For many actors, landing a starring TV role that pays well and boosts their fame sounds like a distant dream. But for Aaron Paul, playing the iconic Jesse Pinkman on AMC‘s Breaking Bad exceeded even his wildest expectations – transforming him from a struggling actor to multi-millionaire Hollywood star.
So just how much did Aaron Paul get paid for his career-defining performance? Why did Breaking Bad have such an outsized impact on his wealth and fame? In this detailed guide, we‘ll break down the astonishing $11+ million salary Aaron Paul earned from Breaking Bad and how it propelled him into the upper echelon of TV actors.
From Odd Jobs to Emmy Awards: The Rise of Aaron Paul
Long before he brought Jesse Pinkman to life, Aaron Paul Sturtevant (yes, Sturtevant is his real last name!) was waiting tables and taking on odd jobs to chase his acting dream.
Born in 1979 in Idaho, Paul‘s passion for performing started early. But breaking into Hollywood proved challenging:
In the late 1990s, Paul took small roles in TV shows like Melrose Place and movies like K-PAX.
He filmed over a dozen failed TV pilots that never took off, despite moving to LA with just $6,000 to his name.
Pre-fame, Paul worked as a movie theater usher and did promotional jobs dressed as a giant bear mascot just to pay the bills.
He nearly quit acting after years of rejection, not wanting to lean on his parents for money.
But in the mid 2000s, Aaron Paul finally got his big break being cast as Jesse Pinkman on AMC‘s new show Breaking Bad.
At first, Jesse was meant to be killed off in season one. But creator Vince Gilligan was so impressed by Paul‘s performance that he changed these plans, and TV history was made.
Paul brought a vulnerability, morality, and humanity to Jesse that balanced out Walt‘s descent into darkness. His nuanced portrayal earned widespread acclaim:
Paul won three Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2010, 2012, 2014).
He also won two Critics Choice Awards for Best Supporting Actor (2011, 2014).
Jesse Pinkman became one of the most beloved characters in TV history.
Thanks to Paul‘s acting talents, Jesse transformed over 5 seasons from a minor criminal to the show‘s moral center and emotional core.
Let‘s take a look at how this career-changing role also changed Aaron Paul‘s bank account for the better.
Breaking Down Aaron Paul‘s Breaking Bad Salary
When cast as Jesse, Aaron Paul was an unknown actor likely just grateful for a steady gig. His initial season one salary reflected that:
Paul earned $150,000 per episode for the first three seasons encompassing 33 episodes.
At seven episodes, season one brought him $1.05 million.
13-episode seasons two and three netted $1.95 million each.
For a relative newcomer, that $150k per episode was a huge step up from waiting tables or handing out movie theater popcorn.
But as Breaking Bad grew into a critically acclaimed hit, so did Aaron Paul‘s paydays.
Salary Summary by Season
Here is a full breakdown of what Aaron Paul earned from Breaking Bad each season:
|Season||Episodes||Per Episode Salary||Total Season Earnings|
By any measure, earning over $11 million for five seasons of work is life-changing money. But considering Paul was nearly fired in season one, his earning trajectory seems even more incredible!
Final Seasons: Peak Paydays
Aaron Paul‘s salary reached its zenith by the final season, with $200,000 per episode across 16 episodes:
For the first part of season 5 (8 episodes), he earned $1.6 million.
For the second part (8 episodes), another $1.6 million.
This equals $3.2 million for season 5, a huge raise over early seasons.
In total across the final two seasons, Aaron Paul earned $4.8 million – capping off his lucrative Breaking Bad run in style.
Aaron Paul‘s per episode salary growth across Breaking Bad seasons (estimate)
How Aaron Paul‘s Salary Compares to Other TV Actors
While $150-200k per episode is huge money for most, it‘s commensurate with salaries for top actors on other hit shows:
- The Big Bang Theory cast like Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki earned around $1 million per episode in later seasons.
- GoT leads like Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington made up to $500k per episode by the end.
- even back in 2004, the Friends cast negotiated $1 million each per episode.
So while Aaron Paul‘s deal was lucrative, it‘s commensurate with what top stars can command on major network and streaming shows today.
His earning power has surely grown further since the Breaking Bad days too.
Beyond Salary: Residuals, Syndication, and More
In addition to his sizable per episode checks, Aaron Paul also earned auxiliary income from:
- Residuals as Breaking Bad aired in syndication on AMC and other networks
- Streaming revenues as the show found new audiences on Netflix
- DVD and merchandise sales
However, Paul has been somewhat coy about just how much he ultimately earned from these revenue streams.
In a 2019 interview with HuffPost, he revealed:
“I don’t make a dime off of merchandising. I’ve never made a dollar off of syndication."
Does this imply he didn‘t negotiate a favorable back-end deal? Not necessarily.
