The 2008 action epic Cloverfield features a fresh take on the found footage subgenre with invading aliens, exploding humans, and one of the most tense displays of New York City-based destruction ever put to screen. One thing it doesn’t feature, however, is Aaron Paul; that’s because, according to the actor, he bombed an audition with the film’s producer, J.J. Abrams.
During a conversation with Tom Hiddleston as part of Variety and PBS’ Actors on Actors series, the 36-year old revealed he tried out for a role in the project, but he ultimately let the ghost of a well-performed magic trick haunt him well into the audition process.
“I went into this audition for Cloverfield. J.J. Abrams was producing it and I kept asking if J.J. was going to be in the room and 100 percent of the time they said ‘No, he’s out of the state,” Paul said.
Paul had recently wrapped a small role in the Abrams-directed Mission: Impossible 3, during production of which he and the director discovered their mutual interest in magic tricks. Abrams reportedly asked the actor to perform a card trick in front of the film’s entire cast, including Tom Cruise, who seemed impressed with the gesture, though Paul said it “failed miserably.” Abrams didn’t let that moment go.
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“I walk in and J.J.’s there. He brings up the magic trick story and I lose my train of thought. I have three pages of a monologue that I memorized. That was my audition,” Paul said. “He has me tell the story about the card trick and now I’m super awkward. He’s like, ‘Now, let’s get started,’ and I start doing this monologue and I completely lose my train of thought and I stop and I apologize to J.J. He’s like ‘That’s okay. Thanks for coming in.’ I’m like ‘See ya’ and I walked out. It was awful.”
Paul continued: “I’ve never given up in an audition. I fight to the end… I don’t want to waste your time. I was so prepared, I was ready, I loved the material, I loved the monologue, it was written really well, and I was excited about it, but that damn magic trick story just threw me a violent turn. It was awful.”
Though he missed out on starring in Cloverfield, which went on to gross $170 million worldwide, he landed what would become his career-defining role (thus far, at least) in 2008 on AMC’s Breaking Bad, which won him three Emmys and a Screen Actors Guild Award shortly thereafter.
After airing June 12 and June 19 on PBS SoCal, the two-part fourth season premiere of Variety and PBS’ Actors on Actors will be available to stream on Variety.com. Watch Paul discuss the moment in the video below: