BlackBook Archives: An Interview with ‘Breaking Bad”s Aaron Paul

To all of our hearts discontent, this weekend marks the end for one of television’s greatest dramas. Brilliantly scripted, directed, and acted since its pilot episode, Breaking Bad has spent the past the past six years penetrating our emotions and slicing up our nerves, as we’ve navigated through Walter White’s dangerous and painful world—following his evolution from everyday family man and chemistry teacher simply trying to better his family, to a morally unsound and deeply tortured head of a meth-making empire. In its final season, show-runner Vince Gilligan—along fantastic guest directors, such as Bryan Cranston himself to Rian Johnson and Michelle MacLaren—have crafted some of the most visceral and riveting episodes to date, plunging us into the harrowing darkness that has befallen characters that encompass the Albuquerque-set drama’s rough and dusty landscape.

And although everyone on the show has undergone a tremendous arc in character since the initial season in 2008, it’s Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman who has altered the most outside of Walt. When we first met Pinkman, he was all bitches and yo’s, perennially clad in over-sized clothing and just a messed up kid with a good heart trying to make some money and get high in the process. But over the course of the series, Pinkman has undergone trauma after trauma, attempting to learn from his mistakes and better those he’s hurt in the process, but it’s only landed him amidst the deepest of hells. And fortunately for Paul, who has  “a face like a Boy Scout and an Idaho-inflected timbre flattening his vowels,” embodying the role of Pinkman—so far removed from his own personality— has earned him two Emmys Awards and four nominations thus far.
Back in the spring of 2011, I got the chance to chat with Paul about the upcoming fourth season of the show, the absolute joy of being a part of the cast, and a bit of starstruck Lost talk in between. The resulting conversation was used in a profile of Paul that ran in our 2011 Summer issue, but today, with the series finale airing this Sunday, we thought we’d share our full conversation with Paul for you. And my, how the times have changed.
Where are you right now?
I am in LA I just flew in late last night. We’re still shooting right now, I came straight from work to come into town for the. We’re on episode ten, we have three more to go.
How’s the shooting going?
It’s good we definitely take it to another level, it’s a much crazier ride this year.
You’ve had a lengthy shooting hiatus, no?
Yeah, we had a full year off. Usually we have about six months but this year we pushed by six months but I did a little traveling.
Where’d you go?
I went through Canada, New York, London, and then just kind of laid around and relaxed, and tried to get myself a job. I finally attached myself to something at the very end of the hiatus, a little indie film that we shot in Detroit.
It’s called Cripple, as of right now–it’s a true story about this guy is really successful mortgage broker, but he’s also a big partier and loves to drink and loves women, and one night he is celebrating and he dives into a lake fully-clothed when he’s drunk and ends up shattering his spine and breaking his neck, and becomes quadriplegic. So it’s about him coming to terms with his new existence and trying to see if he can overcome his new harsh reality. He does, and it’s a really inspiring story.
Was it a big transition for you, stepping from Jesse into that role?
I always find myself gravitating towards different characters. I’m definitely more of a character actor more than anything else; that’s my goal at least in life. This guy was definitely not “normal” he was definitely a wild child, which is always fun to play, but I’m the polar opposite of Jesse who is, well, one of a kind.
When you first signed on for the pilot of Breaking Bad, or even into the first season, did you have any idea how successful it would be?
Yeah no, I had no idea. I know personally it was one of the best things I’ve ever read and definitely the best pilot that had ever been placed in front of me. But after I read it, I was like, wait there’s no way in hell this would ever get picked up or see the light of day—this is not a television show, especially on AMC. When I read this, this is before AMC had any original programming, this was before Mad Men had come out. They were shooting the first season of Mad Men but it hadn’t aired yet, and I didn’t know AMC was doing original programming and trying to push their network by putting a show on that has to do with cooking and selling crystal meth. We pitched that show to people, and it’s a hard pitch because it’s not just about a guy deciding to cook and sell crystal meth because he’s dying of lung cancer, it’s about making really bad decisions for, at the end of the day, a really good reason. What would you do for your family? What would you do if you were pushed into a corner like that? I had never read anything like it.
A lot of people think you just crawled out of the woodwork, but you’ve been acting for quite a while now. 
I was on the original Beverly Hills 90210, that’s totally going to age me. It was one of my first jobs and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my god, I’m on 90210 right now.”
Was it one of those things where you were watching it one day and the next thing you know you were on it?
Yeah, it was such a huge success, I came out and auditioned for it and then booked it and then a week after I was done from Melrose offered me this role and I really thought my career was about to take off—but then I just stopped working for a while. So you just never know.
Originally, Jesse was intended to be killed off Breaking Bad. So once it was resolved that he would stay, how much of the character was developed for you and how did you get to know him.
I had no idea who this kid was. I had read the pilot and I think they had an idea where they were going to take this role, but they also thought they were going to kill off Jesse at the end of the first season. So going into it, even now, I definitely feel like I have a grasp of who this kid is for sure, but starting off I was going in blind really from what I gathered from the 50 or 60 pages. I read in the pilot but the more and more scripts I got, the more backstory I got, and realized what he was all about and then started molding it from there. But I always try and do something that’s completely opposite from who I am.
A lovable meth addict is a rare character, I’d say.
So many people come up to me and say, “Oh my god, you’re my favorite lovable drug addict!” But it’s true, he’s truly just a lost kid, he got mixed up in the wrong crowd. When you first meet him, you don’t know if he’s bad, but then you realize he’s not a bad soul, he’s just trying to make a buck. He is cooking and selling drugs and I guess technically that is wrong, but I don’t think deep deep down he’s a horrible human being—he’s just trying to survive.
For all of the show’s danger and darkness, there’s a bizarre comedic sensibility that always manages to make it’s way through the cracks in the strangest moments, which I love.
It was like that from day one.
Were you a fan of Bryan before working with him on this?
A huge fan! And he pops up in everything. But I had never seen him do any dramatic material, and I knew he was involved when I read the pilot and thought it was a really interesting choice. He was obviously a talented, talented man, but I had no idea to what extent. Once I started working him he blew me and the audience away. He’s just such an open book and he gives so much. He’s truly such a mentor of mine and I’ve learned from him and from day one.
Are you two close?
Oh, we are. We’ve have a great relationship. Our entire cast does; we have such a good time. We know that this is so rare, and not just the show itself, but just the connection we all have is very rare. I’ve been doing this for fourteen plus years and I’ve never experienced anything like this—not even close. But it’s truly like a home away from home and doesn’t feel like work at all. That’s when it gets a little sad, but it’s so fun from top to bottom everyone has a blast.
The bloopers are so great to watch. I imagine you have to keep things light on set when you’re delving into really rough territory on show, as to not let that completely bring you down.
We have to. Bryan says if we don’t do this, we’ll just get sucked down this dark depression. We have to break the tension with humor. I think what’s so great about the show itself, it’s not just dark—there are some really funny elements to the show; you find yourself laughing at very bizarre things.
Like the bath tub scene.
Jesse is pouring acid on dead human flesh and you’e laughing.
How involved do you get with Jesse, in terms of where the writers are taking the role?
