Aaron Paul Is Breaking In A New Role: Here He Shares All On His Top Secret New Role On “Westworld”

Aaron Paul
BY LAURA SCHREFFLER
PHOTOGRAPHY BRIAN BOWEN SMITH 
STYLING MONTY JACKSON
GROOMING DANIELLE PIERSONS
SHOT ON LOCATION AT HOTEL FIGUEROA, DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

ON HIS VERY FIRST DAY on the set of “Westworld” as the new kid in school, Aaron Paul was in for a rude awakening. Instead of rolling out the red carpet, his cast and crew welcomed him with: “Welcome to war.”

They weren’t joking. “So many people said, ‘Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, and they’re all true. This is a very hard show with long hours. It’s very dirty; messy, but beautiful,’” Paul says.

But for Paul, an admitted fanboy of the dystopian HBO series, it was one of the best experiences of his life. “It was exactly [as they said],” he confirms. “And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

The 40-year-old, three-time Emmy winner is still waging the “Westworld” battle when he shows up—promptly—for our photo shoot at Hotel Figueroa in Downtown Los Angeles. Impressive, especially given that the prior evening’s pick-up shoot was meant to be an all-nighter. But the city of LA intervened, and he got to catch some much-needed Zzzs before getting camera-ready.

“I thought we were going to be shooting until sunrise,” he explains, “but the city of Los Angeles thankfully came in and saved us by saying, ‘You can’t shoot on [this particular] street,’ so I got to sleep a little bit.”

He wasn’t so lucky on his actual last day of filming. “My official final day of the season wrapped around 8:30 in the morning, and I had to go straight to a press junket that didn’t wrap until 7:30 p.m. All I was doing was drinking espresso martinis and far too much straight espresso. I’ve never felt that kind of exhaustion before,” he admits.

But according to Paul, his sleepless nights will translate into really amazing viewing for fans of the show. Unfortunately for us—and you—the operation is so cloak-and-dagger that he can’t really divulge much about his arc, or what’s in store for the third season. He could tell us, but then he’d have to kill us, etc., etc., etc.

Aaron Paul
What we know is this: Paul plays Caleb Nichols, a blue-collar construction worker who has his own robot named George and exists in the not-so-distant future. He appears to commit heists with characters played by Lena Waithe and Marshawn Lynch, though the majority of his scenes are with Evan Rachel Wood, who plays protagonist/antagonist Dolores Abernathy, a robot “host” who was last seen leading a revolution at Westworld, an exclusive theme park where the rich can afford to live out their fantasies through said hosts. We also know that Caleb is a “polar opposite” to Paul’s infamous “Breaking Bad” character, Jesse Pinkman. “They wouldn’t hang out in the same crowd whatsoever,” he notes.

So what can Paul share about the Emmy-nominated series’ third season? “I can say that it comes out on March 15,” he laughs mischievously. “I will also definitely say that it’s one of the greatest projects I’ve ever done in my career. People are really going to love the direction that they’re taking this series. The first two seasons for the most part took place inside of the park; this season absolutely takes you outside of it. Also, I have some great screen time with the brilliant Evan Rachel Wood. I’ve been a fan of her work for so long now, but getting to know her personally, I just absolutely love and adore her and her beautiful boy, Jack. She’s such a great person, a great mother [and] a great friend.”

If he sounds like he’s drank the Kool-Aid, well, that isn’t far from the truth. “Sci-fi is my favorite genre—I’m always sucked into those kinds of stories—and I just love working with [Creators] Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy so much,” he raves. “They pride themselves on not dealing with any amount of bullshit. If there is weirdness or bad vibes, they just [cut it out]. They’re such a power couple. Watching them on set together, they’re such geniuses, so madly in love and constantly lifting each other up… it’s a beautiful thing to be around.”

And aside from the whole “welcome to war” intro, his experience with the cast—which includes Tessa Thompson, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth and Ed Harris—was pretty outstanding. “It was such a family,” he recalls, “and I could already tell it was such a close family before I jumped onboard. Everyone was so sweet and kind. We were constantly laughing on set, just having the best time. It was a really great place to work.”

And perhaps it will continue to be a great place to work for another year. If we had to read between the dotted the lines, we’d infer (got it, we’re guessing!) that Caleb Nichols will survive for a fourth season. Paul definitely knows the fate of his character, but his lips are zipped. “People will know when they watch whether I make it or not,” he maintains.

Live or die, he’s just happy to have been given the opportunity to live in this “World.” He marvels, “I now find myself on a show that I’ve admired from afar and in such an intense way. The fact that I’m on it, I’m constantly pinching myself.”

Aaron Paul

TRUTH BE TOLD, we were expecting a little more Jesse Pinkman than we get from Aaron Paul. The only thing the two seem to have in common is a love of beanies and a high school diploma. In reality, he’s lovely—polite, engaging and tactile. He hugs often, he laughs hard. Basically, we can well believe that he is the Idaho-born son of a Baptist minister.

But Paul always dreamed big, and immediately after graduating high school, hopped in his Toyota Corolla (not, with some degree of poetic license, an El Camino) and headed for the bright lights of LA.

