Aaron Paul is in a really good place right now. With a growing family and mezcal business to consider, he’s taking the entire year off from the film business in order to focus on both. But in the meantime, he still has several new projects that are already in the can, including Riley Stearns’ sci-fi dark comedy, Dual. In a world where individuals have to battle their clones for ownership of their own identity, Paul plays Trent, a sensei-like combat instructor, who trains Karen Gillan’s Sarah to defeat her double. However, Paul was nearly recast as he encountered various travel obstacles en route to the Finland-based set in the fall of 2020.
“I couldn’t find my passport the day I was supposed to leave, so I had to fly to Hawaii for a last-minute rushed passport situation,” Paul tells The Hollywood Reporter.
A week ago, at Better Call Saul’s final season premiere, co-creator Vince Gilligan planted the seed that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman would likely appear at some point during the final season of Saul. Twenty-four hours later, at PaleyFest, Saul co-creator Peter Gould made it official as he announced that Paul and Cranston would reprise their beloved roles without specifying when or how. The uncharacteristically early reveal shocked fans of the Breaking Bad universe, including Paul himself. After all, this is the same tight-lipped brain trust that went to great lengths to hide the existence of 2019’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
While fans may have expected Walt and Jesse to return at some point, Paul believes they’ll still be surprised by the way in which they return.
“I think it would be odd if Walt and Jesse didn’t make an appearance. So I’m excited that we did and how we did,” Paul says.
In a recent conversation with THR, Paul also looks back at the El Camino scene he fought to keep, while also teasing what to expect from Westworld season four.
If you were to duel yourself like the premise of Dual, how would you defeat yourself? What weakness of yours would you exploit en route to victory?
Oh my god! That’s a great question, man. I would throw a Snickers bar in a corner and just wait for the other [me] to run after it. Then I would stab him in the back. (Laughs.) Snickers are not so much my guilty pleasure, but I have this obsession with them.
I love how dry, incisive and deadpan your line deliveries are. Trent’s voice is hypnotic in a way. Did anyone inspire his manner of speaking?
Not really, man. I’ve known Riley for so long and how he writes is almost like how he speaks. It’s just who he is. He has such a specific and unique way about him in real life, and his writing definitely echoes that. So it just kind of came to be as I was reading the script over and over again, and when he asked me to jump on board, it was such a no-brainer.
So in the fall of 2020, how difficult was it to get to the Finland-based set for four days?
Man, I cannot even begin to tell you the process it took to get to Finland. It was supposed to be the first flight I jumped on since the craziness we all went through. But I couldn’t find my passport the day I was supposed to leave, so I had to fly to Hawaii for a last-minute rushed passport situation. I flew to Honolulu to get a rushed passport, which I got that day, and then I had to fly back to L.A. And on the way to the airport, my driver got in a car wreck with two identical yellow Ferraris on the freeway. But then I finally made it to the airport. My wife [Lauren Paul] felt that all of these signs were so blinding that I wasn’t supposed to go to Finland. So she was very worried, but I finally made it out there.
I guess that explains the prominent thank you to Lauren in the credits.
(Laughs.) Yeah! My buddy Philly Waller, who lives in Hawaii, and Chris Barcelona also got thank you credits. They helped me out with my passport, so it was a big deal and all hands were on deck. I think the producers were just scrambling and trying to figure out who they could replace me with. To get a rushed passport. everything was booked up for weeks in advance, so my wife threw a Hail Mary. She goes, “Look, I booked you an appointment. It’s in Honolulu tomorrow morning. Your flight to Honolulu leaves in two hours and we have to go.” So it was crazy.
I love how Trent just wants to learn to hip hop dance without judgment, but he’s had an ongoing case of gym anxiety, which is a real thing. Is there something that you’ve been wanting to try for years, but you just can’t bring yourself to actually do it?
Yeah, piano. My daughter is 4 years old now, and she’s obsessed with singing. So she starts her first singing lessons next week. She just wants to start singing with kids. I guess it’s not lessons; It’s really more of a singing class. But I just have this dream of doing a daddy-daughter piano recital with her. So I think she’s going to encourage me to do that.
