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Aaron Paul: 'Breaking Bad's' Secret Weapon

Samantha Jacobs |
September 29, 2013 | 1:02 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Aaron Paul (Pinterest)
Aaron Paul (Pinterest)
A. P. Sturtevant was the cliché of a smalltown Idaho kid with a lot of Hollywood dreams and a lot of optimism. After performing in plays for the church that his father was a minister for, Paul was bit by the acting bug. So after high school he packed his bags, moved to Los Angeles, and slowly made his way into the glamorous world of Hollywood by working as an usher at Universal Studios Movie Theater, and participating as a very enthusiastic contestant on “The Price is Right.”

Unlike lots of Midwestern teenagers with high hopes and high rates of returning from whence they came, A.P. Sturtevant didn’t reach the peak of his Los Angeles career on a game show stint or at a minimum wage job. He made it. Big time.

A.P. Sturtevant is better known as Aaron Paul Sturtevant, or simply Aaron Paul, the 34-year old, two-time Emmy award-winning actor whose main claim to fame is his stellar work in AMC's "Breaking Bad." But though Paul is increasing his celebrity status on a daily basis, he really did start from the bottom before he got here.

Before his stint on “The Price is Right” in 2000, which has more recently become a viral sensation due to his adorable excitement over his chances of winning a desk (see below), Aaron Paul was one of many handsome young actors knocking on the doors of casting agencies. He had signed with a modeling manager after winning runner-up in a competition for the International Modeling and Talent Association before he transitioned into actual acting. Paul made two small cameos in TV movies before his game show appearance, but made his first notable cameo in "Beverly Hills 90210." He continued to do small parts on other TV hits such as"Melrose Place", "3rd Rock from the Sun" and "The X-Files." He dabbled in commercial work and even acted in a music video for Korn, but scored his first recurring role in HBO's "Big Love."

This role may have been a key factor that led to Paul nabbing the role of America’s favorite meth addict with a surprisingly golden moral compass: Jesse Pinkman. Despite Paul’s impressive audition, (below) "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan had a plan to have the show’s main character, chemistry teacher turned wicked meth empire dictator, Walter White, kill off Jesse at the end of the first season. But after witnessing Paul’s immense acting talent and the chemistry between him and Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White, the decision was made to keep Jesse around for a little bit longer.

Gilligan should pat himself on the back for that decision. In a 2010 interview with the New York Times, Gilligan stated that Jesse Pinkman had become the moral center of the show. That description has held true for the duration of the show’s five-season run, which will come to an end on September 29th. Despite worry that Paul was too inexperienced as a dramatic actor and that he was even too good-looking to play a convincing meth addict, Paul’s dynamic acting has made the character of Jesse Pinkman one of the most in-depth, complicated, sympathetic and memorable characters not just in "Breaking Bad", but in all of the history of television. "Breaking Bad" has been called one of the best dramatic TV series ever, and much of this acclaim is due to Paul’s work.

Jesse Pinkman is introduced to the show as one of Walter White’s former chemistry students, who has become involved in the world of cooking and using meth. After he is blackmailed into a partnership with “Mr. White,” viewers learn about Jesse’s true character, and have their own hearts broken as they helplessly watch as Jesse is dragged down Walter White’s insidious rabbit hole into his alter ego, Heisenberg’s, meth empire. Jesse shows his intelligence, passion and morality and he grows as a character each and every episode. As the show progresses and Jesse and Walt get more and more tangled in the sketchy drug trade realm, the intensity of Jesse’s emotional and physical beatings augments. Baby-faced Paul brings an aura of innocence to Jesse, despite his background in dealing and producing drugs. Audiences want to reach through their television screens and take Jesse out of the terrible situations he is manipulated into and hug him and nurse him back to health. Due to one blackmail, Jesse has suffered through losing the women he has loved, losing his family, losing his wealth and most significantly, losing his sense of self. Jesse Pinkman is a lost soul, and Aaron Paul has so beautifully made him into a real character.

Though "Breaking Bad" is the story of Walter White, a mundane man who descends into his genuinely wicked alter ego, Heisenberg, Paul's portrayal of the poor, tortured Jesse who is trapped in Heisenberg's web, has captivated audiences. The juxtaposition of Jesse's involvement in the meth trade and his subtle but poignant morality make for a very complex and compelling character. Jesse's eagerness to protect children is a recurring theme in the show, but is first significant in Season 2 Episode 6, which is entitled "Peekaboo." Jesse is ordered by Walt to "take care" of some meth addicts who owe them money, but upon seeing the pair's neglected son Jesse's moral compass really shines, and foreshadows his relationship with Brock, the son of Jesse's girlfriend, Andrea. When Walt uses Brock as a ploy to manipulate Jesse into helping him, and nearly kills the little boy in the process, Jesse snaps. Paul's portrayal of the emotional torment that his character is forced to endure is gripping and brilliant, and especially noticable in episodes 12 and 13 of Season 4.

Seeing Jesse grow as a character and Paul grow as an actor is incredibly rewarding throughout the series' five seasons, but the main culmination of both happens in the show's final season. Though there are gems of moments that highlight Jesse's anger (Season 3 Episode 7 "One Minute") and even some lighter moments with America's favorite meth dealer, Season 5 really contains some of the best acting of Paul's career. Jesse loses everything and is overwhelmed by feelings of grief, betrayal, anger and just pure hopelessness. His pain is palpable through the screen. We see Jesse finally give in to stand up to Walt, (below) we see Walt hit Jesse where it hurts the most, we see Jesse sadistically punished by psychopath Todd and we see a man hit rock bottom. One agreement, one blackmailed agreement, has ruined the life of poor, young Jesse Pinkman. He has no one to go to, no plan in the works and he has no hope. Hatred for Walter White hits an all-time high when viewers see the destruction of his core being. And Aaron Paul plays this role flawlessly. The line delivery, body language and just overall mood are spot-on to make Jesse Pinkman one of the most dynamic and complex characters in TV history.

Paul can garner laughs from the famous Pinkman catchphrase, “Yo, bitch!” (below) or he can cause waterfalls of tears from the way his body language and expressions emanate sadness that seem to break the fourth wall. Co-star Bryan Cranston has noted Paul’s enthusiasm while working on grueling and demanding scenes, and though his and Paul’s characters have become enemies on the show, in real life the two are buddies. Paul married Lauren Parsekian in May, and Cranston served as a groomsman. The two also often show their senses of humor by pulling pranks such as dressing up as each other, or even their romantic interests on the show, for cast parties.

So though "Breaking Bad" may be coming to an end after five gripping seasons, the end is nowhere in sight for Mr. Aaron Paul. From this series alone he has been nominated for four Primetime Emmys, two of which he has won. Paul is also slated to act in four movies in 2014, including “Need for Speed” and “Exodus.” Paul has exposed his dynamic personality and likability factor through interviews too, so that, plus his acting chops, Hollywood connections and new marriage result in a seemingly endless array of possibilities for the future. Aaron Paul really does have it all.

Reach Staff Reporter Samantha Jacobs here. Follow her on Twitter.



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