Before 'Need for Speed,' Aaron Paul proved he would do 'Whatever It Takes' to win our hearts

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

Step aside, Tobey Marshall — Floyd is the Aaron Paul character that revs me up.

Though the Need for Speed star is more famous these days for Breaking out variations on the word “bitch” and playing the Dice Game on The Price Is Right, in my heart he’ll always be the teenage no-goodnik from 2000’s Whatever It Takes.

Witness Paul in all his millennial, Wolverine-haired glory:

What that promo didn’t make clear is that Floyd was a no-holds-barred weirdo with semi-pyromaniacal tendencies who’s obsessed with causing capital “m” Mayhem like his hero Virgil Doolittle (eventually played by David Koechner). To do so, he ultimately opens up the gym dance floor during Gilmore High School’s “Titanic Dreams”-themed prom (yep, you read that right), which drives his classmates and teachers into a pool under the basketball court, where they have to doggie paddle in their polyester finery. You got all that?

In spite of that Mad Libs-esque assemblage of motivations and character traits, Paul made the most of every tiny scene and cringeworthy line he was handed (witness: “It’s supposed to be Ryan gets pickle in Ashley. Not Ashley gets Ryan into a pickle!”) Though the Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired romp was stacked with of-the-moment headliners — including James Franco in the midst of his transition from a Freak to an awards contender and swoonworthy It Boy and Girl Shane West and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe — Paul turned in the most memorable performance by a mile and proved his moment was inevitable.

Looking back at Paul’s performance 14 years later, he was already paving the way toward his Emmy-winning turn as Jesse Pinkman. Wild eyes and go-for-broke enthusiasm are Floyd’s chief traits — very Pinkman-esque. And Floyd’s plot to cause Titanic-level aquatic chaos isn’t exactly the quest for so-pure-it’s-blue meth, but it did take a lot of moxie. Also, he wears the heck out an array of shirts with patterns straight out of one of Jesse’s speed freak-outs.

Clearly, Whatever It Takes is a tail-end relic of an era when teen movies populated the cinematic landscape like drunks line the streets on St. Patrick’s Day. (Can’t Hardly Wait10 Things I Hate About You? And — why not? — even Drive Me Crazy. The years just before and after the new millennium were something of a golden age for high-school rom-coms.) It may be his lowest-rated movie — EW’s own Owen Gleiberman was not a fan — but Paul recently admitted that the movie has at least one influential supporter (that would be the Prince of Brunei). But, real talk: When you’re a skinny, 20-year-old working actor, not every role is going to be Breaking Bad. But, hey — it was a step up from Frat Boy #2 on Melrose Place.

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