Was Trent’s forward roll in your bag of tricks already?
(Laughs.) Thank you so much for noticing that, my friend. No, Riley taught me that roll on the day. It was fun!
Compared to the days of not drinking water in the desert or roaming around Albuquerque after hours, what’s your acting technique like these days? Has it changed at all?
It still kind of feels the same. I’m always beating myself up for some reason. The roles that land on my desk, at least the roles that I tend to gravitate towards, are characters who are kind of being dragged around a little bit. Trent wasn’t too abused; he was fine. But I still beat myself up a little bit.
Does every young actor need to try out various techniques just to figure out what works and what doesn’t?
Yeah, I never really had any acting classes. I did theater in high school, but when I moved to L.A., the comments I would hear from my agent and manager were like, “You’re still a little green.” So I wasn’t booking jobs. But I think it’s just trial and error. If you keep stumbling, you’ve got to pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes. Just keep marching forward. But everyone has their own process. Some people can just turn it on the moment they yell action. The longer you do something, the better you get at it, at least you hope so. It seems that it should get easier, and sometimes it does. I think it’s just all about the writing.
A few years ago, everyone had to hide the existence of El Camino, but now, [Better Call Saul co-creators] Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have let the cat out of the bag regarding your upcoming guest spot on Better Call Saul’s final season. Were you shocked when you learned they announced this already?
Shocked! I was heading to the [final season] premiere party of Better Call Saul, and they go, “There’s a flag on the play. Just so you know, Vince and Peter let everyone know that you and Bryan are going to be in the final season.” And I was like, “What?!” So I didn’t see that coming. But to be honest, I’m happy to be able to finally talk about it and not be squirrelly. It’s nice to be able to be open about it. So I’m excited. I think fans of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul might have been expecting it. They’ve been seeing the Breaking Bad family slowly appear within the walls of Better Call Saul, so I think it would be odd if Walt and Jesse didn’t make an appearance. So I’m excited that we did and how we did. I think people are going to be thrilled about it.
I’ve been told that their return is done in a very unexpected way.
Yeah. To be honest, I’m such a fan of Better Call Saul that I just didn’t initially see how they were going to do it. But of course, leave it to Vince and Peter and the rest of the writers to come up with the perfect way. It’s fun. I think people are going to be excited.
Was it ever difficult for you to watch Better Call Saul? In other words, did it ever make you miss hanging out with your friends in the Albuquerque desert?
Not watching it, but I remember a lot of the Breaking Bad cast showed up to the season one premiere of Better Call Saul. And so much of the same crew is on Better Call Saul. So it was odd to see everyone come together and celebrate Bob’s [Odenkirk] new show. It was just such a family, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous. We all had the time of our lives out in Albuquerque, shooting Breaking Bad. But it’s just so cool to see what they’ve accomplished with [Better Call Saul], and I feel so blessed to be a very small part of it.
My favorite moment in El Camino occurs after Jesse manipulated his parents into leaving their house so he could retrieve a couple guns from their safe. Once he got inside, he noticed that their kitchen faucet was still dripping, so he went over to it and turned it off. And I just love that moment because even though he just lied to them, it’s a small gesture that shows he still gives a damn. Did you have a similar reaction to it?
I love that! I love that you noticed that. I did [have a similar reaction]. He loves them deep down, and when he called them, he knew this was the last time he was going to speak with them. So it was such a beautiful moment. When we were shooting El Camino, there was a night shoot that was right before he blew up [Kandy Welding Co.]. And there’s a scene where he’s waiting for the girls to leave, and then he sees a beetle and picks it up and looks at it. It was a throwback to Breaking Bad’s “Peekaboo.” And the first AD came up to me and was like, “We’re gonna scrap that little scene. We’re gonna head to this other shot. We’re running out of time.” And I just begged them to keep that in there because I just loved that moment so much. I was like, “Look, let’s just set up the camera. We’ll do one take. Let’s just do it.” And so we did and it made it in. I just love those little moments that peek inside Jesse’s heart.
