'That was the one burning question: what happened to Jesse after Breaking Bad? So here we are'
The new Netflix film El Camino catches up with Jesse Pinkman right after the end of the famous series. It sees actor Aaron Paul reprise his role as the troubled meth cook six years after the show concluded. As he tells Laura Harding, it was like visiting an old friend
When Aaron Paul left the set of Breaking Bad for the last time in 2013, he thought he was saying goodbye to Jesse Pinkman forever.
His character had changed immeasurably during the show's five-series run - from lackadaisical student to half of the biggest meth production operation in the US and prisoner of white supremacist drug dealers.
The conclusion of the show (those keen to avoid spoilers should look away now) was widely considered to be as satisfying as they come, with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) saving his protege but taking a fatal bullet in the process.
Jesse was last seen speeding away from captivity in a Chevrolet El Camino that belonged to one of his captors.
Now, six years later, we find out what happened to him in the minutes, hours and days that followed in a new Netflix film, fittingly entitled El Camino and penned by show creator Vince Gilligan.
"That was the one burning question: what happened to Jesse after Breaking Bad?" Paul, now 40, says a few days after the film's release.
"It was a question that Vince couldn't stop thinking about, so here we are."
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Despite the six-year gap, stepping back into Jesse's shoes was like "revisiting an old friend", Paul explains.
"It was incredibly familiar. It was zipping on a very familiar skin, like no time had passed whatsoever," he adds.
"The first time I read the script, I knew how I was going to play every emotional beat.
"It was just a deeper look at what went on while he was being held captive."
The film drifts back and forth between Jesse's bid to flee Albuquerque after the bloodbath left by Walt's intervention and flashbacks to his time in captivity, as well as conversations with other key characters in his life, such as Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter) and (another warning of spoilers) Cranston's Walt.
"What I love about this is it's such a love letter to the character and to the fans that love the characters," the actor says.
"It's such a proper way to say goodbye and a proper send-off."
That makes it sound very final, but is this really the end?
"I think so. I thought that before though," Paul laughs. "But I do think (this is it). I think the purpose of this film is to give a proper send-off to this guy."
The sight of Walt and Jesse together again is meaningful to even the most casual of Breaking Bad fans, but is soured slightly by the fact we know what the former chemistry teacher will become.
"That flashback with Walt was such a beautiful scene and so eye-opening," Paul says.
"It really showed what Walt was all about when he says to Jesse, 'You're so lucky that it didn't take your entire life to do something special' - and he's talking about making meth. It's pretty terrible."
But the reunion between Paul and Cranston was just as meaningful.
The pair became firm friends after they started working together in 2008 and have even gone into business together, launching a brand of mescal.
"He's still a mentor of mine and I love the man to death," Paul says with great affection.
"We quickly became very close just from the pilot episode and, years later, we are in business together.
"We started a mescal (brand) a few years ago and now it's finally out. I talk to the man nearly every day. I love him."
Bringing Cranston to the set in secret, for a project that was already shrouded in secrecy, was not without its difficulties, however.
"He was doing a play [starring in Network on Broadway] and they had to shut down for a day.
"I think Netflix ended up buying all of the seats in the theatre for one day - at least that's the rumour - and they flew Bryan in on a private plane to make sure no questions were asked.
"The whole thing was shot in secret. We all had to wear these big cloaks heading to set, which I always thought brought more attention but apparently they worked."
However, Paul's presence around town in New Mexico, where all the Breaking Bad projects have been filmed, did not go unnoticed.
"People would come up to me on the weekend," he admits.
"During the week I was just at work. Then after work I wanted to go be at home with my baby [he is father to one-year-old daughter Story with wife Lauren Parsekian] and have a nice quiet night in. But on the weekends I would go out with my wife and daughter.
"I couldn't hang out with any of the other cast members because it would raise suspicions, but people would come up to me and ask what I was doing there.
"I wouldn't lie. I would say I was doing a passion project, but I would add the word 'indie'.
While the film reunites audiences with some of the most beloved characters from the Breaking Bad world, there was still plenty left on the floor of the editing room.
The original cut was a whopping two hours and 57 minutes, whereas the finished product is a more economical two hours and two minutes.
However, Paul is hopeful that we might see some of that extra footage one day.
"There is quite a bit that was taken out. I don't want to give too much away because hopefully, who knows, one day there could be an unedited version released," he says.
"There is a whole other alternate ending, a big chunk that was taken out, so I would love to see that back in.
"I fought for it. It actually had a lot to do with Robert Forster [who plays Ed] and I think the world would love to see that."
Whatever the future holds, Paul hopes Jesse is happy.
"Once Breaking Bad ended, I sort of made up an idea of what happened to him," he says.
"I thought, 'Maybe he finds himself in a small little town in Alaska and is hiding out. Maybe he opens up a wood shop and starts making things with his hands again and keeps his head down'.
"It's going to be a bumpy road ahead, but I think he's on the right direction."
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is on Netflix now