The character of Jesse Pinkman endured a lot across Breaking Bad‘s five seasons – but actor Aaron Paul’s Hollywood journey has been no less rocky (albeit not quite so violent and deadly). Outside of a viral appearance on the Price is Right, Paul’s first official credits, like most, were extremely minor even if occasionally on such well-regarded outings. On the big screen, he appeared briefly in Mission: Impossible III and opposite future Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. On the small screen, meanwhile, he had guest-appearances in such acclaimed shows as The X-Files and Veronica Mars. On both shows, Paul showed early glimpses of what he would eventually offer with his breakout role. Also before that, however, Paul landed his first recurring role as Scott Quittman on HBO’s Big Love.
It was, of course, as the long-suffering partner of Walter White (aka Heisenberg) that Paul really came to prominence. Starting the show as a foolishly childish and misguided drug addict, Jesse was rather one-note in Breaking Bad season 1. This was, in large part, due to the original plan to kill the character off before the season 1 finale. Creator Vince Gilligan ultimately changed his mind, however, noting Paul’s potential and brilliant chemistry with Bryan Cranston (who played Walter). As such, Jesse was not only spared but, as Walter White descended into outright villainy, became Breaking Bad‘s emotional heart and moral center. Paul’s portrayal of Jesse’s sympathetic evolution earned him numerous awards.
In the wake of Breaking Bad‘s acclaimed series finale, Paul found himself understandably inundated with film offers. One of the first was the opportunity to play the lead in the big-screen video game adaptation, Need for Speed. The film was almost universally panned by critics, yet managed to earn enough at the box office to be considered a moderate success. Paul next signed on to star in Ridley Scott’s biblical epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings. Despite a stellar cast, the film failed to resonate critically or commercially. In the immediate aftermath, Paul not only found offers drying up but was revealed that he’d been steered away from a role in what emerged as a huge success. Paul would later go on to call it an especially difficult time in his life and career.
While Paul’s personal life flourished – with the actor marrying Lauren Parsekian and welcoming a daughter – his career remained staggered. Paul would also later lament how everybody just wanted him to play variations of Jesse Pinkman. In Triple 9, he played a troubled yet ultimately goodnatured drug addict. Paul would next enjoy both a rare comedic and villainous turn in Central Intelligence. However, it was requested he emulate the signature “bitch” catchphrase associated with Jesse Pinkman.
The tide turned when Gilligan approached him with the idea of directly revisiting Jesse. Although the Breaking Bad series finale effectively wrapped up the bulk of the show’s threads, many believed Jesse’s story was left too ambiguous. Gilligan ultimately came to agree, going on to write and produce El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story with as much secrecy as he could. The feature-length sequel was eventually released in October 2019. It was met with all-but unanimous praise, most notably for Paul’s once again revelatory performance. El Camino also served to give Jesse Pinkman a much more definitive (and comparatively) happy ending. This was something Paul would later refer to as cathartic for him as for audiences.
Paul would continue to explore that resurgence on television. Though he’d already enjoyed a main role on Hulu’s The Path, the show was praised but mostly flew under the radar. Equally, Paul had voiced Todd Chavez on BoJack Horseman. Still, the actor craved a more substantial return to live-action. Thankfully, the opportunity soon came about with the rich opportunity to play the wrongfully convicted Warren Cave in Apple TV’s Truth Be Told. Paul will also next be seen in his more mainstream role in years, playing Caleb in Westworld season 3. As such, while Breaking Bad will always hold a special plan in fans’ hearts, Paul is determined to prove he still has much more to offer.