I might chime in every now and then, but at the end of the day the writers do their thing and they’re brilliant at it. I love to be surprised just like an audience member would be. We’re all salivating to get the next episode just like everyone is waiting to see the next show. I always think it’s going in one direction and it’s the complete opposite. I thought the second season was pretty dark and in the third it got more intense, but this season—obviously with Gus and his whole situation—he’s like this silent villain. He’s so menacing. Season four is just…it’s the darkest thing I’ve ever experienced.
Last season ended on an incredibly intense note. I have no idea where you guys will even go from there. But you’ve now won an Emmy, how was that experience for you and did you ever imagine you’d be up on that stage?
I wish I would have said this one stage, but I was so out of my mind—I was a hundred percent prepared to just go to the Emmys and have a good time and not have to go up on stage to talk in front of all these people. I was looking forward to that and was totally happy just to be invited to the party. I was honored just to be in the same breath as these people. I’m also the biggest Lost fanatic—what Michael Emerson did with Ben Linus is remarkable; anytime I watch him onscreen I’m utterly speechless. And what Terry O’Quinn did with John Locke, he totally played two characters; he’s so great, he’s so good. I got so starstruck when I was walking the carpet and it was the first time I met Terry O’Quinn, and I was like, “Oh my god that’s John Locke!” I went up to him and introduced myself. I don’t know if he knew who I was, but I told him I was such a huge fan and he thanked me and continued on his way. I was like, “I just have to tell you, I can’t believe I’m here, let alone you and I are in the same category together.” And then I saw a lightbulb go off and then he told me congratulations. He actually tracked me down at the Governor’s Ball and told me congratulations. And Michael Emerson, who I’ve known through years now through random events and me accosting him and kissing his feet, he is such a huge supporter and he’s incredible.
And to have you and Bryan both win.
Literally, when I hugged Bryan, I hugged him and told him I had no idea what I was going to say. Going up on stage I went into another world, and then walking off I had all my friends with me. They were all outside of the auditorium, and all the girls were crying their eyes out and my buddies were sobbing as well. One of friends was crying and he couldn’t be in public, so he ran to the bathroom and he was just in the bathroom letting it out and Michael C. Hall was in there and was like, “Are you okay?” and he was like, “Yeah, my buddy just won an Emmy! I’m so happy for him, I just can’t believe this is happening.”
Pouring out your heart to M.C. Hall in the bathroom, a dream.
Can’t beat that.
Have things change for you now that you’ve been on the show and won an Emmy, are you getting offered more roles and do you feel your perception has changed?
Offers, no. I wish. Let’s be honest. No, I mean, I think people see me in a different light. I’ve just been doing it for so long and I’ve known a lot of the people in this business forever, but I think maybe that validates that I’m not going anywhere and I’m not going to give up on this dream of mine. Hopefully it will open some people’s eyes and give me a job.
Are you able to relate to the drug use in the show—not in a personal way but towards more of the what it means for these characters?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean right now where Jesse’s head’s at it’s so hard to relate, but where Jesse’s head’s at in terms of the whole relationship he has with drugs and the chemical romance he ended up having with Jane, I absolutely can relate to that. I mean I’ve seen what drugs can turn people into; I’ve seen beautiful creatures completely lost to the drug world, and I can see their souls slowly drifting away—just gone, especially with meth in particular. I’m so happy I’ve never had an issue like that, but I’ve seen how drugs can completely take over one’s life and at a certain point the people think that they have control over the drug, but then in a matter of moments the drug has complete 100% control over them. The only way to stop is if they have help or if they hit their rock bottom.
I think what people love so much about the show is how far it’s outside of our daily lives and so removed from what we see everyday but you can still relate to these characters and the things they struggle with.
Totally, that’s why I applaud the writers. When I read this pilot, I thought there was no way this was going to be show on TV, this is not a story that a network is going to want to tell. But the thing is, it’s a story that needs to be told—and this stuff happens. When we were shooting the pilot it was like art imitating life: a principal at a school was arrested because he was selling crystal meth to his students. So it’s out there, and a lot of people are scared to tell the stories. Before our show aired AMC, they were getting a lot of harsh criticism saying, “Shame on you guys for supporting a show that glamorizes crystal meth,” but then once we aired, obviously all those people realized that it wasn’t glamorizing it at all—it’s showing the harsh reality of this world. And no one in their right mind would trade lives with these characters.
So has the show given you a new perception on the drug world and drug dealers?
Yeah, 100%. When you think about the drug world, you think it’s this cut and dry type thing, but there’s so many different layers and different reasons why people get into this world and get trapped in it and it’s so sad.
Do you find meth addicts seeking you out and talking to you?
It happens quite a bit, to be honest. And every single one has been a positive experience. I’ve had people get really, really, emotional and they will start shaking and say, “Thank you, thank you for being a part of a show that makes me constantly realize and remember why I am clean and sober.” It’s not like people that are sober watch it and they’re itching to start using, it’s a reminder that hey, this is a horrible existence, stay as far away from this as possible.
How did you prep for this new season?
This new season was completely different than anything else because where Jesse’s head’s at, I mean you can do research, but nothing you can really dive in one on one. Obviously, the final frames of season three is of Jesse pulling a trigger, I feel it’s truly like he’s in a very intense head space.
That final moment, just the shot of your face holding the gun, that single shot was deserving of an Emmy itself.
Thank you, I would hug you if you were here. That’s literally how the next season starts, and he’s in a pretty dark place. It definitely picks up where we left off; not a lot of time has passed. When I say that this season is much bigger and darker than anything anything I’ve ever experienced, I just mean in terms of where all these characters are heading and where they’re at emotionally and physically. It’s more of like an internal emotional journey with these characters this season. It’s really great, I’m really curious to see what people’s thoughts are.
You’ve also been on Big Love this year, how have you been managing between these two television worlds?
That was great, the first couple seasons of Breaking Bad I was going back and forth. I would literally start the same day. Big Love would shoot in Valencia and Breaking Bad would shoot in Albuquerque, so I would just fly back and forth. I felt like I had split personalities, but it was my dream to just play such polar opposite characters. I feel like I find myself in between those two roles in reality, so it’s nice to just slip on different skins.
And after being there for frequently, you’ve become a big fan of Albuquerque.
Oh yeah, I love it. The first couple seasons, when I shot the pilot in Albuquerque, I was stuck in a little hotel and it wasn’t near anything. So all I did was hang out in the hotel and go to work; I didn’t get to experience all that is New Mexico. I was thinking to myself, oh dear god if the show gets picked up we’re going to have to shoot it here? The was my original reaction, but once we got picked up, I actually got a place and got to explore the city. Then I got to explore the state and I fell so in love with it and I’m obsessed. I’m a home owner there now and very proud of it. Albuquerque is so much of another character of the show,it’s a huge part. The landscape and the skies are endless.
A very doomed sense of emptiness.
The landscape just seems to desolate and lonely and that’s exactly where all of these characters are at a certain point. They’re very, very lonely and searching and searching. It’s such a great fit, it’s perfect.

