There are no Aaron Paul scandals. There are no solemn-faced public apologies or contrite retractions on his Twitter feed. His Wikipedia page is totally sans a ‘controversies’ sub-category. He’s just your mate off the telly.

He’s someone you’re sure you can trust. You’d lend him a tenner in a heartbeat, stand him a pint, invite him to the afters without a second thought. He’s the guy from the thing. You know the guy – the guy who played the guy who wasn’t altogether worth rooting for but who you rooted for anyway.

He calls me on a Wednesday evening – midday for him in Los Angeles. He uses his wife’s Skype account. “I don’t have a laptop” he tells me when I ask about this. He does use social media, though more sparingly these days. “I try to live a private life a little bit. But it’s hard for me not to gush about my wife and just how proud I am of her and how much I love her. I think I used to do it a lot more back in the day, but once our family started growing I pulled back. I realised, wow, I really just kind of want to keep this to myself.”

His wife is Lauren Paul (née Parsekian), a brilliant anti-bullying campaigner and documentary maker. They got married in May 2013 and welcomed their first child, a daughter named Story, in February 2018. At one point he excuses himself to go and check on her, and I’m left alone to snoop.

Unfortunately, of course, this is a video interview and all I can see through the webcam is a bit of sofa and some vivid blue LA sky framed by wide windows. The sofa looks comfortable, a big baby-friendly couch. It’s not at all the kind of rich-person sofa you might expect from the star of one of the most successful TV shows of all time. He could have phoned from a zero gravity chamber, strapped into a slowly spinning gold La-Z-Boy and I would have thought: “yeah, seems about right.”

I started saving up change when I was ten years old to move to Hollywood

It’s been a busy year for our pal Aaron. He’s currently filming the next series of hit show Westworld where he’ll star as the mysterious Caleb, a construction worker with (you would assume) a great many secrets. He’ll also play a convicted killer in Serial-inspired true-crime show Truth Be Told (also starring Octavia Spencer). Oh, and he’s also starring in the Breaking Bad movie, El Camino. (Breaking Bad? You know, the once biggest show in the world that defined and catalysed the golden age of television as we know it.) The film will see Aaron reprise his role as Jesse Pinkman, the drug-taking, meth-making, bitch-exclaiming fan favourite.

Last time we saw Jesse was (spoiler alert, bitch) in the concluding moments of Breaking Bad’s finale way back in 2013. Tortured, kept prisoner and forced to cook meth, a newly free Jesse climbs into one of his dead captor’s cars – an iconic Chevrolet El Camino – and drives away from the compound where he’s been held captive. Walter White, his chemistry teacher turned business-partner turned emotional tormenter turned eventual emancipator, lays dying somewhere behind him. I ask Aaron what Jesse feels in that moment. “He’s been beaten and tortured for the past six months, lived in a hole. He’s in a place of relief, desperately trying to run away from an incredible darkness. It’s pain – and a huge weight lifting off. But he’s still a little scared, you know? He’s not in the clear yet at all. He’s very much in hiding and on the run.” 

Aaron Paul Collectors Edition Square Mile Magazine
Aaron Paul Collectors Edition Square Mile Magazine

He won’t confirm where the film’s action picks up, but two newly released trailers suggest it won’t be long after this escape. One trailer is barely a minute long, and shows Jesse sitting alone in the El Camino, smoking a cigarette and weeping. From the crackling car radio we hear reports of the massacre at the compound: “Investigators are searching for a person of interest who fled the scene.” The other trailer is slightly longer, but not by much. It shows Jesse washing months of grime from his scarred and broken body, unwilling to let his gun out of sight even in the shower. Each clip has been thoroughly dissected on the Breaking Bad subreddit, where new threads are created hourly. Fans discuss the positioning of the scars on Jesse’s cheek, his outfits, his haircut. They post memes, speculate about which characters will return, and carefully schedule their series re-watches to coincide with the Netflix release. Viewing parties are being planned, recipes for homemade Franch dip and blue-meth popcorn traded. All of this for a film about a character who was supposed to be killed off in series one.

Aaron tells me, “When I read the script of Breaking Bad, I just knew this was my opportunity to really spread my wings and try to take it to the next level. I made sure that I fought a good fight.” And it’s a fight he’s familiar with. Aaron moved to LA from his native Idaho when he was just 17. “I started saving up change when I was ten years old to move to Hollywood. I had a jar of pennies and nickels and dimes next to my bed and I told my parents I was moving to California when I graduated.”

How did they feel about that? “They were so sweet and supportive like, ‘OK honey. We believe in you. You can do this’. “And then I ended up graduating a year early and just kind of ran off.”  The period before landing the role of Jesse was testing: “I had lots of ups, lots of downs. I was living a great life, living off commercials for some time, and doing quite well, but then the guest-stars and re-occurings slowed down a little bit and there was this looming writers’ strike right around the corner, and there was this kind of steady panic building. I didn’t know when my next paycheck was gonna come.”

