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Aaron Paul has a way with deeply flawed characters — you might even say it’s his specialty: He takes the sort of guy you’d normally despise (like Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) and injects him with startling pathos, transforming a character into a painfully empathetic human being. This is what he does in The 9th Life of Louis Drax, a psychological fantasy-thriller in which Paul plays the role of the eponymous protagonist’s enigmatic father. Directed by Alexandre Aja (Horns) and co-starring Sarah Gadon and Jamie Dornan, the somewhat surreal drama takes advantage of Paul’s particular set of skills in a surprisingly subversive bit of typecasting. During our recent chat with Paul about his role in the new film, he also spoke with us about his one Breaking Bad regret and those persistent Dark Tower rumors.
I was trying to remember the first time that I became aware of you as an actor, and it was this MTV movie from 2002 — do you remember it?
Wasted, yeah! Back in the day!
It was about a high school heroin epidemic in Texas, inspired by this town not far from where I grew up.
What a crazy, just tragic story that was.
You’ve become known for playing similarly afflicted characters since then, but The 9th Life of Louis Drax does something clever with that.
Yeah, absolutely. For some reason I love playing flawed characters. I love humanizing flawed characters and bringing heart to these flawed characters. I don’t know why — well I do. I think playing characters with a lot of conflict, dealing with a lot of internal emotions, allows me as an actor to have a lot of play with. In terms of stories, films, books, that’s what I gravitate towards anyways. It’s definitely a conscious decision. I love stories with conflict.
Aside from your character, what was it about this particular story that drew you in?
From the moment I opened up the script, it transports you to another world. It is a psychological thriller that I just could not put down. The script was just so visually stunning and really painted such an incredible world, and after talking to Alex [Aja], our fearless leader, our director — he had such a specific vision in mind and we saw that vision right away, from the moment we came onto set. From how he would set up his shots, he’s just so artistic.
I think if you watch his previous film, Horns, you can see exactly why he was hired for this.
He puts these strange elements of dark fantasy in a setting that feels sort of classic.
Yeah, it’s like an old school Hitchcock sort of vibe. But magical and fantastical. He’s such an incredible visual storyteller. I’m excited to finally be able to watch it.
Without getting into spoilers, one of the components of your character involves acting through quite a bit of makeup. I know you’ve had similar challenges before…
A little bit but nothing to this extent. I don’t know when this piece is going to be out, so I don’t want to give too much away regarding…I’ve just been not talking about the [SPOILER], but yeah. [Laughs] Between you and I that’s a hellish experience, wearing that thing and a lot of times it was soaking wet, so it became even heavier than it already had been. But I loved it. That’s definitely one of the reasons why I wanted to jump into it. When I first read the script [Paul mentions the ending of the film]…Which is such an incredible reveal for me.
It’s a bit emotional.
Yeah, it’s an emotional journey. This story really revolves around Louis Drax, this accident prone boy, brilliant, brilliant boy. It was my main, not necessarily concern, but I had to focus on, OK who is this boy? We have to find the perfect child and I think it we found him. I think Aiden [Longworth] is so incredible. He just does his role so perfectly, I think. I’m excited for people to see his performance.
And you’re working from a screenplay by Max Minghella, who’s best known for his acting work. I know you have some producing credits, but have you given any thought to writing or directing?
I think so, yeah. I would love to direct. I write short stories here and there from time to time. When I read this script, I didn’t know who wrote it. I always try to dive in without knowing much about it, other than the characters they want me to play. Then read it and once I was done, I was like Oh my god! Who wrote this?…Wait, I know that guy. I looked him up and was like, oh my god, this guy, I’ve been such a huge fan of him as an actor, but I’m like, what an asshole, he can write too. This is amazing! This guy is so brilliant. I was such a huge fan of his. I would love to — probably the next step would be to direct. They toyed around with the idea with me directing an episode of Breaking Bad. I think it’s one of my biggest regrets, not putting on that hat on that show.
If they gave you the opportunity to direct an episode of Better Call Saul, would you take it?
I think so, yeah. I would want to — I’m gonna really start shadowing some directors that I am huge fans of. Just, really see what the day to day process is. I think I have an idea, but I want to really be there 24/7 during prep and see exactly what it all entails. Just educate myself and go from there, but yeah, that’d be incredible.
I know you’re also a big fan of Stephen King, as am I — specifically The Dark Tower…
Ah! So happy that’s being made. It’s gonna be incredible.
You tweeted something that kind of perpetuated a rumor that you might be playing Eddie Dean.
Oh yeah, that thing has been coming and going for so many years. That beautiful rumor. Some rumors I love. But yeah, that would be incredible, if that were true.
You’d be a great choice.
Yeah. Eddie Dean, yet again, another flawed just incredible character that I would love to just sink my teeth into. I know they’re just gonna — you pray that they do it justice. I think they absolutely will.
Have you met with anyone at Sony about the possibility?
Throughout the years, yeah. We’ve talked to many people, but Eddie’s not making an appearance [in the first film]. I think probably the next film, if that, so who knows. But yeah, back in the day I sat down and had meetings. I’m sure many people did. I love that series, it’s incredible. Stephen King is just such a gem, he’s really a national treasure for sure.