Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul considered playing Kurt Cobain in a Nirvana biopic
(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

From J.J. Abrams to Ridley Scott: Aaron Paul’s 10 best performances away from ‘Breaking Bad’

American actor Aaron Paul is universally acclaimed for his brilliant performance as Jesse Pinkman in the popular series Breaking Bad, the role for which he has won several awards and accolades like Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film, and Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

After graduating from high school, Paul drove to Los Angeles in his 1982 Toyota Corolla with his mother and $6,000 in savings. Before he was famous, he worked as an usher at Universal Studios in Hollywood and even appeared on an episode of The Price Is Right. He started his acting career with roles in several music videos, guest roles in television, and minor roles in films.

On his 41st birthday, we take a look at some of his best performances other than the one he’s primarily known for.

Aaron Paul’s 10 best performances away from ‘Breaking Bad’

10. Eye In The Sky (Gavin Hood– 2015)

The 2015 war thriller stars Hellen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman and explores the ethical problems associated with the use of drone warfare. Paul plays the role of 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts, a USAF MQ-9 pilot who struggles with the conflicted duty of being a soldier while also being a compassionate human being.

In an interview, the actor had this to say about his character, “It’s impossible not to throw our own emotions into the mix. I feel I side with my character on this, that’s why I’m so happy I don’t have to be in his shoes and I’m not part of the decision-making process. He’s just trying to bide time, to wait until the last possible moment to release his payload.”

9. Mission: Impossible III (J.J. Abrams – 2006)

The third instalment features Paul in the small but pivotal role of Ethan Hunt’s (played by Tom Cruise) brother-in-law, Rick. He is the adorable screw-up who mistakenly leads the bad guys to his sister (played by Michelle Monaghan).

Abrams was initially hesitant about directing the film, “I just wanted to make a movie that’s worth seeing. Just because it’s Mission: Impossible III really wasn’t enough. Of course, I was excited by the opportunity, but when I saw the script that they were going to shoot, as brilliantly written as it was, I knew it wasn’t a movie that I could do justice to.

“I knew it wasn’t a version of the film that I could deliver – just because it wasn’t what interested me. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be a great movie and still couldn’t, it just wasn’t the version that I felt like I could say to them: ‘I’m the guy for this’.”

8. The Last House On The Left (Dennis Iliadis – 2009)

This remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 horror classic follows the story of a pair of teenage girls who are violated by a gang of psychopaths. Paul is menacing and creepy as one of the gang members. He himself admitted that he “couldn’t look at the screen” when he saw the film.

“It is a film about human nature. Evil can be mirrored in very interesting ways,” the director said. “I am trying to find beauty in the weirdest places. I’m not trying to shoot this in an expect way…there are scenes in the forest where terrible things happen but nature remains beautiful.”

7. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott – 2014)

Scott’s epic features the Biblical story of Moses (played by Christian Bale) who rebels against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (played by Joel Edgerton) and leads a mass migration of 800,000 slaves away from a plague-riddled Egypt. Paul plays the role of Joshua, the stoic right-hand man of Moses.

“It’s in every actor’s bucket list, for sure. Ridley Scott is a legend and I had to jump at this opportunity,” Paul said. “I grew up reading the Bible…my father was a Southern Baptist Minister so I know the book of Exodus and I was very excited to have the opportunity of playing Joshua.”

6. Hellion (Kat Candler – 2014)

Candler’s 2014 drama stars Aaron Paul as Hollis Wilson, an emotionally absent father of two. Hollis and his elder son, Jacob, learn to mend their ways so that Child Protective Services lets them reunite with Jacob’s little brother, Wes. Paul delivers a heart-breaking and moving performance as a man who was given up on life.

Paul explained why he was drawn to the project, “That’s what first drew me to this project. The script was sent to me along with the short film. I saw the short and thought it was just so fantastic, and I read the script and it was beautifully honest.”

Adding, “I loved this family just going through their struggle; I could relate. That’s why I jumped into it.”

5. Fathers and Daughters (Gabriele Muccino – 2015)

Gabriele Muccino’s 2015 drama stars Russel Crowe as Jake Davis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who struggles to cope with the loss of his wife and raising his daughter (played by Amanda Seyfried) by himself. The film shows how Jake’s issues affect his daughter, Katie, later on in her life.

Aaron Paul plays the role of Cameron, a man who Katie has a one-night-stand with and later dates. He is the person who helps Katie get over her intimacy issues and find love.

4. Need For Speed (Scott Waugh – 2014)

Based on the popular racing video game, the 2014 thriller features Paul as Tobey Marshall, a struggling mechanic and street-racer who gets locked up for murder after being framed by an ex-partner. When he gets out of prison, he embarks on a journey of high-octane racing and vengeance.

“I thought it was great. I was a fan of this game before, so when it was sent to me,” Paul revealed. “I knew there was no narrative there and I was interested to see what their take was.  And it hit me, right away. 

“The hero of the film, Tobey, is just a good guy and an everyman.  The focus of the film is him trying to right a wrong.”

3. Smashed (James Ponsoldt – 2012)

This critically acclaimed drama follows the story of two alcoholic lovers who struggle to accept the fact that their relationship is centred around their drinking habits. Paul is brilliant as the husband who’s not willing to sober up. His performance is full of emotional as well as hilarious moments.

Paul elaborated on his research for the role, “Most of my drinking happened before the shoot, just as research. And I filmed myself drunk, just to see what I’m like. I watched so many funny videos of people drunk on YouTube.”

He continued, “There are amazing videos on YouTube that only have like 400 views. I’m just shocked that the entire planet hasn’t seen them yet. They really are that good. I just find drunk people so funny.”

2. BoJack Horseman (Raphael Bob-Waksberg – 2014 to 2020)

One of the best contemporary animated shows out there, BoJack Horseman’s compelling anthropomorphic universe is a charming and whimsical space where humans and animals co-exist but everyone has their own problems to deal with. It’s a show about talking animals that explores the human condition a lot better than most talking humans do. Paul plays the role of Todd Chavez, an asexual guy who stumbles through life but always makes it out on top.

“When I sat down with Raphael [Bob-Waksberg], our creator and one of our producers, their whole concept was: ‘Look, yes, it’s kind of a comedy, but we’re really going to rip the heart out of our audience,’” Paul said.

“It’s a deep look at one man’s depression. It’s a really thoughtful, beautiful, heart-breaking look. And now we’re here—it’s the final season. Reading these final episodes, it’s so hard to let go, but how they wrap it all up is heart-breaking but in the most beautiful way possible.”

1. Westworld: Season 3 (Jonathan Nolan – 2020)

Based on the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton, Westworld depicts a future society where humans take their frustrations out on androids. However, things become problematic when some of the robots become sentient and realise the extent to which their existence is oppressed. Paul plays the role of Caleb Nichols, one of the main characters of season three who is a war veteran and a blue collar worker. Aaron Paul delivers a fantastic performance as Caleb, a man who refuses to accept that his fate is determined by a computer.

While talking about his character, Paul said, “He’s at a point in his life where he’s struggling. You realize that this guy has a pretty battered past. He’s dealing with some PTSD, and going through what he needs to go through, to overcome that.”

He added, “Just before he encounters Dolores, he makes a decision, in his life, that he just needs to find something real. He comes to this complete stranger’s aid, inside of a tunnel, and then she takes him on a pretty wild journey, to say the least.”

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