Your Friday Morning Treat: The ‘Breaking Bad’ Audition Tapes

To all of our hearts’ discontent, this weekend marks the beginning of the end for one of televisions greatest dramas. We’ve spent the past six seasons navigating our way through Walter White’s dangerous and emotionally painful world, following his evolution from everyday family man and chemistry teacher just trying to better his family to a morally unsound and possibly evil head of a meth-making empire. But this Sunday, the second half of the Breaking Bad’s final season will kick off, and although we’ve been waiting with baited breath to see just what happens post-Hank’s mid-toilet revelation, you can’t help but wish it would never end.

So before we mentally transport ourselves down to Albuquerque with Walt, Hank, Jesse, Skyler and the rest of cast of brilliant characters stemmed from showrunner Vince Gilligan’s wild mind, let’s take a look back on the auditions that landed them there. From Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, and Dean Norris, we see the seeds of character taking hold that would later blossom into truly memorable and fantastic performances. Open Culture also recalls Rachel Syme’s New Yorker post in which she said: 
Breaking Bad is the first story to truly commit the full spectrum of New Mexico to film…The grandiose vistas, the soaring altitudes, the banal office complexes, the Kokopellis and Kachina dolls, the seamy warehouses, the marshmallow clouds. The show seems to root itself deeper in the landscape with every new montage. It has become our newest monument.
When we spoke to Paul back before the show’s fourth season, he admitted: “I thought there was no way in hell this was going to see the light of day…I read the pilot before AMC had any original programming, before Mad Men had even come out.” And speaking of his loving co-star Bryan Cranston, said: “He gives me so much and he’s truly such a mentor of mine…I’ve learned from him that since we’re on a show like this, we have to break the tension with humor, and if we don’t, we’ll get sucked down into a dark depression.” As for Cranston, his audition might have just been that excellent episode of The X-Files, "Drive," in which he starred.
Take a look at the tapes below.



