Need For Speed brings together two different yet talented actors: Aaron Paul, best known for his superb performance as Jesse Pinkman in AMC’s hit TV series Breaking Bad, and Dominic Cooper, the star of such films as The Devil’s Double, Captain America: The First Avenger and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
On screen, they’re mortal enemies, each playing a racing driver with a reason to despise the other. In real life, as they sit down for a roundtable chat with seven or eight writers in a London hotel room, they’re relaxed and affable, Paul casually dressed and spiky of hair, Cooper smartly suited and bearded. In an entertaining yet all-too-brief interview, the pair talk about driving and acting, while Paul provides an anecdote of a terrifying real-life car accident, and briefly hints at the return of Jesse Pinkman…
We pick up the conversation with the topic of speed, and whether either actor’s into fast cars.
Aaron Paul: I like going fast, I like being on the track. Perhaps more so now. Dom?
Dominic Cooper: Yeah, I’ve always loved cars. The realisation that you’re not very good at driving is quite bad, when you first get on the track. I think you grow up wanting to be a racing driver, don’t you? Then it dawns on you that it’s not going to happen. What we get to do is the next best thing.
What cars do you drive, and who’s the better driver?
AP: I think we’re both pretty good drivers, right?
DC: We’re both pretty good, and we got a lot of training. I drive an Audi.
AP: I’ve got a Shelby [Cobra].
How much behind-the-wheel acting did you actually have to do, and how much was done by stuntmen?
AP: For me, 80 percent of my stuff was behind the wheel in this film. A lot of it was me and a lot of it was stuntmen making me look like I knew what I was doing.
DC: Yeah. You did much more. But when they could film us driving, they did, but they’re never going to allow us to drive at over 200mph, especially when the cars are so close together. That’s when they had to use the cage and have the racing driver who sits on top and steers.
Would you have liked to have done that yourself?
DC: It’s not the ideal time to be acting when you need that focus and concentration. When you watch a racing driver, the amount of focus they have in what they’re doing is extreme. We can’t really be concentrating on putting our heads in the right position for the lighting while also driving at 235mph – it would just be ludicrous.
How difficult is it for both of you as actors, to pretend to be concentrating – like, “Oh, I’ve got to make this bend.” Or, “Oh God, I’m going to die”?
AP: To be honest, it came quite naturally…
DC: It’s what you said earlier. You have the physical sensation. It really did feel like you were [driving]. You’re feeling the sensation, the sense of momentum.
AP: Yeah. You’re in the car, you’re driving. You just force yourself to believe that you’re the one driving the car. You forget that there’s someone else on top of the car controlling everything. You remember that you’re not controlling it when you slam on the brakes and it doesn’t work, and that they’re in control.
Dominic, it’s an open secret that more and more British actors are making it to Hollywood. It’s amazing how many British actors are now in big American movies. Ten years ago, the British accent may have seemed more exotic. The movie even jokes about this, with Imogen Poots’ accent. What’s the fascination in Hollywood with British actors?
DC: I’ve no idea. Do you think it’s increased hugely, or has it always been there? More often than not, we end up as villainous-type characters. I don’t know if that’s an association with the accent.
There are a lot of British actors playing American heroes, though. Christian Bale’s done Batman, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man…
DC: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a separation – I mean, what is it? It’s just an accent. It’s whoever they think is right for the casting, it’s to do with what they think the actor can bring to the role.
AP: Growing up in the States and the reaction I see from females when they meet someone from the UK, just because of their accent, they’re just like, [adopts low, husky voice] “Oh my God, you’re such a beautiful human being.” [Laughs] It steps them way up the ladder.
That’s where I’ve been going wrong!
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Come to the States! You just start talking, and they’ll go, “Oh my God. Who are you?” They just instantly love you. But I don’t think that’s why [British actors] are such a huge success. I think there’s just talent all over the planet. It’s a different world we’re living in right now.
