As the cult show’s wild-eyed crystal meth dealer, Aaron Paul became one of TV’s most unexpected anti-heroes. But then, as Rhik Samadder discovers, the actor is full of surprises

The skinhead with crazy eyes opens a concealed hatch in the floor to reveal a chilling sight: stark concrete steps leading to an empty basement, bare walled, dimly lit. The kind you see on the news. It’s not that I expected Aaron Paul to live in a trailer, cooking meth in his underpants, but this is a surprise. To clarify, the rest of his Hollywood house is beautiful, befitting the star of one of the most successful TV shows of all time. Breaking Bad broke viewing records and was acclaimed as the high watermark in a golden age of long-form television. Bryan Cranston’s performance as chemistry-teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White is often described as Shakespearian, yet it was the slow-burn arc of his slacker protégé, Jesse Pinkman, that was arguably more cathartic. How does any actor move on after being in a masterpiece? “We talk about it all the time,” he admits. The way he describes the finale sounds almost painful. “It was next to perfect. Brian and I read it together at his place in New Mexico. When he read the screen direction ‘end of series’ we just sat in silence for 30 seconds.”

I meet Paul earlier at a long table in his expansive garden, amid the sound of rushing water. He smiles broadly, the sun beaming just for him. It’s kind of strange to see him happy, in patterned shirt and shorts. “I know how lucky I am. I’m on top of the world.” The breeziness contrasts sharply with his onscreen presence. There, he has a mania in his blue eyes and flushing skin, threat in the ravaged growl of his voice, but also beautiful vulnerability. We see the puppy inside the feral dog. No matter how intense the situation, you believe him as an actor.

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