two disparate characters. Why does an odd couple dynamic make for good drama?

“I think it’s absolutely healthy to get out of your comfort zone, mix it up and hang out with all different types of people. With this, why it makes good cinema is we’re telling a really heavy story and two strangers build an unlikely relationship and try to lift each other up. The young boy is trying to help keep this man alive, and the man is trying to give him strength to fight back and stand up for himself.”

I try to look at the hopeful side of things

Is there a lack of suitable role models in today’s society, where even our politicians are hardly figures to aspire to?

“I like to think the opposite, to be honest. I think there’s some beautiful role models out there. And if you can be one for anyone you should be. I try to be a role model to all my nieces and nephews, I have so many of them. I hope I’m a role model for my wife and baby girl. I try to look at the hopeful side of things.”

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The last time The Big Issue interviewed Paul was in September 2016, when
he was angry and outspoken about the upcoming US election, as Trump’s campaign was starting to build a momentum that would eventually carry him to victory.

He said at the time: “It’s very scary. This person should not be in control of anything, let alone a country. If it happens, God forbid, I wouldn’t know what to do… I would jump ship. I would be terrified. I’d go somewhere safe and bring my entire family with me.” It turns out that’s exactly what he ended up doing. “I started building a compound. I moved my family to some sort of sanctuary,” he says now.

The Paul family’s “wilderness retreat” in his home state of Idaho is situated in a village on the shores of a glacial lake, two-and-a-half hours away from the closest airport. “It takes me right back to my childhood – lying in the back and staring up at the trees, covered in snow.”

He’s also “dropped the news” in reaction to seeing nothing in the media except Trump and the coronavirus, believing he’s “cracked a code”, and is feeling much more optimistic.“It’s just an interesting time that we’re in. Just a crazy time. I really don’t know what to say about anything any more,” he concludes. “I try to look at the hopeful side of things.”

The Parts You Lose is available on digital download now