Breaking Bad Was Almost Ruined By A Massive Netflix Star

Breaking Bad's co-lead Jesse Pinkman was almost played by You's Penn Badgely.

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

Penn Badgely

While Bryan Cranston blew us all away with his portrayal of Walter White in Breaking Bad, it is Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman that ended up being the real audience favorite thanks to hilariously iconic lines such as “yeah, science, bitch!” And there are countless memes involving fans doing deep dive dunks on Pinkman’s character, including jokes about his penchant for wearing the most insane t-shirts in the most serious scenes. However, in a 2019 Entertainment Weekly interview, Aaron Paul revealed that Breaking Bad was nearly ruined because the role of Jesse Pinkman was nearly played by Penn Badgley, who was testing for the role at the same time.

At the time that the Breaking Bad team was casting Jesse Pinkman, Penn Badgley was something of a rising star. He had not yet appeared in his most famous shows such as Gossip Girl and You, but he had made a name for himself by appearing in John Tucker Must Die. Given his later success, it’s clear that Badgley is a very talented actor, but most fans can agree that Breaking Bad would have been very different (and likely much worse) with anyone other than Aaron Paul in the role of Jesse.

During the interview, Aaron Paul was talking about Breaking Bad and the audition process for Jesse Pinkman when he began an interesting story about who he thought was likely to get the role rather than him. While Penn Badgely is a big name now thanks to things like his Netflix success, Paul doesn’t recall thinking of Badgley as his primary competition for the part. Instead, he was worried about another actor getting the role, and while Paul can’t remember that actor’s name, the quality of his performance was apparently quite memorable.

breaking bad cast

While the Breaking Bad star discussed his competition for the role of Jesse Pinkman, he ended up accidentally channeling some of his onscreen persona. He described the rival actor at first by saying “oh my God, that guy looks like a meth addict.” Realizing how judgmental that sounds, Paul quickly clarified that he didn’t think the actor was actually addicted to any drugs but was instead taking the audition so seriously, causing Paul to understandably worry that he wasn’t taking things seriously enough.

In fact, in that moment, the Breaking Bad alumnus was convinced he had lost any chance at playing Jesse Pinkman onscreen. Summing up the seeming method actor that he was competing with, Aaron Paul said that “he was just like in the role.” “Oh my God,” he said, “this guy is gonna steal it from me.”

Obviously, that didn’t happen, and we can all agree that Breaking Bad cast the perfect person to portray Jesse Pinkman. However, part of what makes this anecdote so hilarious is that it reveals how much Aaron Paul is like his own Pinkman character. That character was often portrayed as a paradoxically ambitious slacker and in this story, Paul reveals how he was simultaneously worried about not taking the role seriously enough and knowing the role belonged to him … if anyone else was cast, they’d “steal” what was rightfully his.

Finally, the story Aaron Paul tells about the audition process reveals a bit more about what the Breaking Bad crew was really looking for in the role of Jesse Pinkman. Sure, anyone can walk into an audition and do their best to look like an actual drug addict. But the character of Jesse is one who rises above everything from his own addiction to the toxic influence of Walter White, and it was only Aaron Paul who had the right mix of heart and humor to breathe life into this unforgettable character.