Melinda Sue Gordon / DreamWorks

In “Need for Speed,” Aaron Paul plays a garage owner and street racer imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. After being freed, he seeks revenge. “The moment I read the script, I was just invested in these characters,” Paul said. Parts of “Need” were filmed in San Francisco.

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Movies: Aaron Paul creates a new type of ‘Speed’

Published: Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 - 9:04 pm
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 6, 2014 - 7:35 pm

Do put Aaron Paul in a corner.

He likes characters who must get out of jams. Like Jesse Pinkman, the excitable drug cook he played for five seasons on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” And Tobey Marshall, the garage owner and street racer imprisoned for a crime he did not commit in the new movie “Need for Speed.”

“I like to play characters who have been affected somehow by life,” Paul said. “I just find that more interesting.”

Jesse was the Sisyphus of motor-home meth cooks, clobbered by drug rivals, misled by business partner Walter White, yet also seemingly indefatigable.

Tobey too is resilient. Framed by Dino (Dominic Cooper), a duplicitous pro driver from Tobey’s hometown of Mount Kisco, N.Y., Tobey serves two years in the pen. Upon release, he programs his GPS for vengeance, speeding across country toward a secret, illegal race in which he plans to beat Dino.

Remembering his first look at the script, Paul said he “was so surprised that this film was so character-driven and so story-driven.” He’s calling from San Francisco, where parts of “Need” were shot last year. (The film’s shoot encompassed seven states and also included Mendocino County).

“The moment I read the script, I was just invested in these characters and I wanted to know what the hell was going to happen.”

Based on the popular video-game series, “Need” exists for its shots of Lamborghinis hugging curves along the Mendocino coast, and for stunts like one in which Tobey drives his $3 million modified Mustang off a cliff.

But there’s enough room left for Paul, a two-time Emmy winner for his work on “Bad,” to invest his character with a simmering rage.

Jesse simmered, too. But he mostly erupted, spouting off like a little punk. Tobey is focused and in control, with Paul’s gritty voice dropping an octave from “Bad” to “Need.”

Scott Waugh, a veteran stuntman turned director who joined Paul in San Francisco, said he was “looking for the next kind of young Steve McQueen” to play Tobey.

Paul, 34, at first was being considered for the villain role.

“I was the only alien on Earth that hadn’t seen ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” Waugh said. “So they showed me some tape on (Paul), and I was so excited when I saw it. I was, ‘This kid’s incredible.’ 

So he cast him as the lead.

Paul, as Tobey, drives on the streets of San Francisco like McQueen did in “Bullitt,” the 1968 gold standard for car-chase scenes.

“Bullitt’s” famous chase happened in daylight. “Need’s” San Francisco scenes occur at night, and compose only a small part of the film. Yet “Bullitt” homages abound in “Need.”

The Mark Hopkins hotel and Nob Hill figure into “Need,” as they did in “Bullitt.” Then there’s Tobey’s Mustang, so fetishized in “Need” that it comes off more as a character than a mere product placement.

“There are a lot of Easter eggs in the movie that are a throwback to a lot of great car movies in the ’60s and ’70s,” Waugh said.

Paul really is behind the wheel in many scenes.

“The fastest I got it up to was 125,” Paul said. “When we were pushing upward toward 200 miles an hour or 200-plus, they brought in professional race-car drivers. There is no reason for me to go that fast.”

Hundreds of stunt men and women worked on “Need.” Though the movie is based on a video game, Waugh wanted real stunts rather than computer-generated imagery.

“He wanted to do a throwback to films that we both really felt kind of started the genre – ‘Bullitt,’ ‘Vanishing Point,’ ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ ” Paul said. “Those movies didn’t rely on CGI or green screen.”

“Need” is the first big car film to arrive after “Fast & Furious” star Paul Walker’s death in a high-speed crash in November. Walker’s death did not affect their approach to marketing “Need,” Waugh and Paul said.

“I had the pleasure of … not really knowing Paul, but meeting him a few times throughout the years, and he was such a beautiful human being,” Paul said. “You know, life is fragile. And cars are dangerous. And we definitely do not encourage or endorse what these characters are doing in this film. With this film, all of these characters, they pay for their actions. … Films are made for entertainment only.”

Paul said shooting “Speed” in so many states alerted him to an abundance of tracks where people can exorcise speed demons.

“There are race tracks that anyone – the public – can just go on and pay for a lap day,” Paul said. “And keep it on the track, in safe, controlled conditions.”

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

Read more articles by Carla Meyer

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