I lied to all of their faces. It was actually kind of fun

His roles in bizarre noughties commercials are often trotted out on talk shows or embedded in viral tweets. In one – oddly sexual – advert for Juicy Fruits, Aaron uses some kind of telekinesis to obtain a packet of chewing gum from a doctor’s pocket, stripping the man of his shirt in the process. In another, he squirms beneath a towering quiff as his parents withhold his beloved Kellogg’s Corn Pops cereal. In the wake of Aaron’s great success, these make hilarious viewing, but for an actor of his considerable talent you do wonder if they ever felt unsatisfying or demeaning. (I planned to ask him about this, but spilled hot herbal tea in my lap and lost my train of thought. Still, you do wonder.)

Across five seasons, Breaking Bad won 16 Primetime Emmy’s, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globes, and an avalanche of other prestigious awards. The finale is widely considered as one of the most perfect endings in TV history. So why come back? Why press play after all this time? Did he have unfinished business with Jesse? “A little bit. At the end of the show when I read that – him busting through the gates in this El Camino and screaming and crying and laughing – it felt like kind of a nice goodbye. But so many people kept asking ‘what happened to Jesse? Where’s Jesse?’. It was the one question left unanswered. And they did the same thing to Vince and so it was just an itch that Vince needed to scratch.” 

Vince is, of course, Vince Gilligan, the creator, head writer, executive producer and director of Breaking Bad. Aaron’s love and respect for this man is well-documented (he regularly calls him a genius and promises to follow him into fires if necessary.) Still, was there ever even a moment where he considered turning down the project and letting sleeping drug-dealers lie? “Zero. None. Because that would mean that I didn’t 100% trust Vince, which is not the case. I would do anything that he asked me to do, that’s how much I trust him. I wouldn’t even need to really read the project; I’d just know that he wouldn’t do something for no reason.

“There’s got to be a purpose behind it, there’s got to be a drive behind it. I felt that Breaking Bad was for the most part pretty perfect, you know? And they really nailed the ending. So why continue this story? And Vince’s reasoning was ‘There’s more story to tell’. And so here we are.”

Here we are indeed, just a couple of weeks away from the film’s hotly anticipated release. I ask if he’ll be watching along with viewers when it drops. “I’ll actually be travelling that day. I’m either going to London first and then Spain or Spain first and then London to start the big worldwide press tour.” (So if you’re in London or Spain or Spain or London on 11 October, keep an eye out.) Despite the show’s cult following and the magnitude of the project, details have been kept impressively under wraps.

Aaron Paul Breaking Bad

Beth: Nobody really knew this film was happening. In the age of social media and everything getting leaked – how did you manage that? 

Aaron: I have no idea. Especially since we were shooting in Albuquerque for the most part. It’s pretty crazy that they kept it under wraps. 

And all you had to do was just keep quiet about it?

Yeah. People would ask me what I was doing and I’d say ‘I’m just doing this little passion project’ and they’d say, ‘are you sure you’re not doing Better Call Saul?’ and I would say ‘no’ and no-one would second guess it. They trusted me.

Which was a mistake, obviously, because you were lying to their faces.

[Laughing] I lied to all of their faces. It was actually kind of fun.

Is he worried that the movie will bring about a revival of fans shouting the word ‘bitch’ at him in public? “Oh that’s never stopped,” he says, deadpan. “I was worried at one point that ‘bitch’ might be my daughter’s first word, because it was so relentless. It’s not as bad as it used to be, and I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as it used to be ever, because I don’t really use the word bitch a lot in this film.” I ponder if the bitch-era is truly finished. He laughs. “Yeah he’s in a much heavier place at the moment.”

But is it tonally similar to the show? Are we going to laugh, Aaron Paul? Are we going to have a nice time? “It’s Vince Gilligan. He wrote it, he directed it, it’s coming out of his mind. It’s going to be so many familiar faces in terms of crew, a lot of the same people that worked on the pilot, and then throughout the series, and then throughout the making of Better Call Saul, so yeah I think that it has similar tones to Breaking Bad. Maybe on a grander scale.”

I ask if it was difficult to access Jesse after six years away from the role. “It really wasn’t, and truthfully, not to discredit the rehearsal process, but with this film, the moment I read it in Vince’s office, I just knew the beats, I knew how I was going to play these moments. With particular scenes I like to be surprised in the moment, so I just showed up on the day and just kind of went for it. I got to revisit an old friend with Pinkman. I grew to know and love Jesse so much, more than anyone on the planet. More than Vince, more than the rest of the writers. I knew this guy better than anybody.”

OK, but would you let Jesse babysit?

Maybe. He took care of a young boy in the episode ‘Peekaboo’ and I think he did a good job with it. But also – he’s a murderer.

Yeah. He is a bit of a murderer

[nodding solemnly] So maybe not him.

The film will be the first time we see Jesse in a post-Walt world, unless the latter rises from drug kingpin hell to continue being a trouble-making slag. In reality, Aaron & Bryan are closer than ever. They recently launched their own Mescal brand, Dos Hombres, and Bryan also attended Aaron’s blow-out 40th birthday trip to the Dominican Republic. There’s a beautiful shot on Aaron’s Instagram of the two of them sitting in front of the sunset, sipping Dos Hombres in matching all-white outfits.