Did you ever actually record the voiceover of Jesse reading Brock’s letter?
I did not, but I have the letter. The original script ended with the voiceover of the letter, and it’s just such a beautiful letter. When I read the first draft without it, I called Vince and I pleaded with him. I went, “No, Vince! I think we need it. It’s such a beautiful moment. It’s really going to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. It’s going to be really powerful.” I remember them telling me, “Look, we’ll record it, and if it works, it works.” But we never ended up recording it.
You and Bryan, as Jesse and Walt, ran a fictional business together, and a lot of real-life business lessons were learned in the process. Since the two of you now run your own mezcal business, did you apply any knowledge from your fictional business to Dos Hombres?
(Laughs.) It’s all about the purity of the product, really. When we first went down to Oaxaca, we traveled all over that beautiful countryside, searching for what we felt was the best mezcal out there. And then we stumbled on this little operation truly by accident, and it was just one of those a-ha moments when we found it. But I couldn’t be more proud of what we have built so far together, and it’s been so fun to team up with that beautiful man once again. It all started with a conversation in New York, and this was only three years after the finale of Breaking Bad. We were having sushi, side by side, at this sushi bar, and Bryan asked me, “Do you think it’s a little too early to jump into another project together?” We had such a great time working together, but I thought it was a little too soon. But then I asked him, “Well, what do you think about the booze business?” And then he laughed at me. But now, here we are. (Laughs.)
I’m always seeing footage of you guys at events for it. It clearly means a lot to you both, and it sounds like your bond has deepened even more.
Yeah, it really has. This is our baby. This is all self-funded from the very beginning. There wasn’t some company that came to us and asked us if we wanted to make a quick buck. This is something that we built. We hire every employee. We talk about Dos Hombres every single day. I’m taking this entire year off from the film industry. I also just had a baby boy, so I’m focusing on my family and my company. So we’re really passionate about it and excited about the road ahead.
I have to ask you a Breaking Bad question that pertains to Bryan. In season three’s “Half Measures,” there’s a montage of Wendy (Julia Minesci), the root beer-loving prostitute, and she has a quick skirmish with a competing prostitute at the Crossroads Motel pool.
And I remain convinced that Bryan is in disguise as the rival prostitute. Does that ring a bell at all?
(Paul exhales.) It does not, but I love that. Why do you think that’s Bryan?
I know how this sounds, but I just know his jawline after watching him for countless hours.
(Laughs.) Have you ever seen Bryan dressed up as a woman?
I was going to mention that! I believe he dressed up as Skyler (Anna Gunn) for the season three wrap party, so I feel like one idea led to the other. He was clean shaven as Skyler, and I’d wager that he was already clean shaven for the role of Wendy’s uncredited rival. It would’ve been shot as a final pick-up scene for season three.
(Laughs.) I love this question. You know what, I would love it if that was Bryan, but I’m not sure if it was. If it was, I feel like I would know. But I also love the idea that everyone kept that secret from everyone. I’m just not sure.
Thirteen years after the events of El Camino, a teenage Holly White arrives in Alaska, looking for a 50-year-old fugitive named Jesse Pinkman. Should I draw up the contract now? Or do you need to see a script first?
(Laughs.) Honestly, if Vince is involved, my answer is yes.
By the way, I loved your movie The Parts You Lose. It’s a really beautiful story.
Oh, thank you so much, my friend. I really appreciate you saying that. I tried to make that film for so many years with Mark Johnson, our wonderful producer of Breaking Bad. I just love working with him. When we were wrapping things up on Breaking Bad, that was the first project he sent my way, but it was such a tough time putting that thing together. But I really am so proud of it. Danny Murphy, who I play opposite of, was so beautiful in that film. So I really appreciate you saying that.
Lastly, did Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy put you through the wringer again on Westworld season four?
Oh my god. (Laughs.) Oh. My. God. I can’t wait for people to see what this season is all about. They always go so much bigger as the seasons go on. Yeah, they definitely put me through it. That is certain. But it was done in a beautiful way, and I loved doing it.
Dual is now available in theaters, on demand and on digital. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.