Industry experts estimate stars of Paul‘s caliber earn $1-2 million per year from streaming and residuals on a hit of Breaking Bad‘s magnitude. While just a fraction of his $11M+ salary, that‘s still significant income.
Either way, Aaron Paul walked away from the life-changing opportunity of Breaking Bad with a large nest egg and increased earning power – even if the backend turned out less favorable than he hoped.
Building a Fortune: Aaron Paul‘s Net Worth in 2023
Thanks to his Breaking Bad windfall and busy career since, Aaron Paul‘s current net worth lands between $30 to 40 million per most estimates.
While his early career was marked by struggle, Aaron Paul‘s finances today are clearly in excellent shape. A few factors that contributed to building his fortune:
- ~$11 million in base salary just from Breaking Bad
- Likely a few million more from residuals and royalties
- Major film roles like Need for Speed, Triple 9, Central Intelligence and The 9th Life of Louis Drax
- Video game voice work on titles like The Last of Us Part II
- Producing and starring in series like The Path, Truth Be Told, and Westworld
- Lucrative brand partnerships with Corn Pops, Krave Jerky, CarMax, and more
Based on typical rates for his roles and endorsements, industry experts estimate Paul likely earned an additional $15 to 25 million beyond his Breaking Bad money.
Of course, taxes, fees, and living expenses chip away at those figures. But it‘s clear Aaron Paul entered rare air financially thanks almost entirely to his beloved run as Jesse Pinkman.
The growth of Aaron Paul‘s net worth over time, with Breaking Bad salary around 2010 (estimate)
While playing Jesse Pinkman didn‘t make him quite as wealthy as an infamous meth kingpin, Aaron Paul still earned life-changing money from AMC‘s groundbreaking show.
How Did Aaron Paul‘s Earnings Compare to Bryan Cranston?
As Breaking Bad‘s protagonist and previous TV star from Malcolm in the Middle, lead actor Bryan Cranston unsurprisingly had a higher per episode salary than Aaron Paul:
- Cranston started at $225,000 per episode compared to Paul‘s $150,000.
- By season 5, Cranston made $275,000 to Paul‘s $200,000.
Cranston also negotiated a percentage of the show‘s backend profits. This likely earned him a few extra million versus Paul from residuals and syndication.
Overall, while complete numbers aren‘t public, Cranston almost certainly walked away with a bigger total payday from Breaking Bad.
By many estimates, Bryan Cranston‘s net worth today lands between $50 and $60 million – nearly double Aaron Paul‘s despite their similar paths.
However, both actors earned far more from the show than they ever dreamed possible – cementing their places in entertainment history.
More Than the Money: Aaron Paul‘s Passion Shines Through
While Aaron Paul found immense financial success via Breaking Bad, his passion for the craft and connection with fans is what speaks most about him.
Despite turning down some lucrative movie projects post-Breaking Bad, he stayed dedicated to unique roles and stories he connected with:
- Starring in indie movies like Smashed and Hellion
- Roles on shows like BoJack Horseman to support friends
- Reprising Jesse Pinkman in the 2019 Breaking Bad sequel El Camino when he easily could have declined
And Paul is remarkably fan-friendly for someone of his stature. On the emoji-filled birthday tweets he sends to random fans and heartfelt meet and greets he grants, it‘s clear Aaron Paul cherishes his ties to the roles that made him.
As he said during his 2014 Emmy acceptance speech:
“To be a part of a show that leaves its mark in television history is amazing.”
Aaron Paul is undoubtedly grateful for how Jesse Pinkman changed his life and touched so many people. While secondary to Bryan Cranston‘s Walter White, Jesse was the heart that made viewers connect to and root for Breaking Bad.
And fortunately, thanks to his well-deserved salaries, Aaron Paul himself will never have to cook meth or resort to a life of crime to secure his financial future.
The Takeaway: A Huge Salary Well Earned
In closing, here are the key facts and figures around Aaron Paul‘s massive Breaking Bad salary:
His initial season one salary was $150,000 per episode, or $1.05 million for the season.
Aaron Paul earned $150k per episode for seasons 2-4, for around $6 million more.
His per episode rate increased to $200,000 for the final 16 episodes, adding $3.2 million.
All told, he banked over $11 million just from his Breaking Bad salary over 5 seasons.
Additional income from residuals and endorsements likely brings his career earnings to ~$30 million.
Today, Aaron Paul‘s net worth sits between $30 to $40 million thanks in huge part to playing Jesse Pinkman.
For an actor on the brink of quitting in his early years, Aaron Paul found unimaginable success in the role of a lifetime as Jesse Pinkman. Though the character faces an uncertain fate in the finale, the impact he had on Aaron Paul‘s life is undoubtedly crystal clear.