By Danny Peary

“It’s such a gripping, crazy story,” Aaron Paul tells FilmInk of Triple 9, the latest against-the-grain offering from Australian director, John Hillcoat (Ghosts Of The Civil Dead, The Proposition, Lawless). “There were so many people already attached when they approached me about it. It’s an incredible ensemble, and I’m such a huge fan of John Hillcoat. I couldn’t believe that this was coming to me. I said, ‘I’ll absolutely do it.’” Famed and loved for his indelible work as the horribly flawed but utterly relatable Jesse Pinkman on TV’s Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul joins an outstanding line-up of performers – Woody Harrelson, Norman Reedus, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Teresa Palmer, Clifton Collins Jr., Gal Gadot, and Kate Winslet – for this hard edged thriller about the very thin, close-to-snapping line that divides America’s cops and criminals.

Set in a hot, broiling Atlanta, and taking in the Russian mob that rules the roost (with Winslet’s ruthless crime boss the film’s centrepiece villain), the Mexican and African-American gangs that do their bidding, and the compromised cops that work with them and against them, Triple 9 (the police code for the shooting of a peace officer) is not your standard police-and-their-prey procedural, with a rack-it-up style body count. For Aaron Paul (who plays a bank-robbing ex-cop in the grip of the Russian mafia), Triple 9 walks a tough cinematic beat trampled by a crew of first class intimidators. “I compare this to films like Heat,” the actor tells FilmInk on the film’s set. “I loved Heat.  It felt honest. There’s The French Connection too. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a really great, gritty cop movie.”

Are these the kind of roles that Paul has been getting offered since Breaking Bad’s televisual meth lab closed for business? “It’s kind of across the board,” the actor replies. “It used to just be only dark, edgy, druggy guys – kind of like this role in Triple 9 – and I’d always steer far away from that. But now it’s just kind of across the board. I just played Joshua in Exodus: Gods And Kings, and that’s something that I’ve never played before. He’s the polar opposite of Jesse Pinkman.”

Though his ex-cop in Triple 9 is far, far, far from being squeaky clean, playing even a one-time corrupt lawman was a shift for Aaron Paul, who’d spent five seasons on TV as a drug dealer running away from the cops. “I haven’t done it before,” the actor says of playing a peace officer. “But it’s been years since my character in the film, Gabe, has been off the force. He’s an ex-cop. It would be fun to show up for work and put on the attire, but it doesn’t really feel much different. He’s really tactical, and he really knows what he’s doing. He’s going through a lot of issues, and he has been for the last few years. The backstory is that he’s seen awful things. And there was a corrupt cop when he was in the force, and he did a ‘suicide-by-another cop’, which is just a cop wanting to commit suicide but having another cop to kill him instead. So that’s what happened. Gabe just had enough, and he just couldn’t be a part of it anymore, so he left. And now he’s still doing robberies and that sort of thing. He’s actually the one who comes up with the plan to pull a Triple 9, which is the police code for officer down. And that’s going to drive the entire police force to one side of the city, making it clear on the other side of the city for him and his crew to pull off their next heist. He comes up with this idea as a joke, but they take him seriously, and he’s desperate throughout the entire movie to try and get them to stop, because he doesn’t think that it’s a good idea. But that said, he knows that he’s a bad guy. For sure.”

As most actors do when playing cops, Paul hitched a ride with his local law enforcement agency, taking a backseat while two officers drove around and dealt with the criminal element first hand. “On one ride-along, it was a pretty slow day, and we ended up pulling over this car,” Paul replies when asked if this research threw up any memorable moments. “The guy in the car was called ‘Danger’…that was his middle name,” the actor laughs. “He was on parole.  They pulled him over because he had no tail lights. They had him get out of the car. He had just gotten out of prison, he was on parole, and he had two strikes against him. His girlfriend was in the front seat, his mom was in the back, he had a loaded gun that had been reported stolen two years prior, and he had a bunch of cash. It was just so crazy. They had dogs come and sniff the car to see if there were any drugs in the car – and there weren’t. When we went back to the police station, they asked me if I wanted to go talk to him and interview him. He had tattoos all over his face, and he was probably the scariest guy that I’ve ever seen. I did not want to go talk to him. I didn’t want to talk to this guy named Danger! But he looked over at me and gave me this half-smile, so I started talking to him, and he ended up being a big fan of Breaking Bad. That was such a weird thing! To me, he was actually really nice, but I know that he’s a very, very bad guy. He’s a bad man, but he was born into that world. I felt sympathetic toward him. He has no choice. Some people are able to break away from that, but the majority can’t do it.”

Though he rocks and rumbles with the best of them in Triple 9, Paul will forever be remembered as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, a show that has left its mark on many, many people. “[The show’s star] Bryan Cranston got his very first tattoo the night after we wrapped,” Paul smiles. “He got a Breaking Bad symbol from the show. That evening, we probably got about twenty crew members tattoos – throughout the following week, more people joined in. Half got a ‘no half measures’ one, and the other half got the Breaking Bad symbol. Look up Breaking Bad tattoos on Instagram is crazy! To see my face on someone’s chest is just… I saw my face on this guy’s leg, and Bryan’s face was right next to mine – what a weird tattoo! What a weird placement!”

Aaron Paul’s Breaking Bad legacy, however, doesn’t stop at tattoos. “I have an Aaron Paul Day at home in Idaho,” the actor reveals. “The governor dedicated an Aaron Paul Day, in October…I’m very proud to be from Idaho. I’m sure that there are others from Idaho, but I can’t think of any right now. There are a lot of actors who live in Idaho. Bruce Willis has a place there. It’s crazy that I’ve been in LA for almost eighteen years.”

Is the rhythm of making a movie and working on the schedule of a TV show hugely different? “I miss everything about Breaking Bad, so it’s hard to say,” Aaron Paul replies. “But I love film.”

Triple 9 is released in cinemas on March 3.


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