Aaron Paul, it turns out, is the LeBron James of go-karting, freakishly zipping through hairpin turns, working the symbiosis of accelerator and brake, all in the service of beating the clock. His Need for Speed training hasn't hurt either. "I spent days drifting around corners on the track," he says, "mastering tricks with the emergency brake. Pulling 360s, 180s. Once you understand the vehicle, you really understand that driving that crazy is actually—not so hard." He calls the upcoming role a "business move" and stands by the merits of taking a part like this—the movie is based on the video-game franchise of the same name, and Paul will play the lead—for the sake of unadulterated fun. "Running around, driving like a maniac in really expensive, fast cars?" Paul says. "Why not? After six long, intense years on Breaking Bad, this was perfect."
The movie's director, Scott Waugh, however, suggests that Paul brings back into the big-budget fray a sorely missed kind of triple threat. "When we were trying to find our lead," he says, "I kept preaching that we needed to find the next Steve McQueen: the guy who has charm, who's likable but who's also dangerous. Aaron has all that and those acting chops, too. I mean, that man ba-rings it on screens. He's incredible." Paul's costar Dakota Johnson agrees. "You can feel his lines," she says. "It's tangible energy. He speaks with his entire body, his entire soul." Still, Paul intends to stay close to heavier material. "I just want to do special projects," he says. "I would rather not work than work on just okay stuff. The things that really excite me are the things that make you feel."
Since the success of Breaking Bad, the movie roles have come easily to Paul so far. "Exodus came out of nowhere," he says. "I was just like, 'Really? Do you want me to audition, maybe? You want me to fight for this, fight for the role?' I'm just so used to clawing and fighting." For Paul, Exodus carries the desired urgency. As does Hellion, a film Paul executive-produced and stars in, which competed in the drama category at Sundance (in January). Paul plays a deadbeat dad forced to mature and raise his two troubled sons after the death of his wife. "I gravitate toward edgy, intense, dark films that just grab you by the throat," he says, citing Drive as a recent favorite and its director, Nicolas Winding Refn, as somebody he'd like to work with. He's also been cast in the upcoming Fathers and Daughters, alongside Russell Crowe and his onetime Big Love wife, Amanda Seyfried, who's admittedly awestruck by everything Paul has accomplished since they last worked together. "I'm envious, as a lot of actors probably are, of the opportunity he had to explore such an intense role. He was unpredictable, electric, and complicated, a beautiful mess. He was perfect," she says. "I can't wait to build on our dynamic and create a raw, inspired love story." And then television—and even Jesse Pinkman—could remain part of the equation, with the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul going into production later this year. "Both Bryan and I want to be a part of that," Paul says. "If they'll have us."
Out on the track, as night falls and the temperature drops, the surface grows slick and visibility decreases: blacktop blending into the blackening sky. Paul will have to head back into the desert at 3:30 in the morning to resume his wandering. He relishes playing a fighting Jew and can't wait to see if Joshua can lead him to his personal promised land. But he can't tear himself away yet, and as he thunders by me once more he throws a hand in the air, pumping his fist on his way to a decisive go-kart win. When Paul removes his helmet, he's all smiles, immediately calling for the course keeper, who presents him with the printout of his splits. "Look at that," he says, still buzzing as he runs his fingers over the numbers. "I got faster. I did better every time."