"It was pretty cool to be a part of that," says Paul.
Warning: This post contains spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie returns Aaron Paul to his Emmy-winning role of Jesse Pinkman, that directionless goof who teams up with his former chemistry teacher to build a meth empire, only to become imprisoned by white supremacists and forced to work on a one-man meth chain gang, only to bust out of the compound in the final moments of Breaking Bad‘s 2013 series finale.
Tension was draped over the entire two-hour thriller that is El Camino: can Jesse get the hell out of the ABQ without winding up in police custody and find some sort of safe refuge after the most eventful-but-worst two years of his life? He can and he did, disappearing to a remote outpost in Alaska. Of course, there was another big, flashing question hanging over the movie, and certainly over the 11 months of speculation leading up to its release Friday morning on Netflix: Will Walter White share the screen with his one-time apprentice once again?
The answer is: You’re goddamn right he will.
During his frenzied operation to blow this town, Jesse encountered a few familiar faces (Skinny Pete and Badger, there with the cash, car and shelter), but the miracles of flashback storytelling also allowed Jesse to spend time with several beloved characters (Mike by the river, Jane on the road) who perished in the violent wake of Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse’s crystal-blue meth run. At the top of the list, though, was his megalomaniacal partner: the man who assumed the moniker of Heisenberg, and was last seen in the series finale keeling over beside his beloved machinery while Jesse drove his ass out of that Nazi compound, screaming his way into freedom.
Toward the end of the two-hour El Camino, Walt finally resurfaced in a quiet circa-season 2 flashback, fulfilling the promise of that hot-shower-and-breakfast referenced in “Four Days Out.” Jesse and Walt walked down a hotel floor in synced silence and ate breakfast in a diner, savoring a most lucrative cook that had almost turned disastrous. It was a much more innocent time for the partners who would soon turn viciously against each other; the terminally ill Walt asked Jesse what he wanted to do with his life with these riches that will help secure the financial future of Walt’s family. The scene ended with Walt complimenting Jesse in a rather warped and sad way: “You’re really lucky, you know that? That you didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.”
Earlier in the production of El Camino — which was written and directed by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan — Paul had reunited with various cast members (including Matt Jones, Charles Baker, and Jesse Plemons). And now Bryan Cranston would take 36 hours off his Broadway run in Network to fly to New Mexico for this tactical mission. What was it like for Paul to act opposite his dear partner again, not to mention, in a formative phase of Walt and Jesse’s relationship, an era they last regularly visited 10 years ago? “That was very different to jump back into, but it was also incredibly easy to find that particular skin again,” Paul tells EW. “It was so nice to be able to play Jesse in his happier days. He was still very much in love with Jane [Krysten Ritter]. It was before heroin came into the mix. It was a simpler time. Walt still had the looming death on the horizon, or so he thought, but it was so nice to be able to get in that wardrobe and sit opposite one of my nearest and dearest friends — my mentor — and play these roles again that completely changed our lives forever. It was a really such a blessing.”
El Camino was plotted in secret, and full, not half, measures were taken to ensure that the project remained under the radar: Cranston was flown across country on a private jet, and the diner was populated with crew members and their families. While the Cranston shoot was an undercover operation, it also radiated with a familiar, familial feeling. “We needed that diner to be filled with people that we could trust to not leak this information,” says Paul. “And also just to be a part of it. We wanted to be surrounded by loved ones, to be a part of this really cool day. The day Bryan came on set with that bald cap and those loafers and that classic Mr. White outfit. I mean, the faces that showed up, the people that flew in just to see this moment, they thought, ‘Well, look, if I’m going to visit one time, it’s gotta be during this time.’ It was pretty cool to be a part of that.”
To prevent paparazzi shots, Paul was not able to hang out with Cranston (or other Bad castmates) in public. And the most famous meth-makers on the planet were even forced to channel the Force. “I have such funny videos of Brian and I in our sort-of Star Wars cloaks, walking from our trailer to the SUV that takes us to set,” he says. “It was pretty great. I also thought that maybe those clothes drew a lot more attention to us? But I don’t know. Obviously it worked.”
Not that Paul was complaining about any of this. “That was the easiest part — to keep it a secret,” he says. “I mean, I love throwing surprises. I love surprising my wife. I love lying to people in an innocent way. And this was just that on a big scale.”
Paul has much more to reveal about this highly-anticipated project, which you can read all about at EW.com in the coming days. But for now, he can tell you that reprising his role as Jesse Pinkman was an unexpected homecoming that he never saw on the Southwestern horizon. He recalls that very first day of shooting: “I walked onset. Matt Jones and Charles Baker were there. And it was very odd. It was a very strange day for all of us, including the crew, including Vince. But it was so beautiful. It was a family reunion, jumping into characters that completely changed all of our lives. It was pretty surreal.”
Those watching Jesse chowing down with Walt at the diner one more (last?) time would undoubtedly agree.