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The Transformation Of Aaron Paul From Childhood To Breaking Bad

When "Breaking Bad" premiered, no one expected it to become one of the most groundbreaking television dramas of all time — and nobody expected the show's most sympathetic character to be Jesse Pinkman, foulmouthed former student of Walter White. Due to Aaron Paul's portrayal, Jesse has stood the test of time as one of the most complex and tragic characters in modern television history.

"Breaking Bad" was a breakthrough for Paul's career, netting the actor three Emmys for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Since then, he's landed lead roles in shows like "The Path" and "BoJack Horseman" and joined the cast of HBO's "Westworld" in its third season. And he hasn't left "Breaking Bad" behind: He starred in the Netflix original film "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie," which follows Jesse Pinkman after the "Breaking Bad" finale. Paul also reprises his role in the final season of the spinoff series "Better Call Saul."

It's no exaggeration to say that "Breaking Bad" has been an integral part of Aaron Paul's career, but it was no easy feat to arrive there. Like many actors, Paul's success began with humble childhood roots and a dream. Even the most diehard "Breaking Bad" fanatics may be surprised by Paul's transformation from childhood to a television icon.

Aaron Paul grew up the son of a Baptist minister

Aaron Paul Sturtevant's life began very abruptly in 1979 when he was born prematurely on the floor of his mother's bathroom while his father was out of town. As the youngest of five children, he quickly grew used to a rural lifestyle growing up in Emmett, Idaho. Paul's father, Robert Sturtevant, was a Baptist minister, which was an environment that shaped the future Jesse Pinkman's early childhood. This environment also helped start Paul's dream to become an actor, as he had his first taste of acting starring in church plays.

Unfortunately, the Sturtevant family wasn't well off financially, which could have killed Paul's acting bug. At the age of 11, he began saving up for a move to Hollywood by keeping a glass jar beside his bed. As he attended Centennial High School in Boise, Idaho, his pursuit of acting would continue under the school's theater program, Image Factory. He graduated a year early at the age of 17, ready for the next phase of his life to begin.

Unlike Jesse, Paul remains close with his family, despite abandoning their surname when he became an actor (according to The Los Angeles Times, "Sturtevant" was a mouthful for casting directors). Thankfully, they were all supportive of his ambitious goals.

His acting career began early

Aaron Paul's determination to become an actor meant he had to save every penny. In an interview with Details, he claimed to have worked five jobs before graduating high school, including Pizza Hut delivery and a shopping mall cookie stand. He graduated in 1997, and within a year his opportunity to chase his dream finally came. Accompanied by his mom, Darla, Paul took a 1982 Toyota Corolla and $6,000 in savings and made the move to Los Angeles.

His early days in the City of Angels probably sound familiar to any aspiring actor. There was rejection, opportunity, hope, failure, and most of all, persistence. Sadly, Paul's beginnings in Los Angeles were also marred by personal tragedy when a friend fell into an addiction to drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth. Paul's attempts to dissuade her from using didn't pan out, and they eventually lost contact. As Aaron put it, he "literally saw her soul disappear" as she fell deeper into addiction.

He worked as a model

Like many actors who are attempting to break into the industry, Aaron Paul didn't limit his potential to one career path. In 1996, before he even graduated high school, he took a trip to Los Angeles to pursue an opportunity in modeling. There, he got the chance to face the public thanks to the International Modeling and Talent Association, placing second in one of their competitions.

As a result, Paul signed with a manager (via Backstage magazine), though he didn't stay pigeonholed in the world of modeling much longer. He quickly transitioned back to acting and landed some of his earliest jobs with small roles on many popular shows of the late '90s. These one-off parts included playing a teen actor on "Beverly Hills, 90210," a frat boy on "Melrose Place," and a student on "3rd Rock From The Sun."

These parts helped keep Paul afloat while he searched for something bigger. He'd have to wait longer than he'd have liked for that to happen, especially as jobs became infrequent in his early twenties.

He booked jobs in commercials early on

Commercials are a stable source of income for actors, even after they've gotten established in their careers. Aaron Paul is no exception: During his early days in Los Angeles, he booked over 50 TV spots, including commercials for Pepsi and Vanilla Coke (via The Guardian). Since his rise to fame, some of Paul's ad spots have been subject to memeification and embarrassing re-airings during various talk show guest spots. One of these is an odd Corn Pops commercial where Paul plays a teen eyeing a box of the breakfast cereal as his parents confront him over being responsible and staying away from drugs.

An appearance on Conan in 2016 also uncovered one of Paul's less flattering commercial jobs: Juicy Fruit. According to Paul in this interview, the commercial "paid all [his] bills for almost two years," but the content of the ad is questionable, as it finds Paul and another actor using psychic abilities to rip each other's clothes off when they spot Juicy Fruit in their pockets.

