Aaron Paul: ‘El Camino’ answers ‘What happened to Jesse?’

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Paul’s character in the popular series Breaking Bad was supposed to get killed off at the end of the first season. But producers had a change of heart after witnessing the strong chemistry between his Jesse Pinkman character and Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in a pilot.

The decision to keep the story revolved around the duo for five seasons panned out for the series, which won several Golden Globe and Emmy awards. Paul won three supporting actor Emmys for his breakout portrayal of the overly emotional, loud-mouth and meth-taking Pinkman.

Now, Paul returns as Pinkman in the Netflix film El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which premieres Friday on the streaming service. The movie has cameos from some of the show’s best characters.

“The dynamic between Walter and Jesse changed the whole dynamic of the series and my life,” said Paul, who has gone on to star in the TV series The Path as well as the films Need for Speed and Central Intelligence.

“This was a role of a lifetime,” Paul said. “I thought I said goodbye to this guy years ago. So, it’s sort of nice to revisit in this state of mind and continue this journey with him. Then reconnecting with everyone from the show. It was like a family reunion.”

Breaking Bad concluded its five-year run on AMC in 2013. The show primarily focused on White, a high school chemistry teacher struggling to financially support his family, including a son who has cerebral palsy while he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In desperation, White uses an old RV as a place to build a lucrative meth empire with the help of Pinkman, a former student, before their drug operation turns violent. The series ended with White dying from a gunshot wound after using a remote-controlled machine-gun to kill an Aryan Brotherhood gang and free Pinkman, who had been held captive for six months.

El Camino picks up after a scar-faced, dusty Pinkman flees the bloody scene in a stolen El Camino vehicle. The story focuses on Pinkman as he tries to escape his former drug life to start anew while on the run from the police.

“He’s a different person,” Paul said of Pinkman. “Jesse has gone through torture and chaos. He’s a combination of all those things that happened to him in the past. He’s escaping from captivity. He’s been there for half a year. He’s been tortured and forced to cook a drug that has completely destroyed his life and destroyed the lives around him. He lost the love of his life. … When we last saw him, he was screaming in sort of a relief and also agony. He’s laughing and crying all at once.”

Paul said the film answers the question he’s heard almost every day since Breaking Bad ended: “What happened to Jesse?” The actor said venturing back into Pinkman’s story was an “itch that needed to be scratched” by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, who also directed, produced and wrote the film.

“It felt like there was still more story to tell,” Paul said. “They left the unknown in the series finale, which was beautiful. When I was asked about coming onto this project, I was onboard instantly. You know, I trust Vince so much. I thought the ending was perfect for this film. But I also know that Vince wouldn’t just tell a story to just tell one. There’s a reason behind it. I was excited to go on this journey with him.”

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