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'I just love heavy stories, and I don't mind playing characters that are going through a lot'

From shutting off the headlines to limiting social media, actor Aaron Paul says he has cracked the code when it comes to sustaining a positive, happy future - and, as he tells Gemma Dunn, he feels better than ever

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Branching out: Aaron Paul in Westword

Branching out: Aaron Paul in Westword

Branching out: Aaron Paul in Westword

Aaron Paul has taken his future into his own hands - at least where technology is concerned. For one, he hasn't owned a computer in more than 10 years, and that's just the start.

"I'm rarely around my phone," begins the Breaking Bad star (40).

"I deleted Twitter and Facebook a while ago. I'm kind of still holding on to Instagram, but even that gets a little heavy.

"We're used to surrounding ourselves with negativity that is poured onto us by the news.

"I shut off the news a long time ago. Honestly, I don't know if we're meant to know about all this sadness. I think it's changing us as a society. Now it's like, 'Oh my God, is there hope?'. I say turn off the news and create hope."

Armed with a bottle of hand sanitiser, Paul is simply saying what a lot of us are thinking right now.

But this isn't just in relation to the coronavirus pandemic or our unsettling political climate, rather the American actor is contemplating his future due to the subject matter of his latest show, Westworld.

Joining the third season of the Emmy-nominated sci-fi drama, Paul plays Caleb Nichols, a construction worker and veteran who crosses paths with Dolores (Rachel Evan Wood) and challenges her notions about humanity.

In the aftermath of last season's massacre, Dolores, Bernard and an unknown host occupying the body of Delos exec Charlotte Hale begin a new chapter outside the park.

Crossing into uncharted territory for its latest eight-part run, the tentpole hit, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, is stepping away from the Western genre to explore a futurist, cyberpunk-influenced world dominated by an ominous technology company.

Paul couldn't be happier to be hurtled into the future.

"It's been everything that I thought it would be. I was such a massive fan of this show," he says, having joined returning cast members Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright and Tessa Thompson.

"When I got the call that they wanted to sit down and talk about how they saw me fitting into Westworld, I was deep in negotiation on another new series. I was like, 'Oh my God, I have to take this meeting'. When they pitched me the world and how they wanted to go outside of the park, yeah... (I was in). They sort of gave me my character's history, his backstory and then we ran with it.

"Again, I'm just so obsessed with science-fiction. Caleb being sort of the point of view of a man living in this futuristic society was incredibly exciting to me. It felt like a really fun thing to dive into."

And the rumoured-to-be-tough production schedule?

"Insane," Paul says. "(On my first day), everyone told me, 'Welcome to war. All the rumours are true. It is a hard show. Good luck'. It really was that, but in a great way.

"On Mondays we'd do our daytime shoots, but then starting on Tuesdays our call time would be two or three in the afternoon - and then by Wednesdays we're doing nothing but night shoots and then Thursdays, Fridays, sometimes Saturdays more night shoots, then back on the Monday day shoots.

"It was so hard but also so fulfilling. Everybody in front of the camera and off the camera was just so excited to be there and to be a part of telling this story. You could just feel the energy on this massive set."

The show asks some big questions about the nature of our reality, free will and what makes us human, something Paul is keen to delve into.

"I mean, Westworld is very much a science-fiction show, but we all can agree that it feels like it's kind of somewhat grounded in reality, which is terrifying," he says.

"I love being submerged in this, but then it's impossible not to get as much information as possible, so I find myself down dark, long rabbit holes of the simulation reality theory and the dangers of technology.

"It's such a blessing and a curse, us as society and data control and our data collection. It's crazy, you know?"

Has stepping away from such platforms improved his wellbeing? "Oh 100%. I mean, I think it's the whole ignorance is bliss theory, but I used to be just suffocated in the Trump mania of it all," Paul admits, having previously been outspoken about the US president on his Twitter feed.

"Now I just refuse to watch it as there's nothing I can do, other than being depressed by it. I focus on my friends and my family.

"I feel like I've like cracked a code in a way where I cannot begin to tell you how much better I feel."

The good news is his lifestyle change hasn't had an impact on his work, with the father-of-one busier than ever.

Last year, Paul reprised his Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman in the surprise Netflix film El Camino.

More recently, BoJack Horseman (on which he also served as an executive producer), The Path, and Apple TV+ crime series Truth Be Told have padded out his already impressive CV.

Westworld was different though because it was already a proven show. "I've never joined something that was already such a massive success, so I was just incredibly excited," he says.

As for what's next, he's open to feeling inspired but will admit he doesn't want to play another struggling, lovable drug addict in the near future.

"I do tend to gravitate towards roles that I love to watch," he explains, in reference to his award-winning turn as Pinkman.

"I just love hard-hitting dramas. I love heavy stories and I don't mind playing characters that are just going through a lot.

"For me, it has to have something for me to sink my teeth into. As long as it has that, the story is interesting."

Westworld is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV

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