Vince Gilligan on the ‘Victorious’ Conclusion of ‘Breaking Bad’

With a slew of incredible films premiering this summer, there’s much to look forward to on the film front. But when it comes to television, there’s one thing we’re all anticipating with baited breath—the return of Breaking Bad for the second half of its (tear) final season. And as much as our hearts our breaking to know that we’ll be severed from our favorite meth-making duo, we will be savoring this season as much as possible. And with details kept under wrap for the new season—which will pick up on the heels of Hank’s toilet revelation—there’s much to speculate about. 

Back in March, we learned that someone had stolen one of the final BB scripts from Bryan Cranston, and although pages of that didn’t leak (thankfully), show runner Vince Gilligan has spoken to The Daily Beast about the task of ending the show and just where he’ll be taking our favorite drama. Discussing the ending, he allayed fears that a proper conclusion would not be in sight:

Anyone anxious that there won’t be resolution enough at the end of these eight episodes can rest assured that the story very much reaches resolution…It will not end in any kind of open-ended sense.
Although he’s currently busy editing the final episodes, he wouldn’t reveal anything direct about the ending, save the fact that it will be "victorious." Enough said, Vince. And speaking to his own fears about the conclusion, he went on to say that:
I was very nervous for the last year that we didn’t have an interesting enough way to wrap up Breaking Bad…Creatively, I felt like I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and I was sort of trying to hack my way through the jungle of this story.
Back in 2011, when I spoke with Aaron Paul, he told me that upon reading the script for the show, he thought, "there was no way in hell this was going to see the light of day. I read the pilot before AMC had any original programming, before Mad Men had even come out." Going on to talk about working with his Cranston, Paul also said, "He gives me so much and he’s truly such a mentor of mine…I’ve learned from him that since we’re on a show like this, we have to break the tension with humor, and if we don’t, we’ll get sucked down into a dark depression."
So however Gilligan chooses to tie it all together in the end, there’s no doubting that this has been one of the most engaging and wonderfully-crafted shows ever to grace our television screens and as we all raise a final glass to the Whites, Schraders, Pinkmans, and Goodmans I’m sure we’ll be satisfied.
Read the rest of The Daily Beast’s article HERE.

Time to Start Preparing Yourself for the Return of ‘Breaking Bad’

Well, I’ll declare now that my 23rd birthday better be spelled out for me in bacon on my eggs—a la Walter White—because it appears that I will be turning a year older just in time for the final (tear) return of Breaking Bad. According to the wonderfully adorable saggy pants-clad Aaron Paul, the show will be returning to AMC on July 14th—so we better start preparing ourselves now. 

The season finale ended with a moment of utter brilliance; I don’t think I took a breath for the entirety of the last five minutes. As the episode looked to be drawing to a close, nothing major had happened—no one had died, no dire secrets had been revealed, it was a moment of stillness so eerie that its softness was frightening. As Walt, Skyler, Hank, and Marie sat around the table outside, I was just waiting for someone to jump out of the bushes and kill someone or who knows, anything. But in true Vince Gilligan style, he hit us in the gut right at the end, as a close up of Hank’s face revealed a future of darkness to come. Indiewire reminds us that Gilligan, "recently teased that his finale will be ‘polarizing,’ adding that, ‘It just makes sense to me that bad people should get punished and good people should be rewarded. I know it doesn’t work like that in real life, but there’s always that yearning.’"


In conclusion, my feelings can only be summed up as:

#KONY2012 Still A Thing, Aaron Paul Involved

You’d almost forgotten about #KONY2012, hadn’t you? In case you have, here’s a catch-up: back in March, Invisible Children, a nonprofit with a goal of ending the Lord’s Resistance Army’s recruitment of child soldiers and other abuses in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the help of college students and really intense documentaries, launched the Kony 2012 Campaign to advocate for the arrest of warlord Joseph Kony by the International Criminal Court. The campaign’s introductory video, which featured compelling footage set to Mumford & Sons, became an instant viral sensation, with messages of "STOP KONY" and "KONY 2012" flooding our social media networks. Criticism of Invisible Children, regarding everything from use of proceeds to the general approach of the "white savior industrial complex," to complaints about young people being heavily involved in "slacktivism" began springing up; IC responded by posting more information about their finances. Days later, the director of the Kony 2012 campaign video, Jason Russell, was caught masturbating in public in San Diego in the midst of what appeared to be a breakdown, giving the whole thing a sad additional layer. The turnouts for the "Cover the Night" events initially announced in the video were smaller than anticipated. And then, just like that, it was over. 

