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Breaking Bad: Who Was On The Jesse Pinkman Casting Shortlist Besides Aaron Paul?

While it feels like the role of Jesse Pinkman opposite Bryan Cranston's Walter White on TV's "Breaking Bad" was tailor-made for Aaron Paul, the casting director for the smash series said the actor was anything but a shoo-in when it came to getting him locked in.

The AMC crime drama about a methamphetamine operation run by a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher (Cranston) and his former student (Paul) dominated the television landscape during its five-season run from 2008 to 2013. Paul was one of the biggest benefactors of the show's success, as he was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for outstanding supporting actor for each of the series' five seasons, winning three.

In a behind-the-scenes video interview with "Breaking Bad" casting director Dawn Steinberg from 2013, the creative said that Paul faced some stiff competition for the role, but his charisma won her over. "We tested Aaron Paul against Penn Badgley, Reed Scott, and Colin Hanks I want to say," Steinberg recalled. "And it was clear that it was Aaron Paul [who should play Jesse] in the audition room. You just know. You feel it. You feel it — you watch an actor audition; you hear the words, and it's almost [like] he's no longer himself. He is the character."

Yet, while Steinberg and her "Breaking Bad" colleagues knew Paul was perfect for the role, convincing the series' studio and network to cast Paul over his better-known competition was not easy.

Paul was thought to be too 'Spelling' to be in Breaking Bad

While Aaron Paul had nearly three dozen acting credits by the time he auditioned for "Breaking Bad," most came in single guest appearances in TV series like "Beverly Hills 90210," "The X-Files," "NYPD Blue," and "CSI: Crime Investigation."

Like Paul, Reed Scott — who went on to land major roles in such series as "Veep" — filmed his share of guest roles before being considered for "Breaking Bad." As such, he appeared in single turns in series such as "That '70s Show," "CSI: Crime Investigation," and "Bones" earlier in his career. The same went for Penn Badgley, whose pre-"Breaking Bad" credits primarily consisted of guest turns before his star rose with the hit shows "Gossip Girl" and "You."

On the other hand, Hanks — the son of actor Tom Hanks — was already a well-established actor with key credits in the TV series "Roswell," the mini-series "Band of Brothers," and the movie comedy "Orange County." And while "Breaking Bad" casting director Dawn Steinberg didn't indicate who the frontrunner to play Jesse was, she said it was clear that the higher-ups had no interest in casting Paul.

"We had to fight the network tooth and nail. They thought he was too 'Spelling' is what they called it," Steinberg remembered. "Spelling," Steinberg explained, meant an actor resembled someone you would see in a production like "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place" by legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling; someone who was "too good looking" and wouldn't work in a crime drama.

However, the "Breaking Bad" creatives wouldn't take no for an answer. "Sony almost didn't make the pilot because we really threatened them, saying, 'It has to be Aaron Paul," Steinberg said.

Paul's X-Files appearance came up with Gilligan during his Breaking Bad audition

If you look at Aaron Paul's audition tape for "Breaking Bad," the argument that he was "too Spelling" seems to have some merit. Unlike the cropped, short hair Jesse sports throughout the series — he even has a crewcut at times — Paul's hair in the audition is longer, fuller, and combed back. Fortunately for Paul, he gained a powerful ally during the "Breaking Bad" audition process: creator Vince Gilligan.

It turns out that on Paul's guest appearance on "The X-Files" in the fifth episode of Season 9 in 2001, his character had something in common with Gilligan, an executive producer on the series. "Vince was very excited that I had done an episode of 'X-Files' and he asked me, 'What episode of "X-Files" did you do?' and I said I did 'Lord of the Flies' and he started laughing," Paul recalled for "The Off Camera Show" host Sam Jones. "And he said, you did the role [of] Sky Commander Winky.' I go, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'That was my nickname in college.' And that just broke the ice. I mean, it just felt like Vince was already in my corner before I even started."

After being cast in "Breaking Bad," the actor immediately made the most of his opportunity to play Jesse Pinkman. Paul got into character for "Breaking Bad" by exploring shady parts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the show is set and was filmed. On the bright side, "Breaking Bad" changed Albuquerque forever by making it a hot tourist destination.