By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD— Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus both have starred on wildly popular TV shows on the cable network AMC. Paul played meth-making apprentice Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad,” and Reedus stars as the crossbow-toting zombie killer Daryl Dixon on “The Walking Dead.”
The actors have known each other for years, but just recently had the opportunity to work together in the action-packed crime drama “Triple 9.” Paul, 36, plays a troubled ex-cop name Gabe who is part of gang of rogue police officers and ex-military with a connection to a ruthless Russian mobster (played by Kate Winslet). Reedus, 47, plays his older brother Russell, who serves as the gang’s getaway driver.
The Atlanta-set drama also stars Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clifton Collins Jr., Anthony Mackie and Woody Harrelson. John Hillcoat (“The Proposition,” “The Road”) directs from a screenplay by Matt Cook. The title refers to a police code that indicates an officer has been shot and all peace officers on duty are expected to drop what they are doing and rush to the scene. Gabe (Paul) and his co-conspirators use this device to distract the city’s police force in their effort to pull off a near-impossible heist.
Paul and Reedus recently sat down to talk about finally getting to work together, playing bad guys and the challenges of being a popular TV star.
Q: You guys are old friends. How and when did you meet?
Paul: (quips) Grindr. No, I don’t know. It was so many years ago.
Reedus: I’ve got to say I’ve known Aaron for at least 15 years.
Q: When you both were just coming up in the business?
Reedus: Pretty much.
Paul: I think it was really crossing paths. We have mutual friends. It was before I ever had an acting job. I think he was shooting “The Boondock Saints.” It was ’98 or ’99, I want to say.
Reedus: Yeah. It was right around that time.
Q: So, this film is very testosterone-driven, very male-oriented.
Paul: (laughing) But did you love it?
Q: I did. What was your attraction to this project? Was it the script? Was it the fact that you’re going to be working with each other or director John Hillcoat?
Reedus: It was John, first off. For me, John is one of those directors that everybody wants to work with, and then you read the script and you hear who’s in it you’re like, “Holy ****.” I was nervous. That’s a big cast of awesome people. Plus, to work with Aaron is great. I now have a little slice of history with my friend. It’s pretty awesome.
Paul: Yeah, what he said. The first thing you look for is who’s directing the project, and how can you not be a fan of John Hillcoat? And then you read the script and it’s just a beautiful, intense story, and you know that John is really going to humanize it. And then you have this brilliant cast of characters. It’s great.
Q: He really gave you time for performance too. It wasn’t all hardcore action.
Paul: Yeah, it isn’t just a shoot-‘em-up action-explosion movie. When you’re watching it, you really have to pay attention. There’s a lot of story to tell here and John let that happen. The moments breathe out.
Q: You really play a messed up guy very well.
Paul: Thank you, I appreciate that. My character in this is going through a lot. At the beginning of the story, he’s got a lot of issues he’s dealing with, and then he just goes through this downward spiral. I love playing characters with some sort of emotional struggle. I like playing the bad guy that has some sort of heart. He draws the line somewhere.
Q: This is an impressive ensemble cast. Did you bond or did everyone go off to their dressing rooms and trailers during breaks? Who do you like now that you didn’t like then?
Reedus: We did bond as a group. It was sort of a band of brothers out there. I mean, you’re doing these serious scenes and then you joke around. I think Anthony (Mackie) was the big crack up on set, to be honest. We all hung out together. We did our thing. I was doing “The Walking Dead” at the same time so I was bouncing between sets.
Q: In Atlanta?
Reedus: Yeah. We all still like each other. Aaron and I always liked each other, and me and Cliffie (Cliff Collins Jr.) always liked each other. Kate and I have bonded. We weren’t even in scenes together but I saw her at Jimmy Fallon (“The Tonight Show”) the other day and we talked.
There’s a bridge that’s sort of been bonded between all of these characters. I think it’s like that on every film, pretty much. There is the rare occasion where you’re like, “I’ll never talk to that ******* again!” (He chuckles.)
Paul: We’ve all been there.
Q: How was it balancing your work on “The Walking Dead” series with doing this film? How much time did you need to devote to this one?
Reedus: Luckily, it filmed in Atlanta so it made it much easier. I don’t know if you watch the show but there’s a scene (in the Season Five) with Carol (played by Melissa McBride) and me. We’re in a van on a bridge, and we drive off the side of the bridge (onto a dry riverbed below to escape zombies). That set was right across the way from where we were shooting “Triple 9,” so we literally could see each other. I go to this set and slick my hair back, put blood on my face, and then I’d go to the other set and get the tattoos off and loosen my hair. (He laughs.)
I’ve shot in Atlanta a lot, obviously, but it was cool shooting this film there. John was very detailed with how I spoke in this. He wanted me to be very calm. And then I go to the other one (“The Walking Dead”) and I’m just growling and stabbing people in the face. (He chuckles.) It was nice to go back and forth, to be honest. A lot of times, I’m offered movies and I can’t do them because there’s no time. So it was nice to step away from my day job and see all these guys, and this caliber of actors and jump into a whole new world. It was like a working, mini-vacation.
Q: Is there anything more you can say about living and working so much in Georgia compared to L.A., which is the center of filmmaking? Are you coming back here to L.A.?
Reedus: Well, I live in New York. So (I go) New York-Georgia, New York-Georgia, and I come out to L.A. quite a bit. I’m also doing another TV show now, which is why I sound like this (He’s hoarse.). It’s called “Ride,” and its sort of a travel docu-series with AMC. So we did Florida, we did up the coast of California. I just did Vegas and Death Valley too on dirt bikes so I was swallowing sand for a week so that’s why I sound like I do.
As far as coming to L.A. for movies and stuff, I do sometimes, if we can fit it into the schedule.
Q: When you mention the name “Norman Reedus,” people go “Ohhhh!”
Reedus: (He chuckles.) Oh yeah?
Q: So there’s a mystique about you. But what are one or two things that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Reedus: I’m kind of a neat freak; my apartment is super-clean. I love my cat. I don’t know. I try to be a good dad. I’m just a normal dude. I think because I have an angry face, people think I’m a mean guy. But I’m really a sweet guy. I’m a very shy guy. I’m a very shy, normal dude.
Q: I suspect that when fans encounter you, they expect to see Daryl (from “The Walking Dead”). So if you were to give the “best way to approach Norman Reedus” advice, what would it be?
Reedus: Don’t try to lick me. I was just bitten recently. So don’t bite me.
Q: A fan bit you?
Reedus: Yeah, they went to take a picture and bit me here (He points to his shoulder.)
Q: Was it a man or woman?
Reedus: It was as woman. Three cops tackled her and dragged her out of the building. She goes, “What happened?” And they go, “You just bit Norman.” So don’t bite me or lick me and we’re cool.
Q: The “Breaking Bad” fans didn’t do that, did they Aaron?
Paul: No, I’ve never been bitten.
Reedus: They call you *****, though.
Paul: Yeah, they call me that every day.
Q: Aaron, you also have the war drama with Dame Helen Mirren called “Eye in the Sky” coming out in March. Can you say a little bit about working in that?
Paul: Sure. “Eye in the Sky” is a really intense story to tackle. It’s something this nation and every nation is dealing with on a day-to-day basis, where people are flying drones in the safety of their bunker, and a lot of innocent civilians do die because of these bombs trying to get the bad guys. So that was a very emotional thing to tackle. Because what would you do? You have a civil duty to take on, and you’re being ordered by your general to drop a bomb. There are little kids in the way. So it was a hard thing for me to take on.