Or was it? After a long period of social media dormancy (at least on the grand scale of the video), Kony 2012 is back with one more event in Washington D.C. next week, and Invisible Children has some Special Guest Stars to tell you all about it. MOVE:DC will take place next week, and sadly, it does not, as we had hope, involve a bunch of college kids working together to levitate the Pentagon. It does involve a day of lobbying and awareness and a summit with world leaders, a march on the White House and a "global dance party," and Invisible Children want you to road trip there with all your friends to get your dance on for justice. And they have enlisted some friends to help spread the news, including Sophia Bush, Harry Shum Jr. from Glee, Pete Wentz (shown in the video as a hitchhiker) and America’s Sweetheart, Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul, along with his fiancée Lauren Parsekian. The video feels more Spring Break than March on Washington, complete with plenty of goofy lip-syncing, but they sound really excited about it! And at one point, Aaron Paul lip-syncs rather passionately to "No More I Love Yous" by Annie Lennox. So yeah, Kony 2012. Still going strong. Just like Aaron Paul’s love for Annie Lennox. Watch.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Director James Ponsoldt Talk Their New Film ‘Smashed’

“Our goal was identification, not objectification—and the humor if it speaks to the fact that it’s really fun to be drunk and it’s not wrong to say that! There’s a reason people drink and we wanted that to be a part of the spirit of the film,” admits writer/director James Ponsoldt, whose sophomore feature, Smashed, takes the typical uninviting portrait of addiction and spews it out into a unique amalgamation of dry wit and raw emotion. There’s always a genuine sense of comedy hiding in the cracks of everyday struggle, and here, we see a story that’s more about illustrating the lighter side of pain rather than a moral tale about the dangers of alcoholism and the punishment one must bare in the face of redemption.

Beckett once wrote: “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness…yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the word…yes, it’s like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don’t laugh any more.” And it’s Kate (played tremendously by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), that becomes fearful upon realizing that the nights she spends masking reality with a veil of booze and the mornings she has to drink a flask of whiskey just to go into work, are no longer fun anymore—the humor is gone and all that’s left is a feeling of defeat. But more than just a film about addiction, Smashed looks at the stamina of love when faced with change. At one point in the film Kate tells her husband Charlie (played by Aaron Paul) that “love is the easy part," it’s the living that’s the challenge.  

With a supporting cast of Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Octavia Spencer, Smashed, brings a fresh perspective to a familiar narrative arc filled with characters we enjoy spending time with, that allow us to laugh at their mistakes because they remind us that no one’s perfect and we’re all just tying to get through the day in one piece. I took some time to chat with Winstead and Ponsoldt about stearing clear of making a social issue movie, creating stories with flawed characters, and the limitations of love.

What sparked your initial interest in making a film like this?
James Ponsoldt: Smashed started as a conversation between myself and my co-writer, Susan. She’s an old friend and one of the funniest people I know but she’s also sober; she got sober in her early 20s. She’s very open about that and has a very wonderful, hilarious perspective. It started just with us sharing stupid stories about things we had done when we were drunk, and I thought I had done a lot of stupid things but her stories totally eclipsed mine in terms of hilarity and almost getting killed. I couldn’t get some of those ideas out of my head and I kind of proposed the idea to Susan that we write something together that, first and foremost, was not about alcoholism; it was not a social issue movie, it was not a scared straight movie but that it was a love story and a coming of age story with characters that were young, in their late 20s but emotionally were closer to probably their teenage years. It would be sort of a portrait of a marriage through the lens of a wife, where it’s like an epic love story and they’re totally perfect for each other—except they’re perfect for each other when they’re both drunk. We were really adamant that this be something that has real humor in it. So many things that I’ve seen with substance abuse, there’s a sense of otherness where the character is like a Bukowski-level alcoholic and you sort of objectify them and watch them kill themselves slowly and you can gawk at them but you can’t relate to them. 

How did you get involved with the film?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I was looking to meet people who were doing films that were small and performance-focused and was sent two scripts and one of them was Smashed and I pretty much flipped out over it. I called the producer immediately and was like, “what do I have to do to be considered for this part,” and he introduced me to James, who I loved. So, I put myself on tape and did an audition tape and sent it to them. Yeah, it was pretty shocking and amazing that they actually cast me off the tape and didn’t audition anyone else. I feel really lucky that they put faith in me because usually that never happens. 

So once you were cast, how did you prepare to become Kate?
MEW: Well, I had close to a month to work on it, which I was very thankful for because I knew I needed to do a lot of work to really to get to the places I needed to get to. So I started out going to a lot of AA meetings with Susan our co-writer and Elyse our producer, who was also in recovery. I was always welcomed into these open meetings and I went to every different neighborhood in LA basically and tried different meetings and I would see so many different types of people and I realized that if I took alcohol out of the equation that I could fit perfectly in those rooms with those people; they were completely and totally relatable. So that was kind of the first step in relating to the character and then once I started looking at my own life and my own issues, then it just kind of went further and further into becoming her because I kind of made my problems her problems and they kind of became one. 

Was that frightening for you?
MEW: It was a funny experience because it all felt so real—the dark moments felt incredibly real or challenging and exhausting but at the same time, it was such a fun, relaxed set that I always felt comfortable and happy. It was a really surreal experience in that way because it was just my favorite place to be even though we were doing things that were sometimes emotionally hard. I always felt kind of relived and happy at the end of the day.