There’s a line in the film about your very blue eyes.
AP: I don’t even have blue eyes – I have green eyes, but yeah.
Have you found your looks a blessing or a curse?
AP: I have no idea. I’m used to playing the goofy guy, or the skinny drug addict. This is the first leading man-type role I’ve ever done. So I’ve no idea whether it’s a blessing or a curse.
Because I read somewhere that you were almost not considered for Breaking Bad because you were thought to be too attractive.
AP: Oh. Well, let me set the record straight here. AMC and Sony agreed that they thought I was too clean-cut looking to play a druggie burn-out. Vince Gilligan, our creator, completely disagreed with that. He was the one who was fighting for me from day one, and finally, Sony said, “We’re not going to hire him,” and Vince said, “Well, if you don’t, I’m not going to do the show.” So that’s how I got the job.
How difficult was it to find a role to go into after Breaking Bad, because it was so critically acclaimed. Were you very careful about what you chose to do next?
AP: In the past three or four seasons of the show, I found myself doing small passion projects that I believed in, where there was just something on the page. Then once the show was done I needed to at least attempt to jump into the studio system. I read a few projects, and this came on my desk. I was hesitant to even open the script up, if I’m being honest. I thought it was going to be something that it ended up not being, and I was very surprised at the story, and how human it felt. I loved the characters, and after talking to the director about how he wanted to shoot the film, and the fact that he didn’t want to use any CGI or green screen, I thought was incredibly brave and exciting.
He wanted to do a throwback to the films that I really felt started the genre. He kept mentioning Bullitt and Vanishing Point and those sorts of films. I was a huge fan of Steve McQueen and the fact that he did his own driving. So anyways, I liked the story, and I jumped onto it.
[Someone asks a question about the film’s attitude to female drivers – we’ve taken this bit out due to potential Need For Speed plot spoilers]
AP: I think women are great drivers. To be honest, I’ve only been in one car accident – one of my best friends, his wife was driving. She went into oncoming traffic, our car flipped almost four times. I didn’t even have time to put on a seat belt, because they’d just picked me up.
DC: My God.
AP: Yeah, it was terrifying. But that hasn’t changed my attitude with regards to female drivers. My wife, for example, is an incredible driver.
Were you injured in that?
AP: Just some cuts and bruises. But the only two windows that didn’t shatter were the two back door windows. Everything else was just shattered. It was all in slow-motion.
DC: [Genuinely concerned] What was she doing? Why did she head into oncoming traffic?
AP: Oh, her husband’s twin brother was in the front passenger seat, and…
DC: She thought it was her husband, and when she realised it wasn’t, she just… [slaps hands together] Is that what happened? [Laughs]
AP: No! I got picked up, we went through a six-way intersection, and she just took the soft left, and we were going probably, I’m thinking, 40 miles per hour, and this car was definitely speeding, because it hit us so quick, then T-boned us, and flipped us over three times. The car landed on its side. But yeah…
With that said, only when female drivers are driving me around – and not because I think females are bad drivers, but…
DC: You buckle up.
AP: I definitely buckle up! It’s just a reflex. I almost died because of a female driver.
In The Long Way Down, you played alongside Imogen Poots as well. Now in a completely different movie, completely different surroundings, here you are again. Is it a family feeling, you experience?
AP: You hope to find that, right? The Long Way Down, we were shooting in London last year, and then while we were shooting I got approached for Need For Speed. When we were talking about the cast, Imogen was at the top of their list for the female lead, and of course I sang her praises. I love her to death. She’s an incredibly brilliant young actress, so of course I wanted to drag her along with me. When she decided that she was going to do it, we were all very excited.
Is this the last we’ve seen of Jesse Pinkman?
[Enigmatically] I’m not sure, but I highly doubt that this is the last you’ll see of Jesse.
Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper, thank you very much.
Need For Speed is out on the 12th March in UK cinemas.
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