Jesse Pinkman’s goodbye at the close of “Breaking Bad” was one that took a surprisingly short amount of time to capture. The final image of Aaron Paul’s character on the TV series showed Jesse, freed from a custom-made meth cartel cage and fleeing behind the wheel of a car in a flurry of cathartic screams. Paul told IndieWire that, despite the challenging emotions that flowed though that scene, the process of filming it six years ago was over far quicker than he’d anticipated.
“That was a really hard scene for me to do at end of ‘Breaking Bad.’ I didn’t really know how I was going to play it. I just knew where he was at,” Paul said. “I think we only did that maybe one or two takes. And then they’re like, ‘I think that’s it.'”
So for “El Camino,” the feature film epilogue to “Breaking Bad” that puts Jesse firmly in a two-hour-long spotlight, it’s fitting that recreating that scene took a little extra time.
“The opening scene, the screaming, the escape, redoing that in a bit of a different way, we spend a lot more time on that than I thought we were going to,” Paul said. “Playing that came off of excitement, fear, anger, all of the above. Everything just pouring out of him. Especially after reading this script and really getting a more detailed look at what went on when he was being held in that cage, you see that he’s been an abused, tortured animal.”
Paul said he first read the “El Camino” script in writer/director Vince Gilligan’s office, rereading it to start internalizing all the emotional beats Jesse would have to travel through over the course of the film. When production started, his first task was to literally dive back into this world, with some trusted companions at his side.
“The first scene I believe was with Matt Jones and Charles Baker, after Jesse shows up saying that he needs to get the car off the road and eat some food and then he just passes out. I think the first shot was me just falling into bed,” Paul said.
One thing that many — if not all — fans of the show were anticipating from a “Breaking Bad” movie was a reunion between Jesse and Walt. Their grand pairing is isn’t a fight or a cook or a showdown with a rival meth boss, but a conversation across a table from each other at a diner. For the back-and-forth, Paul said that he and Bryan Cranston fell back into their regular routine as best they could.
“We would always run lines in the Hair and Makeup trailer during ‘Breaking Bad.’ With this particular scene I do feel like we stuck to our tradition, just ran it off the cuff a little bit. And then we did the full thing when the cameras were rolling and it was so much fun,” Paul said. “We were zipping on skin, playing these roles that completely changed our lives forever. It was so odd to sit opposite Bryan in that bald cap, which looked so good. But it was just a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Despite the secretive nature of the filming process, that diner sequence turned out to be one where the extras and crew were definitely not the only people following along.
“So many people, so many old friends and family came out for that particular day. They’re like, ‘OK, well, if I’m going to go out and visit, I’m going to visit on this day.’ So it was really cool to see,” Paul said.
Many different cast and crew members who worked on the film were also present for the “Breaking Bad” run, so there was a certain amount of on-set continuity. As part of the research for getting back into playing Jesse, Paul found his own throughline by going back and revisiting the Season 5 episode “Buyout.”
“I watched one episode to kind of refresh my memory of where he was at mentally during the opening of the film, where Mike and Jesse are on the side of the riverbed, talking about how he was out,” Paul said. “It’s after the murder of the boy on the bike, and he just can’t be a part of it anymore. He can’t have any more blood on his hands. He was done, leaving the meth business and leaving it far behind. And so I wanted to remind me, ‘What was the tipping point? What happened?’ It’s been so long.”
By the end of “El Camino,” it feels like Jesse has found peace. Even if there are still plenty of obstacles ahead in Alaska, there’s a much different feeling of comfort with him behind the wheel, with something close to a smile replacing what used to be dread. Paul says that he’d be fine with leaving this as Jesse’s final farewell, but that he felt the same way after filming that final car scene for the original series. “El Camino” only happened because both he and Gilligan were wholly on board.
“We’re dealing with Vince here and so he’s not going to tell a story that doesn’t need to be told,” Paul said. “From the very beginning, he said, ‘Look, this is the idea I’m having. I don’t want to do this movie unless it’s perfect, but I want to, [and] I want to make sure that you’re on board before I dive in and really write this script.’ Of course that was an enthusiastic yes. I trust him so much and I know he’s not gonna steer anyone in the wrong direction.”
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is now available to stream on Netflix