He appeared on an episode of The Price Is Right

Not all of Aaron Paul's early television gigs were on scripted shows and commercials — he also made an appearance as a contestant on an episode of "The Price is Right" in 2000. The video of Paul's appearance circulated during his time on "Breaking Bad," with many fans finding amusement in Paul's enthusiasm, screaming in Jesse Pinkman-style hoarseness: "You're the man, Bob [Barker]! You're my idol!"

In an interview with Us Weekly, Paul reflected on the experience, commenting that prior to the taping he "downed about six cans of Red Bull because I knew they wanted people with energy." While the audience in the studio seemed entertained by Paul's excitement, his winning streak didn't last very long. He managed to make it to the Showcase, where he unfortunately overbid on a sports car by $132.

On the brighter side, in 2017, Aaron got to revisit the studio of "The Price is Right" on an episode of "The Late Late Show with James Corden" for a redemption. It probably wasn't as satisfying re-enacting his overenthusiastic appearance to an empty studio, but hopefully it provided some well-deserved closure for the heartbroken Bob Barker fanatic.

He auditioned for Malcolm in the Middle

During an interview with Sam Jones for "The Off-Camera Show" in 2017, Paul described the dry spell that occurred in his mid-20s as a low point, but in hindsight, it seems as if his career was full of coincidences that would eventually lead him to his breakout role as Jesse Pinkman.

At one point, he managed to get his hands on the pilot script for "Malcolm in the Middle," a Fox sitcom that premiered in 2000. Many "Breaking Bad" fans probably recognize this show as a breakout for Bryan Cranston, who Paul would go on to co-star with as his partner in crime. At the time, Paul was interested in reading for the role of Francis, Malcolm's older brother, but lost the role to Chris Masterson (via NPR).

While Paul never got to play Cranston's son onscreen, getting cast on "Breaking Bad" was nothing short of a wish fulfilled. Before that happened, however, his dry spell continued; he was ultimately cast in six different pilots that all failed to make it to series.

He guest-starred on The X-Files

One of Aaron Paul's earliest TV breakthroughs came in an episode of "The X-Files." This series was hugely important to "Breaking Bad" — it inspired former "X-Files" writer Vince Gilligan to cast Bryan Cranston as Walter White after working with him during a guest spot on the show

Paul's appearance found him crossing paths with future "Breaking Bad" collaborators as well. His episode, "Lord of the Flies," aired during the series' ninth season in December 2001 and was written by Thomas Schnauz, who would go on to write and direct for "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul." This episode was also an unconventional example of the use of comedy on "The X-Files."

Paul played David Winkle, aka Sky Commander Winky, a teenager who films his friends doing stunts for a cable TV show (his character's nickname was Vince Gilligan's in college, Paul later found out during his audition for "Breaking Bad"). In the episode, one of the amateur stuntmen is killed, leading series regulars Doggett, Reyes, and Scully to investigate. The mysterious culprit turns out to be a swarm of killer flies, which coincidentally foreshadows the Walt-and-Jesse-centric "Fly" episode in the third season of "Breaking Bad."

Aaron starred in a Korn music video

According to a Reddit AMA, Aaron Paul is a huge fan of Korn. His connection to the band isn't just as a fan, however, as he also claimed to have been friends with several members of the band during his early days in Los Angeles, which led to him being cast in the video for the band's song "Thoughtless."

In the video, Aaron plays a high schooler who is bullied by his peers. Such instances of bullying include being laughed at by girls, almost being drowned in the school pool by jocks, and getting attacked by fellow classmates in the hallway. Eventually, Paul's character returns home, where he phones an escort service whose number he finds in a phonebook. He later shows up at the prom with a beautiful woman around his arm, and then proceeds to ... well, vomit on everyone who bullied him.

This isn't the only music video Paul starred in around this time. He later appeared in one for the song "White Trash Beautiful" by Everlast, playing a truck driver who dates a startlingly beautiful woman who lives in a trailer park.

Aaron worked with several high-profile actors in the early 2000s

As Aaron's career in Hollywood continued to grow, his job opportunities started taking him to the big screen. During the early 2000s, Paul landed several small roles in high-profile films with some of Hollywood's biggest stars. One example of this is "National Lampoon's Van Wilder," where he has a minor speaking role credited as "Wasted Guy." His roles in later films would be much harder to miss.

Aaron had a small but meaningful role in the 2001 sci-fi film "K-PAX," starring Kevin Spacey as a man who believes himself to be an extra-terrestrial being, inspiring the lives of his fellow patients as well as his doctor, Mark Powell, played by Jeff Bridges. Paul plays Powell's son in the film's ending.