What’s interesting about Kate is that she feels so relatable. She appears to be so functional and self-aware enough to realize that she needs to change her life.
JP: I think we live in a hyper-aware post-modern era where 3/4 of all reality television shows also seem to be portraits of alcoholism and we’ve seen enough movies about substance abuse that we understand the traditional arch narrative. We also are in a very sort of 12-step, self-help kind of era where people understand the tropes of that. The main characters are people that are savvy and young and would probably make fun of most of those movies and don’t want to feel sorry for themselves and would make jokes about driving by a church on a Thursday night where everyone’s chain-smoking and drinking coffee and it’s probably an NA meeting or an AA meeting and they’d probably say, "God that’s not me, that’s my uncle," and make jokes. But those are the characters and that’s certainly most of my friends. 

Just as much as addiction, it was a story about fidelity and change and the question of if you’re able to still be with someone after they change. Is that what you wanted to show?
JP: Movies about social issues are really boring to me, they’re like the dreariest thing on earth. We wanted to create a hang out movie and the truth is, at a certain point, people couple off and get a partner. And being in a relationship is hard—not for the obvious reasons like sickness or whatever or—it’s all the in between stuff, all the day to day sort of sacrifices you have to make when you concern yourself more with the interest of another person than yourself and especially if they need to change.And in that way, I think the alcohol could be a substitute for a number of things. 
MEW: It’s interesting for me because I think that these characters, at their core, are good people; I think they’re just clouded by their pain and they’re clouded by the choices they’ve made in their life that have led them down the path that they’re on. But for Kate, I don’t think that she necessarily changed but that she sort of got back to her true self and the person that she was truly supposed to be and I think with Charlie, it’s the same way. Audiences like him because he is a good person, he’s made mistakes and he has pain he doesn’t know how to deal with and as long as we’re able to hold up a mirror and acknowledge our faults and our pain and decide that we’re going to work through it and put one foot in front of the other and just live our lives as ourselves, then that’s the step to make you a better person.

The film didn’t beat you over the head with any sort of message, just allowed you to get inside the lives of its characters.
JP: Again, there’s no message to the movie like: Alcohol is bad, AA is good. I just don’t feel that way. Things are complicated. Living an honest life is hard. When you stop drinking and all your friends drink, people are going to feel really weird around you and have to look at themselves and it’s harder to hang out with them. And when you start being really honest, you’re held more accountable for your actions on a day to day basis, and sometimes it blows up in your face. The reward is that you get to look at yourself and know that you’re honest, not that everyone wants to give you a pat on the head and reward you.

And everyone has felt like that at one point, like they were really fucking up and doing something wrong and they need to fix it or they’ve had to be the person who has to deal with being with someone who has changed. 
JP: Exactly. The stories that I like the best are ones that are about really flawed, screwed up people who want to try to fix themselves or make themselves better and it doesn’t matter whether they’re doing it for the right reasons or the wrong reasons or whether they’re total fools and struggling to try to make themselves whole. There’s something very human and hopeful about that—and not in succeeding, because I don’t know what success means, but it’s like trying to love yourself more so you can love other people better and just be decent to the people around you. I think a lot of stories that deal with drug abuse or alcoholism, there’s a little sadism where it’s like, they just tear people apart and punish them, and I certainly don’t see myself in those stories.

I feel like if you’re in that situation you’re probably going to punish yourself enough,  let alone having it come from other people.
JP: Absolutely, couldn’t agree more.

How did you go about finding the right people to portray these characters?
JP: You know, it was a lot of my favorite actors. I had know Mary as an actor for years and I loved her in Scott Pilgrim specifically. I thought she was amazing in it and although that’s such a different movie than this, in that, amidst all this sort of chaos, she’s this real human solid stoic center. I knew our main character had to be a strong person who wasn’t weak and fragile and felt totally broken, someone who felt like when she falls she might be able to get up, and she could have perspective on it and laugh about it and therefore we could  laugh with her. So I was really thrilled to meet with Mary and realize that she was brilliant and hilarious and would be a really great collaborator. Aaron Paul I just loved from Breaking Bad for years, I think he’s one of the best actors of the generation. Nick Offerman…I mean, I think Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec is just like one of the great sitcom characters, like, him and Archie Bunker—just two of the most wonderful curmudgeons that ever existed.

You and Aaron had a really natural chemistry—how was working with him?
MEW: It was fantastic, he’s such a talented actor. He’s also so warm and open and genuine and generous and giving as an actor. But he’s really that person you want to work with all the time because he’s such a sweet guy.

How about Nick and Megan?
MEW: They’re like the best couple in the world. I think they should win an award for Best Couple; they’re so adorable and in love and they’re both so funny and when they get together it’s just like you cannot stop laughing. I would just be crying laughing. So when you have a film like this where you have to go through a lot of dark tough scenes, it was really really nice to have people like that around that are just so joyful and fun to be around. 

Did you all spend a lot of time together before you shot?
JP: Yeah, I spent a ton of time with Mary especially, just helping create the character and really personalize it and finding the triggers and what is the alcoholism for her. And Mary and Aaron hung out and I’d be like, "just go get coffee guys, spend some time away from me!" In relationships, it’s not the big declarations of love or hate, it’s the little gestures, it’s the playing with your husband’s chest hair or like finding that thing that your wife does that’s really funny. These little things that you never think to write into a screenplay because those aren’t real dramatic moments but those are the most humanizing things about it.