I ask Aaron what he’s learned from Bryan: “That it’s OK to not be professional 100% of the time. It’s OK to be immature, and break up the tension. Bryan is the most professional-slash-immature person I’ve ever met.” What does he think Bryan learned from him? “God… you’d have to ask him, man. I have no idea. He’s learned how to make some pretty fierce cocktails from me, I guess.”

If he lights up when I ask about Bryan, he goes full-wattage when talk we about Lauren and Story. I ask how he’s finding fatherhood. “It’s the best thing in the world. I mean, I loved my life before but truly my life began when I became a father. And watching my wife become a mother is just [he pauses] it’s impossible to explain. It’s impossible to explain the true gift that being a parent is.”

He and his wife are both successful, accomplished in their own fields. How do they support each other’s work? “We try to raise each other up as often as possible. I’m just so proud of her. I fell in love with her pretty instantly. Especially after I found out what she’s dedicated her life to doing.

“She does two tours a year with Kind Campaign – a Spring and a Fall tour – where she travels and talks to young girls about the effects of bullying. Each tour lasts about a month, and I try to go with her during that if I can. Otherwise, she’s travelling with me. Her and baby girl are with me wherever I’m shooting at the moment.”

I love seeing females more in power positions on set

This is the kind of unfiltered earnestness that has earned him major kudos online, where his Instagram account functions as a kind love letter to his family and his friends and his work and the world. Indeed, he uses the word love 34 times in our 45-minute conversation. This guy loves. “I’m never shy of letting someone know how much I care. I think people need to do that as often as possible. Just let people know how much you love and appreciate them.”

Away from Breaking Bad, I touch on his role as Todd Chavez in Netflix’s cartoon series Bojack Horseman. Aaron describes Todd as “this sort of delinquent slacker who’s actually so incredibly smart. He does have these idiotic ideas at times, but he truly has a brilliant mind.”
He’s a yellow-hatted, rock opera-writing bum with a heart of gold. He’s also asexual. In season three, Todd grapples with identity (“I’m not gay. I mean, I don’t think I am. But I don’t think I’m straight, either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”) In season four, he begins to identify as asexual, meeting people in the ace community and navigating relationships.

Todd’s asexuality isn’t the punchline, nor is it a shortcut to stereotype, and Aaron’s damn proud of this. “That was such a beautiful and caring approach,” he tells me. “I’ve had a personal friend reach out to me and tell me ‘My god, I didn’t know what I was until Bojack. I had no idea that was even a possibility – to just be.’ I’ve had numerous strangers either write me letters or come up to me on the street and say ‘I found my identity through Todd Chavez’.”

Bojack Horseman is a show about fame and power, and one which acts as a cultural canary in the coal mine (it’s also brilliantly funny. In season five, Aaron also voices Henry Fondle, a sex robot with a blender for a head and a great many alarming rubber attachments. Watch it!).

We talk about the changes he’s seen in Hollywood: “I love seeing females more in power positions on set. Especially in the last couple of years I’ve worked with so many incredible female directors. It used to be incredibly rare that I would have a director who happened to be female. They were around and they are around, obviously, because here they are, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, just doing such beautiful work. This industry is under a spotlight, so they’re really pushing the needle forward and it’s so nice to see.”

I ask him how much time we have left. Not long. If he was in a production office or in the back of an Uber I’d push for more time, an extra ten or 20 minutes. He’s nice enough that he’d probably agree. But he’s at home and his daughter’s in the other room and shit, no, I can’t do it. I fire off a few final questions.

What are you listening to at the mo?

I always have on some sort of Radiohead album. I love Arcade Fire, Jack Garrett. I’m always listening to War on Drugs radio on Pandora, it’s just such a nice, calming, fun vibe.

What does a restful day look like to you?

Just laying in my baby girl’s nursery and just playing with her dolls and her bunnies.

Is… is she there as well?

Oh no, no, this is my time. [Laughs] No she’s definitely there. Just laying around with my ladies and really just doing nothing. Taking walks and going to the park.

Do you watch any British TV shows?

I loved the show The Street.

I don’t think I’ve seen that.

Oh you should watch it. It’s a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant show. Also obviously the original Office.

You’re a fan?

Oh, I’m obsessed with Ricky Gervais. He’s just so brilliant and just relentless.

Could we see you working together?

Oh my God, please. If you could maybe send him a note that would be great.

I’ll see what I can do. Can you imagine ever retiring?

No. Even at the hardest times in my career I’ve loved the process, I’ve loved storytelling, I’ve loved make-believe. I just never let go of that. I can’t let go

Have you ever said no to a project and then regretted it?

I definitely have, but it’s good to not keep looking back, to just move on. My wife taught me that. She was able to get that thorn out of my side post Breaking Bad. Everything happens for a reason. I’m in a very healthy and happy place in my life. I have a wonderfully kind and beautiful wife and baby girl. I really can’t ask for anything more.

El Camino is out on 11 October on Netflix.