He worked as an usher at Universal Studios, appearing in a series of music videos, T.V. guest spots and minor film roles before landing a recurring role on HBO’s “Big Love.” And in 2009, he got his big break: “Breaking Bad.”

“I had been fighting in this industry for some time… [appearing on] every hour [-long] drama on television [as a criminal in an] interrogation room. I was always the guy they think did the crime but never ended up doing it, you know? There was this long road that led me to Jesse Pinkman, the lovable bad guy,” he notes.

But what a road! The series earned him three Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Emmy Awards, in 2010, 2012 and 2014, respectively, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Critics’ Choice Award, among other things. It also spawned “El Camino”, a sequel film dedicated solely to the story of Jesse Pinkman that aired on Netflix late last year.

“Breaking Bad felt like such a once-in-a-lifetime thing, just in terms of experience and material,” he notes. “I always joke around that ‘It’s all downhill from here’—which isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. I had “Breaking Bad”, and it was beautiful. People fight their entire careers and never have that kind of opportunity.”

Aaron Paul

Yet, lightning has struck twice for Jesse Pinkman, and for Aaron Paul as a result, but he doesn’t feel like a third time will be a charm. In his opinion, his character got closure, starting a new and hopefully crime-free life in the small town of Haines, Alaska. “I think the purpose of “El Camino” was to have some sort of closure with Jesse Pinkman. I feel that [the movie] did that.” he says. And regardless of whether Jesse’s story is done for good, it’s done for Paul. “Yes, he is done for me,” he says, “But.” Aha! “I said that years ago too, so I don’t know, we’ll see. I mean, if there is a reason to explore deeper into his story, then great, but at the moment, I don’t see what the reason would be.” And sorry, “Breaking Bad” fans, but he’s poo-pooing a Pinkman/Saul Goodman reunion for the final season of “Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul”, too.

The one thing that will never fade is his close friendship with Bryan Cranston—not only because they’re best friends, but because they’re now business partners, too. The duo launched their high-end mezcal brand, Dos Hombres (“Two Guys”), last year.

Of their friendship, Paul says, “Bryan and I became so close so early on “Breaking Bad.” He instantly took me under his wing; that’s just the type of guy that he is. He’s one of my best friends, my mentor. He really takes care of his cast and crew. He always said, ‘Being No. 1 on the call sheet, you have a responsibility. You really set the tone of a set,’ and it’s true. He always said this, but Bryan is the most professional-slash-immature person I’ve ever met, and that’s the greatest combination to have. He comes to set always ready, but also he’s always joking around and making everyone cry laughing and just messing up takes on purpose.

“After the show was done,” Paul continues, “We were having sushi in New York, where we were both working at the time. He asked me if I felt it was too soon to do another project—and this was before El Camino was even a conversation—and I said, ‘I think so, because everyone is still going to see us as [characters] Walt and Jesse for a bit.’”

During the course of the dinner, he suggested a play, among other ideas, before dropping his grand plan: booze. Cranston laughed at him; Paul earnestly said he was serious and suggested mezcal, a Mexican alcohol distilled from agave. “[Bryan] was like, ‘’The one with the worm on the bottom?’” Paul recalls. “I said, ‘Not always, but technically, yes.’” It was a role reversal—the teacher became the student and then peers. “So we ordered a couple of mezcal cocktails. Over that cocktail, and then the walk home, and for a few weeks after, we couldn’t shake that idea, and here we are just over three years later.”

Aaron Paul
Here, at this moment in time, is a pretty good place for Aaron Paul. His life is but a dream. Professionally, following “Breaking Bad”, he starred in films such as “Need for Speed”, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, “Eye in the Sky” and “Central Intelligence”, as well as multiple TV series including Hulu’s “The Path” and “BoJack Horseman” (on which he also served as an executive producer). He’s currently looking for the right kind of comedy (producers—no slapsticks, please). But personally, he’s hit a whole new level. He’s married to the love of his life, Kind Campaign Founder Lauren Paul (née Parsekian), whom he met at Coachella in 2009 and married in 2013; Cranston was one of his groomsmen at their Malibu wedding. And he is the father of an adorably precocious 2-year-old, Story Annabelle, with another baby possibly on the way in the near future.

His wife and daughter have made him into the man he is today. “[Lauren] completely changed my life, saved my life. She’s such a beacon of kindness and hope and love,” he says, adding, “Fatherhood has definitely changed me. Having a child is the closest thing to magic that anyone can have. I see why people rush home to be there when they get home from school. You don’t want to miss any of it.” As an aside, Story is now talking nonstop, but he refuses to be the one to teach her Jesse Pinkman’s signature word: “bitch.”

In fact, he’s loving this Zen new chapter so much that turning 40 barely registered, instead of being an age to dread. “I honestly thought, ‘This is going to be the birthday that finally, really hits me,’ but I don’t think it really has,” Paul declares. “People get stressed out when they get older, but you should be happy that you’re still here. It’s easily the best chapter of my life. I think if I maybe was single, didn’t have a job and was struggling and I turned 40, it would be a lot harder, but I feel I’m in a good place. I can’t wait to have another baby, and I’m so excited to see what 40 has to offer. I’m just excited to be around, to be alive. I’m just happy to be here. Life is good.”

Aaron Paul

 

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