Or when she pees the bed—
JP: Yup! That’s a typical morning for them. And it’s a really sweet normal.

I like how you called it an adult coming of age story because these weren’t young people but it’s like she had spent the entirety of her youth in a fog and it was a young person’s coming of age story because she was finally waking up and having to deal with everything that had been masked by being an alcoholic.
MEW: Absolutely, and when you never really deal with the pain that you suffered as a child or whatever that may be—part of being an adult is acknowledging and working through it—and when you’re drinking all the time you’re not doing that. Suddenly when you’re sober you have to feel the pain that you’re going through and you have to see your problems rather than just glossing them over with alcohol.
JP: And listen, people keep saying 30s the new 20s or whatever, which is true even if people aren’t alcoholics, but people don’t want to grow up. There’s also a saying about addicts, which is that: "Your development stops when your addiction begins." And yeah, they’re closer to 30 than 20, but they’re emotionally like teenagers. So the thing is, they’ve probably only known each other through the veil of booze so when she gets sober, she suddenly has a ton of growing up to do and has to deal with herself 24 hours a day and can’t escape herself and finds out that her husband is kind of a child—a totally lovable child—but all his dumb funny stuff she found funny before, it’s not so funny anymore.

Were you worried about how people would react to a sort of light-hearted film about alcoholism?
JP: When someone makes a movie about alcoholism or addiction in the slightest, people assume it’s going to be stone-cold serious and something that’s a downer. So to say, no this is actually going to be pretty funny but it’s not going to make fun of it, it’s going to be made by people who totally understand recovery. The co-writer is sober and is an alcoholic but I guess there’s sort of a burden on the story tellers to get the tone right because if you’re making fun of a disease, people will crucify you and you can’t, but if you take it too serious people are just going to be like, "ugh I feel horrible," it becomes a PSA. And our desire was to do something that was totally a hangout film where you love the characters and all of the aspects of being drunk, recovering, of 12 step groups, etc. were formed by real experience and real specificity and detail. My favorite film alcoholics are not in the movies that are essentially about alcoholism. Like I really love Withnail and I which is kind of a movie about an alcoholic and even Sideways is a movie about an alcoholic too! I think people adore those movies because it’s funny and you like to hang out with the people and it never wags it’s finger you and makes a moral judgement of the characters because having pity or judgement of someone is a crappy way to feel. You shouldn’t tell stories if you’re just going to judge people. If your goal is to make audiences feel pity, get into some other line of work. 

There Are No Television Comedies Other Than ‘Modern Family,’ Apparently

So, the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards were last night, and considering we still have a bad taste in our mouths from our inappropriate drunk uncle Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars, for the most part, they were actually pretty fun to watch. Jimmy Kimmel had some funny bits, Giancarlo Esposito and Aaron Paul hugged it out and made us all verklempt, Lena Dunham ate cake naked and Julia-Louis Dreyfuss and Amy Poehler stole the show with their acceptance speech switcheroo.

In terms of the awards themselves, the recipients were almost painfully predictable, especially in the comedy category. The drama awards were mostly bang-on, as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the most part avoided the soapy pleasure of Downton Abbey and Don Draper’s steely gaze to actually reward what probably are the two best dramas on TV right now, Homeland and Breaking Bad (Aaron Paul’s Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series award made our hearts happy). And Louis C.K. took home two awards — one the writing on Louie and one for his standup special at the Beacon Theatre.

But in terms of comedy, once again, the Academy chose to throw Louie its one bone—the equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences giving the most envelope-pushing film of the year Best Original Screenplay and then kind of ignoring it the rest of the night—and then choosing to celebrate thoroughly mediocre stuff. In a run similar to the one Frasier made in the mid-‘90s, for the past three Emmy cycles now, Modern Family has dominated the comedy categories to the point where even better stuff from the banal, laugh track-y, Chuck Lorre school of TV comedy was ignored (come on, as eye-roll-worthy as The Big Bang Theory can be sometimes, seeing Mayim Bialik win an Emmy, especially as the show’s saving grace that is Amy Farrah Fowler, åwould have been golden). All four of Modern Family’s big winners—Outstanding Supporting Actress Julie Bowen, Outstanding Supporting Actor Eric Stonestreet (convinced that there is one dude voting in the Academy who is just still totally super shocked that a straight dude can play a preening gay man even though this is 2012, y’all), Director Steven Levitan and the show for Outstanding Comedy Series — are repeat wins, with the show itself and Levitan earning them back-to-back-to-back. This year, the rest of the show’s adult cast members were nominated for acting awards.

I like Modern Family. It’s cute. Ty Burrell and Sofia Vergara are eternally fun to watch. I usually walk away from it not hating myself. My whole family watches it (cross-demographic appeal!). And granted, the Outstanding Comedy Series pool was a little thin this year—the token Lorre (The Big Bang Theory), two former comedy powerhouses that are still very funny but mostly over-the-hill (30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm), and the two other HBO shows, Girls and Veep, which were long shots anyway. But at a time and place where so many awesome things are happening with television comedy, at a time when a fart and smunny show like Parks & Recreation or something that, love it or hate it, can spark an international conversation like Girls or a show that is so funny and so human like Louie or a show that celebrates its dweebiness so joyfully like Community or a great traditional thirtysomethings-in-the-city sitcom like Happy Endings can all exist, it seems a disservice to let more of the same rack up statue after statue. It seems kind of silly to rant—the Emmys will probably never change and TV comedy is full of niches and Modern Family certainly isn’t the worst thing to happen to television ever. But when the whole run of programming is so totally awesome, it would just kind of be nice seeing the celebration of the awesomeness spread around a bit. At least Leslie Knope won her city council election. Better luck next time, Team Dunphy.

