Breaking Bad may have ended three years ago, but fans of the AMC drama haven’t forgotten about one of its most popular characters. Neither has Aaron Paul.
Paul, who took home three Emmy Awards for his role as tormented meth-making apprentice Jesse Pinkman, is about to move into the next phase of his acting career. Within the next month alone, he’ll drop two new movies (Triple 9 and Eye in the Sky) and return to television with Hulu’s powerful drama The Path.
But despite the charged momentum of his post-Bad career, Paul has been rumored for an appearance on AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul, which has just entered its ravishing second season. So the question is a perfectly natural one: Is Aaron Paul really done with Jesse Pinkman?
“I absolutely feel like I said goodbye to Jesse, and it might sound a little cheesy, but I think Jesse will always live somewhere within me,” says the 36-year-old. “I’m the only person on the planet that lived and breathed every moment of Jesse’s existence, and then some. Every moment that we saw, I created in my crazy head. I loved Jesse. I feel so connected to him.”
But, he goes on, unprompted by questions of a reprise: “I absolutely feel like I said goodbye to him, for now. Because he could always come back in one way or another.”
Paul tells EW he was so ingrained in the character — even in the first few seasons — that his devotion to the bad seed high schooler required some advice from his costar, Bryan Cranston, on how to avoid the anguish of going too deep. “The first couple of seasons, Bryan had to tell me, ‘It’s okay to wash the makeup off and leave it on the set. It’s okay to walk away from it,’ ” Paul recounts. “I would go home and spend time in very sketchy alleyways to scare the shit out of myself. I wanted to know what that world was like … But a couple of years of just living in that character’s skin was a little much. I mean, I was having dreams as Jesse.”
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But in the margins between what sounds like a firm goodbye to a beloved but difficult character, Paul isn’t the type to disavow — in fact, his love for Jesse Pinkman and Breaking Bad is quite the opposite. He’s demonstrated a clear social media embrace of the series’ afterlife, supporting its foreign-language reboots, syndicated reruns, memes, and posthumous honors. This is, after all, a guy who held a scavenger hunt for fans by hiding series finale tickets around Hollywood; a guy who rented out an entire movie theater in Idaho to live-stream an episode; a guy who seems to happily, gladly answer when you call him Jesse.
“It’s kind of like, don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” says Paul. “I’m so proud of that show and it was just such a cultural phenomenon. It’s hard for me to just leave it in the past. I don’t want to leave it in the past.”
Paul estimates that his last official, contractual, legitimate obligation to Breaking Bad was probably the 2014 Emmys (though AMC legal advisers, feel free to chime in). The ceremony honored the show’s swan song season with wins for Paul, Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston, and the top drama series prize. “It’s been the longest goodbye in history, and I don’t think we ever really said goodbye because we’re just so close,” he says. “But I think the last thing that really brought us all together was the Emmys, and the fact that [we all] won … you couldn’t write a better ending. It was so perfect.”
A version of this story originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1405, on newsstands now.