The most high-profile part Aaron had during this time was a pivotal role in "Mission: Impossible III," starring Tom Cruise and directed by J.J. Abrams. Aaron appears as Rick Meade, younger brother of Michelle Monaghan's Julia Meade, who's engaged to Cruise's Ethan Hunt throughout this movie.

Aaron acted with Giancarlo Esposito before Breaking Bad

"Breaking Bad" viewers know all too well the dark history between Jesse Pinkman and meth kingpin Gus Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito. The two were adversaries on the show, though some fans may be surprised to learn that this wasn't the first time Paul and Esposito shared the screen — they were also co-stars on an episode of "The Ghost Whisperer."

This CBS series ran during the latter half of the 2000s, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and Aisha Tyler. Hewitt played Melinda Gordon, a woman who sees and talks to ghosts. Paul and Esposito guested in a Season 1 episode titled "Fury," which finds Hewitt meeting a ghost who seeks revenge against the prosecutor who failed to send his attacker to prison.

Esposito starred as said ghost, complete with a 1970s hairdo and facial hair. Paul was similarly styled for his role as Esposito's character's killer. "Breaking Bad" fans may find it entertaining, if only to see Jesse be the one to antagonize Gus for a change.

Aaron's breakout role was on the HBO show Big Love

Many television viewers became acquainted with Aaron Paul when he started making recurring appearances on the HBO drama "Big Love." The series, which ran from 2006 to 2011, starred Bill Paxton as the patriarch of a Mormon family in Utah who practices polygamy. Paul played Scott, love interest to Amanda Seyfried's Sarah, whose arc revolves around her struggle to accept her father's lifestyle.

Despite their 10-year age gap, Scott and Sarah started dating after his character was introduced in Season 2. In Season 3, Seyfried's popularity on the show warranted an expanded role, which meant Paul was seen more often, too — especially once Sarah discovered she was pregnant shortly after breaking up with Scott. This conflict drove Sarah's story throughout the season until Scott proposed to her in the Season 3 finale. The characters married early in Season 4.

Unfortunately for Paul — at least in the short term — in the Season 4 finale, Sarah departed from the show so Seyfried could explore other roles, and the two characters weren't seen again until the series finale a year later.

Aaron played Weird Al Yankovic

Soon after "Breaking Bad" became a hit, Paul's phone started ringing with invitations to appearances on shows like "Saturday Night Live" and "Robot Chicken" — as well as a short film for Funny or Die in 2010, which found him skirting rock biopic territory.

In "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," Paul plays the man himself, sporting a curly wig, mustache, and accordion. In the short, Paul stars alongside several comedy greats, including Patton Oswalt as DJ Dr. Demento and Olivia Wilde as Madonna. The odd choice to cast Paul, who was known for his tragic character on "Breaking Bad," definitely fit the off-kilter of Yankovic's work.

Sadly, Paul was not chosen to reprise the role in the feature-length version of "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story," produced for Roku. Instead, Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, took on the part, with Olivia Wilde replaced by Paul's "Westworld" co-star Evan Rachel Wood. Paul was meant to have a cameo in the film, but those plans fell through after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Aaron Paul met his wife at Coachella

While Jesse Pinkman had a tragic love life on "Breaking Bad," Aaron Paul's has been far luckier. He met his future wife, Lauren Parsekian, at the Coachella Music Festival (via GQ); a year later, the two began dating at the same festival and had their first kiss on a ferris wheel, like a scene straight out of a romantic comedy. The two got engaged in 2012 during a trip to Paris.

They were wed a year later, and it was quite the grand affair: The wedding took place in Malibu and included a celebration earlier in the week at Los Angeles' famous Chateau Marmont, and the ceremony itself included performances by the two of the couple's favorite musical artists, John Mayer and Foster the People.

As he told GQ, Aaron thinks Lauren is "the greatest woman that has ever existed — no offense to other women on this planet, but she is hands-down the best." The couple currently have two children together, one of whom is the godson of Paul's former costar Bryan Cranston.

Jesse was supposed to be killed off on Breaking Bad

The character of Jesse, a former student of Cranston's Walter White, is introduced in the first episode of "Breaking Bad." Jesse is discovered by Walt while escaping a meth lab bust, and he's blackmailed into helping his former teacher start cooking crystal meth and build a drug empire that will pay White's medical bills.

Part of the show's charm in the first few episodes comes from the chemistry (no pun intended) between Cranston and Paul. They perfectly balanced their dynamic — and altered creator and writer Vince Gilligan's plans for Jesse, which included the character being killed at the end of the first season by drug lord Tuco Salamanca.

Of course, Gilligan changed course and kept Paul on. By continuing Jesse's story, he gave Paul the opportunity to become one of the biggest TV stars of the early 2010s — launching a career that continues to this day.