How 'El Camino' Pulled Off Its Big 'Breaking Bad' Surprise Return (Exclusive)

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Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. This article contains major plot points from Netflix's follow-up movie. For more on Aaron Paul's takes on what the future Breaking Bad movies could be about, click here

Six years after Breaking Bad, the critical darling is back with El Camino, a Netflix follow-up film, which meant several familiar faces from the beloved series -- characters dead and alive -- returned for one last hurrah. But one major surprise cameo was kept under lock and key.

The movie picks up right where the 2013 series finale left off, with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) taking off in the Chevrolet El Camino and escaping as cops encroached on the house where Walter White and members of the white supremacy gang lay dead from machine gun fire. Now on the run from police as a person of interest, Jesse spends the next few days on the lam as he seeks a way out of his life of crime, eventually accomplishing his goal. By the end of the movie, Jesse rids himself of any semblance of his old life, starting anew in Alaska with a brand new identity and the promise of a fresh beginning. No more cops. No one to answer to. 

Through a series of flashbacks and "present-day" appearances, several Breaking Bad favorites, including Jesse Plemmons (Todd), Krysten Ritter (Jane) and Robert Forster (Ed the "disappearer"), made significant cameos in the movie. But it was the return of Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston, that was the most poignant and satisfying return.

Appearing near the end of El Camino, Cranston's Walt and a young Jesse, the latter not yet ruined by becoming a ruthless fugitive, are seated in a booth at the diner, their infamous RV parked out front. Conversation turns to Walt's family, who curiously don't appear in the movie, and the vague promise that they'll be taken care of financially. Paul, who spent two months secretly filming the movie in New Mexico last fall, revealed the lengths Netflix went to keep Cranston's cameo under wraps.

"They shuttled him in and out on a private plane. Netflix has a lot of money," Paul told ET's Katie Krause during a recent sit-down, laughing as he pulled the curtains back. "That [scene] was actually so much fun to play, because I haven't played that version of Jesse in so long -- the lighter times before many deaths. You know, [what] happened in his life before he was a murderer. And so it was nice to kind of zip on that guy again."

Breaking Bad
Ursula Coyote/AMC

The 40-year-old actor, who won three Emmys for his Breaking Bad performance, also pointed to Ritter's cameo in the final minutes of the film as equally gratifying. (Ritter's character, Jane, overdosed in season three of the series.) "The stuff's really free loving," Paul recalled, reminiscing about the car conversation Jesse has with Jane. "Just, he's in love with Jane. She's still alive even though she had [overdosed]."

Paul said it was "easy" to keep the slew of Breaking Bad cameos secret, mainly because he has such affinity for the world Gilligan created and the story he wanted to tell.

"I care so much about this film and these characters. Why ruin something good, you know? And so it was incredibly easy for me to keep it a secret even when I was shooting in New Mexico," Paul said. "Anyone that would come up to me asking me why I was there, they automatically assumed it [was] Better Call Saul related. But i would just say I was there for an indie project and that was it."

But how did El Camino even come to be? At San Diego Comic-Con in 2018, Gilligan hinted "anything’s possible” when asked about a follow-up movie, following that up with a coy, "We live in a world fraught with possibilities -- good and bad.”

As Paul tells it, Gilligan called him up one day with the germ of an idea that later became El Camino

"I was in New York, and he asks me what my thoughts were on about possibly playing this guy again and I go 'What do you mean?' and he goes, 'I have a film idea. I haven't written it yet but wanted to gauge your interest,'" Paul said. "He's like, 'Look, I don't want to put the cart before the horse here but I only want do this movie if it's perfect. So I'll call you... I'll let you know when it's done.' Cut to seven months later, he calls me and says, 'It's done and I think its next to perfect.' And here we are!"

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is streaming now on Netflix and screen in select theaters during a three-day run through Sunday, Oct. 13. The movie will air on AMC, where the original series aired, in 2020.

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