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Aaron Paul, Chelsea Handler and Meg Ryan Topline Sun Valley Film Fest

Aaron Paul is an Idaho boy at heart. The three-time Emmy winning star of “Breaking Bad” and producer and actor on Nickelodeon’s bawdy, subversive animated series “Bojack Horseman” currently makes his home in Los Angeles, but Paul was born in Emmett, a sleepy city about 30 miles outside of Boise, and escapes to the spud state to unwind and visit with family every chance he gets.

“I’ve lived in California for most of my life,” Paul told a packed crowd gathered at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum, Idaho on March 15. “I love California. But Hollywood can be crazy. Coming back to Idaho is like a sanctuary for me.”

Paul’s Coffee Talk was one of several standout events at the eighth annual Sun Valley Film Festival, which ran March 13-17 in the wintry playground for skiers and snowboarding aficionados. Paul, whom Variety honored at the fest with the SVFF 2019 Pioneer Award, had several family members in tow, including his parents, wife Lauren Parsekian, director and star of the documentary “Finding Kind,” and their 13 month-old daughter Story, who cooed and squealed happily throughout the first half-hour of Paul’s conversation.

“She’s like, ‘Yea, I’ve heard this bit before,’” joked Paul after noticing that Story was no longer in the theater.

Paul, whose latest project, the Christopher Cantwell-helmed thriller “The Parts You Lose,” premiered at SVFF and was snapped up for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn, regaled the crowd with teasers about the announced “Breaking Bad” movie.

“Rumors are funny — I once heard a rumor that I was being cast as Han Solo,” Paul said. “I haven’t heard anything about the ‘Breaking Bad’ movie, but if there is one and it comes together, I’d love to be a part of it. If it were to happen, yes, I would love to do it.”

Later that night, Paul was honored with a Variety-sponsored dinner held at Enoteca, a rustic Italian eatery on the main drag of Ketchum, where he continued to field inquiries about a big screen version of “Breaking Bad.”

“If there is one, I look forward to finding out what happens in it,” he said — and dined alongside SVFF founder and executive director Teddy Grennan, festival director Candice Pate and Screenwriting Lab founder Emily Granville, as well as Paul’s extended family, which included several young children and babies.

Sun Valley is just that sort of fest — intimate, warm, laid-back. A series of dinners, panel discussions, a film lab (judged this year by filmmaker Jay Duplass) and screenwriting lab (hosted by “Zootopia” and “Wreck it Ralph” scribe Phil Johnston) provide a loose itinerary to which most attendees adhere because everything is so welcoming and relaxed. It’s a fest where both chats about the entertainment industry and what mountain trail to snowshoe feel equally apropos.

Chelsea Handler, who took part in a Coffee Talk on day two of the fest to promote her upcoming book “Life Will Be The Death of Me…And You Too!” was seen skiing later in the week. Clint Eastwood, who owns a home in Sun Valley, popped in Sunday afternoon for a screening of the Canadian drama “Indian Horse.”

“It’s a non-transactional festival,” noted Oscar-winning producer James Burke (“Green Book”), who has attended the festival for the last eight years. “It’s about the camaraderie, about bringing actors and filmmakers and writers together and getting to know them on a human level.”

Andrew Miano, who has produced such films as Tom Ford’s Oscar-nominated drama “A Single Man,” the indie drama “Columbus” and, most recently, Lulu Wang’s Sundance hit “The Farewell,” which was picked up by A24, had “heard about the festival for years.”

“I was lucky enough to have been invited this year, and it exceeded my expectations,” Miano said. “The panel I was on was a blast. This is a fest run by lovers of film and they have put together a casual fest where people can come together to watch and talk about film and also enjoy this amazing city.”

The fest is also a place to forge lasting friendships. Actress Jennifer Lafleur (“Friends from College,” “Billions”) who first came to SVFF six years ago, remembers when Grennan, a charismatic figure partial to pea coats and preppy sweaters, announced he was coming to her wedding to Ross Partridge, director of “Lamb” and the HBO series “Room 104.”

“We were going to invite him anyway, because the minute we met him we fell instantly in love with him, but before we even sent out the invitations he was like, ‘Emily and I are there! Just tell us when and where,’” Lafleur recalls.

Other fest attendees included Oscar-winner screenwriter and filmmaker Nat Faxon; actor Michael Weaver; Alex Ross Perry, director and writer of the Elisabeth Moss drama “Her Smell;” 30West’s Trevor Groth; and veteran actor and “Tigerland” producer Fisher Stevens, who was honored with the fest’s Snow Angel Award.

During the Screenwriting Lab, sponsored by Variety, Johnston, who earned an Oscar nomination for penning “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” spoke candidly about the nine years he spent as an on-air news reporter and weatherman in the Midwest.

“I knew f—ing nothing about the weather,” said Johnston, who’s been toiling in the weeds trying to develop a filmic version of John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning picaresque novel “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

”I think I’ve found a way in which Christina Bale could play Ignatius,” said Johnston, who also revealed that he once got “30,000 pages, and that’s not an exaggeration” from Disney execs on “Zootopia.”

A highlight of the Sun Valley fest is its Vision Dinner, which this year honored Meg Ryan. The event took place Saturday night at the Roundhouse, known colloquially as ‘The Round,” an iconic restaurant that sits perched atop Bald Mountain. To get there, guests hopped on board a gondola for an evening ride up the mountain that included the use of a cozy Pendleton blanket and flute of champagne with a 360-degree view of the twinkling city lights below.

“I’m so happy to be here in the Round, it’s kind of a lovely symbol actually,” said Ryan, accepting the Vision Award. “Everyone in the community is here, here we are all together.”

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