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Better Call Paul: life after Breaking Bad


Aaron Paul and his wife Lauren Parsekian  at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood last year.  Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Aaron Paul and his wife Lauren Parsekian at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood last year. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Aaron Paul and his wife Lauren Parsekian at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood last year. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

It's been two years since the Breaking Bad finale transfixed millions around the world, and Aaron Paul has moved on, people. Or at least moved on from calling people bitch. "Gobshite!" I hear him call someone. "Gobshite, gobshite, gobshite."

For a second I'm imagining him as a Fair City walk on - he said he wants to work here after all - but when you see the man who was Jesse Pinkman move around in public you realise that someone with his particular blend of cult following and superstar fame probably needs quite a broad palate of profanity to keep bitches, sorry, "gobshites", at bay. If he stops moving for more than a few seconds a queue forms. On Harcourt Street he is swarmed. He is like the moving epicentre of a stag party. There are never ending photo requests. And everyone, but everyone, wants to be called 'bitch.'

"It gets old but sometimes it's funny too", he tells me. "True story: there was this one woman, I was shooting a movie, she was being driven in a van and she was walking with a walker and she sees me and starts trembling. She must've been 90. And she shuffled right into the take, she didn't understand what was happening. And she went to hug me and I leant down and hugged her. And she said "I would be so proud if you were my grandson." And I was touched. And then she said 'can I ask you a favour?' I said yeah and, all shyly, she said, "will you call me a bitch?" I was like 'oh God …surrrre.' I felt so wrong doing that. But I did it."

What a pro. More than most Paul seems to have handled his ascent to stardom with good-humoured aplomb. When he's followed on the street by TMZ he throws them witty answers over his shoulder. When tour buses stop outside his house he comes out to wave, and, to be fair, he does humour most of the autograph- and selfie-hunters in Dublin. "You've got to try to take it in your stride" he tells me, "because without fans this business would not really exist."

Why do we feel we're all owed a piece of Paul? Maybe it's because so many of us lost weeks of our lives to Breaking Bad. In the US, the final episode of the AMC-produced series attracted 10.3 million viewers in its first airing, placing it third of all cable series finales, behind only HBO's Sopranos in 2007 (11.9 million) and in 2004 (10.6 million). But for unknown reasons it was even more popular on this side of the pond - the UK and Ireland lead the entire world in terms of lust for new episodes.

You could speculate as to the reasons for this. Certainly, the title phrase and the central narrative - an emasculated high school chemistry teacher begins making crystal meth to fund his cancer treatment - seemed like an allegory for the popular desire to break free of our own mundane existence. And easily the best ensemble cast in television history - anchored by what Sir Anthony Hopkins called Bryan Cranston's "acting masterclass" - became part of our lives. The show seemed as addictive as a clear, cool bump of Walt's blue "glass".

It all came just in the nick of time for Paul. Seven years ago he was pretty much convinced that his career was over. He was already 28 by the time he got what seemed at that time like a bit of a break - as Amanda Seyfriend's love interest in the HBO Mormon drama Big Love. It seemed like a seismic leap forward from the holding pattern of television ads and bit parts that had paid the bills until then but the pay cheque didn't match the prestige of the network and he was coming away only with a few hundred dollars per episode. He was forced to ask his parents for money to pay his rent.

"That was really, really tough, the worst time of all", he tells me, fixing me with an intense Jesse-ish stare. "I mean it wasn't like I was just starting out, by that point I was thirteen years into it. Asking them (for money) was huge for me because at the end of the day this was my dream, not theirs. My mom had driven out to California with me. They wanted to see their son do well but they weren't particularly well off. I'll always be grateful to them though."

It's natural to conflate Paul with Jesse Pinkman but growing up, the youngest of four kids in Boise, Idaho, the actor was far from the hell-raiser he portrayed in Breaking Bad. "It was a strict upbringing but also a great one. Long story short, we had good morals growing up. My father was a baptist minister. I didn't have my first beer until I lived on my own. I never took meth. I didn't swear until I was in my twenties, until I was in Breaking Bad actually. I was big into acting"

And he wasn't much of a player either. He didn't lose his virginity until he was 19, he tells me, and was always looking for a wife rather than a girlfriend. He met his wife, Lauren Parsekian (a charity campaigner, and the daughter of actor Debra Kelly), at the Coachella music festival in California five years ago. He later proposed to her on New Year's Eve in Paris.

Two years ago, they had a Parisian Carnival-themed wedding, and since then have been either touchingly sweet, or a little nauseating (depending on your point of view) in their frequent displays of Instagram love ("We get it Aaron Paul, you have a wife" went one Buzzfeed headline). He's called her "the most awesome woman in human history".

Can these heights of dizzy love last forever? "I sure hope so", he says. "It's been five years we've been together now and I still feel as great as I did at the start. My own parents are still madly in love as are hers, so that bodes well for us."

Since the end of Breaking Bad, his public persona has been something of 'grateful lottery winner' and his choice of film projects have tended toward disposable action flicks. He mouths the correct lines about wanting to make films and plays in Ireland - but this time around he's here to speak for a beer company, Budweiser, which has organised a competition in which people can win €50,000 to pursue their dream job.

By comparison, Cranston's first project after Breaking Bad was All The Way, a serious, talky play on Broadway. Paul has an Emmy under his belt -no mean feat - but he was surrounded on all sides by acting powerhouses on the cast of Breaking Bad and sometimes fell a little short of their genius. Howard Stern famously tried to goad Bryan Cranston into saying that Giancarlo Esposito (who played Gus) should have won the Emmy rather than Paul. "I agree Giancarlo should have won", Aaron tells me, smiling generously. "What he did was intense and amazing. I'm not saying that what I did wasn't good, but I do agree that he should have won."

What Paul has in spades, however, is charisma. I've seen him be puppyish good fun in interviews and he'll tweet back his fans and generally seems like a sport about everything. Maybe that's been part of his problem, though. In person this time around he seems a little flat, as though a million dutiful selfie poses have leached his soul away. He talks warmly about how Cranston has been "a friend and a mentor to me" and perhaps somewhere, at the back of his mind, he'd like to be as judicious as the older actor in terms of project selection.

One thing he won't be involved in is Better Call Saul, the much anticipated Breaking Bad prequel which (starring Irish actress Kerry Condon) which will premiere next month in the US.

"It's all about finding the right great script", he says. "The role has got to be right. Watch this space."

For your chance to win €50,000 from Budweiser to pursue your dream job visit www.todaystheday.ie

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