So, to make ourselves feel better about everything, here’s Aaron Paul’s acceptance speech again. 

Behold, Aaron Paul’s Very ’90s Corn Pops Commercial

When it comes to Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul, the Internet is the gift that keeps on giving. First there was his clip as a contestant on The Price Is Right; now there’s his 1999 commercial for Corn Pops.

I vaguely remember this appearing in the late ’90s:

The earrings. The skater hair. His short-sleeved T over a long-sleeved T. The vacant look in his eye. Oh, the ’90s were grand, weren’t there?

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Aaron Paul Cranks It Up in Season Four of ‘Breaking Bad’

Aaron Paul is about to get his fingers bitten off by a parrot. The 31-year-old actor is standing on the Santa Monica Pier, and while he hadn’t exactly planned on being attacked by a flock of tropical birds, he’s also come to expect the unexpected. There’s no way, for example, anyone could have predicted he’d become television’s most lovable drug addict. Before AMC had Don Draper and Peggy Olson, there was Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, a modern-day answer to The Odd Couple—if Felix and Oscar had cooked and sold crystal meth in New Mexico.

“I thought there was no way in hell this was going to see the light of day,” says Paul of Breaking Bad, the tooth-grinding drama that jump-started his decade-long acting career. “I read the pilot before AMC had any original programming, before Mad Men had even come out,” he says.

With a face like a Boy Scout and an Idaho-inflected timbre flattening his vowels, Paul isn’t the most obvious choice to play a money-hungry meth-head. But as the show enters its fourth season in July, it’s now clear he was born for the role. “I always try to do something that’s completely the opposite of who I am,” says Paul, who’s played “Wasted Guy” in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder and a less blotto role as Amanda Seyfried’s husband on Big Love.

The past three seasons of Breaking Bad have included everything from plane collisions and a corpse crashing through the ceiling to the unsentimental reality of a family in crisis. But the new season is “much bigger and darker than anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Paul, whose embodiment of Jesse has made him one of the most memorable and engaging characters on television today. As one half of the dynamic drug-slinging duo, Paul plays opposite the ever-talented Bryan Cranston. The two share a rare chemistry, whether they’re experimenting in or out of the on-screen lab. “He gives me so much and he’s truly such a mentor of mine,” Paul says of Cranston. “I’ve learned from him that since we’re on a show like this, we have to break the tension with humor, and if we don’t, we’ll get sucked down into a dark depression.” image

Perennially clad in baggy jeans, an oversize hoodie, and a ski cap, Paul’s character carries himself like the type of teenage thug who looks for trouble in shopping malls, and he’s got the saltiest vocabulary this side of Redd Foxx. His incessant use of the words “bitch” and “yo” have sparked not only myriad YouTube compilations; they’ve also seeped into Paul’s real life. “Anytime I’m done with a season, I say ‘yo’ so much. I try to stop, but it’s just so hard,” he says.

Breaking Bad’s most recent season ended with Jesse pointing a gun straight at the camera and pulling the trigger—the final frames of his face alone worth the Primetime Emmy Award he took home last fall. In September, after “being totally happy just to be invited to the party,” Paul nabbed his first statue for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, beating out some of his biggest heroes. “I was honored just to be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Emerson—I’m such a Lost fan. I got so starstruck when I was walking the carpet and met Terry O’Quinn for the first time. I was like, Oh my god, that’s John Locke!”

Although Paul still swoons in the presence of his idols, devoted fans of the show have begun to do the same around him. “I’ve had people get really emotional in front of me,” he says. “They start shaking and say, ‘Thank you for being a part of a show that makes me constantly remember why I’m now clean and sober.’” Before Breaking Bad went into production, would-be critics were skeptical of its storyline, worried that AMC was glamorizing substance abuse—but the results upended everyone’s expectations. Paul himself has never had a drug problem, but he’s seen first-hand the perils of addiction. “I’ve seen beautiful creatures completely lost to the drug world,” he says. “I’ve seen their souls slowly drift away, just gone—with meth in particular.”

During Breaking Bad’s extended off-season, Paul took time to indulge in a bit of wanderlust, traveling everywhere from Vancouver to London. Somehow, he also found time to appear in Right Angle, an independent film co-starring Jeff Daniels and Tom Sizemore, just before heading back to New Mexico to film the show’s new season. With only three episodes left to shoot, Paul is already planning to head back out into the great unknown. “If you’re going to travel, shame on you for sitting in your suite ordering room service,” he says. “Go to a coffee shop in Paris, have local food, and walk down the damn street. Don’t sit around watching a movie. Get out and explore.” As if heeding Paul’s advice, the parrot on his shoulder spreads its wings and takes flight.

Photography Dylan Don.