‘Breaking Bad’: How Method Acting Nearly Destroyed Aaron Paul: ‘I Would Dream as Jesse Pinkman’

We can’t imagine anyone better than Aaron Paul for the role of Jesse Pinkman. Breaking Bad wouldn’t be the same without the character’s comic relief as well as his surprising vulnerability. At the beginning of the series, we are lead to believe that Walt is the good guy, and Jesse is inherently bad. Yet as we spend more time with these characters, we realize that it’s the other way around. Despite Jesse’s life choices, he wants to do the right thing. Walt, on the other hand, only desires power. Vince Gilligan’s series is all about things not being as they seem, which at the end of the day is what makes it so brilliant. 

Because the series has such a high reputation to uphold, the pressure is on for the actors to pull out their best performances whenever the cameras are rolling. Yet for some actors, namely Paul, he’d continue his performance long after the director would yell “cut.” Find out how his experience with method acting nearly destroyed him (and how Bryan Cranston ultimately helped save the day.)

Aaron Paul
Aaron Paul from ‘Breaking Bad’ | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Aaron Paul felt like he had something to prove

While the Bojack Horseman actor nails his role as Jesse, his journey towards getting the part was quite bumpy. In an interview with Sam Jones on The Off Camera Show, Paul admits how challenging it was to get the part. According to the talented actor, nobody wanted him for the role of Jesse. He struggled immensely with his audition, constantly stumbling on his monologues and forgetting the next line. While no one seemed to want Paul for the role, there was one person who knew the actor was the perfect fit. That person was Vince Gilligan. Ultimately, he got cast as the meth addict with a secret heart of gold. 

Yet because only one person wanted him for the part, Paul felt like he had something to prove on set. He wanted to play his character in the best way possible, considering the stakes of the series. To do so, he took the “method acting” approach, where he fully immersed himself into his Breaking Bad persona.  

The ‘Breaking Bad’ actor would pretend to be Jesse Pinkman long after filming

Because Paul wanted to master his role, he took his method acting to a whole new level. We’ve heard stories before about actors who are unable to separate themselves from their characters. Sometimes this can lead to dangerous circumstances, especially if the characters are involved in troublesome situations.

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For Paul to perfect the role of Jesse, he fully transformed into the role by continuing to wear his costume outside of work. According to the actor, he’d be out till 4 am in the shadiest parts of Albuquerque, while surrounded by “the world that Jesse was surrounded by.” On the streets, he’d talk like Jesse and “bum cigarettes off crackheads” to get in the same emotional headspace as his character. Because of this, he ended up dreaming as Jesse, as opposed to Paul. Knowing Pinkman and all his troublesome experiences, it’s safe to imagine he wasn’t having the sweetest of dreams. Ultimately, this experience wound up causing Paul to feel “exhausted” and “beat up.”

Bryan Cranston ultimately helped Aaron Paul out 

Ultimately, Cranston was the one to help Paul out of the hole that he’d dug himself in. Paul has referred to Bryan as a dear friend and “mentor” before, which is evident in this situation. 

Paul tells Sam Jones, “Bryan, in the second season, I think he may have just noticed I was exhausted one day or just super beat up. And he goes, ‘You know, Paul, it’s okay to at the end of the day, you know, take off your wardrobe and wash your makeup off and just be yourself.’ And I started doing that. And it was much easier for me.”