Aaron Paul Breaks Down Cult-Like Movement at Center of Hulu's 'The Path'

"At the end of the day, it's probably a cult, but all of these cults, movements, religions — they're just providing answers," the Emmy winner tells THR about the movement at the center of the new Hulu drama.
Courtesy of Hulu

What does it mean to lose your faith when religion plays a huge role in your life and the life of your family? That’s the big question at the heart of The Path, a new 10-episode series from Hulu that premieres Wednesday. The series stars Aaron Paul as Eddie, who joined the vaguely Scientology-esque Meyerism as a young man, married a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who grew up in it, and suddenly begins to experience doubt about the movement.

Grappling with his faith is a real struggle for Eddie, who strives to hide his doubt from his wife as well as a charismatic but sinister local Meyerism leader (Hugh Dancy).  It doesn’t help that Eddie’s having nightmarish visions about Meyerism involving a massive yellow snake. The series asks big questions about faith and the purpose it serves, as well as how it can divide a family.

The series marks Paul's return to TV following his breakthrough role on Breaking Bad. The three-time Emmy winner spoke with THR about Eddie’s difficulties and his co-stars, both human and reptilian.

You’re also producing The Path. What about it that made you want to act in it but also be involved in the behind the scenes work?

I mean, why not? I got a taste of developing with Bojack Horseman, and I just love being a part of those conversations from the very beginning. When this was placed in front of me, after reading the first two episodes, the material was impossible to ignore. I wanted to jump into this world.

A large part of what’s going on with Eddie is that he’s struggling with his faith, which is something that people do across the board when it comes to religion, but Eddie’s experience is a little different. What do you think makes his struggle unique?

When I read it, I instantly could relate to this guy, and I think the audience is going to be able to relate to this guy. He comes from a very tortured past. He didn’t really have that great of an upbringing. Really, the only person he could rely on was his brother, and that ended in tragedy. And so he was just this lost broken guy, and he found this movement, and he was brought into this movement by his loving, beautiful wife, played by the brilliant Michelle Monaghan. And they’ve raised their two kids in the movement. In the pilot episode, he has this crisis of faith. He has this eye-opening experience on this retreat where he realizes he just does not buy anything they’re selling anymore, and that is terrifying to him because he knows if he says anything, he risks losing everyone he loves.

You called it a movement, which people in the show are careful to say: "It's a movement, it's not a cult." Do you agree with them? Is it a movement, or is it a cult?

I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s probably a cult, but all of these cults, movements, religions — they’re just providing answers. A lot of people are desperately searching for answers, and this is giving those people the answers. You could call it a movement, you could call it a cult, you could call it a religion.

Eddie came to the movement on his own, whereas his wife grew up in it. How much does that affect their relationship?

Quite a bit. That’s the thing. There’s no talking any sort of sense into Sarah. This is all she knows, and I always say that you know what you know. If someone teaches you something from birth, that is all you know, and that is what you believe. Eddie is conflicted. He would rather live a life of lies than lose his family, because if he says anything, if he mentions any sort of doubt, he’s a doubter, and the family will either try to brainwash him or just immediately turn their backs on him and completely forget about him.

Does Sarah's level of faith give him any sense of guilt that it comes easily to her, but it's something he's struggling with?

Oh, absolutely! I think that’s really what’s at the core of the show, at least for Eddie. That’s what he’s struggling with the most. She believes in this thing with her entire being. This is her whole purpose in life. And now he is looking at it as just kind of nonsense. And he just is not buying it whatsoever. And it’s really making him very sad and very confused.

Do you think part of the attraction for Sarah initially was that Eddie was an outsider?

Yeah, I think that’s what drew her in in the first place, because she was just so used to people inside of her inner circle. People that only knew this belief. She saw Eddie as this intriguing, dangerous creature that she was just drawn to.

Did you and Michelle have conversations about what you wanted to do with that relationship?

Yeah, we’ve talked quite a bit about it, but really it was all on the page from day one. We were presented two episodes at the very beginning and a very detailed description of a first season with these characters. [Showrunner] Jessica Goldberg had a very specific vision in mind of how she wanted this story to be portrayed, and so from the very beginning we kind of knew where these characters were going.

When you were getting ready for this, did you dive into the world of people who had left cults or people who were in cults, or were you trying to trust what was already in the script?

I was definitely trying to trust what was there in the script, and it was already there. The detail of this movement is incredible. They’ve created an entire bible for us to do research on. [Jessica’s] attention to detail is really beautiful, and so it was all there, whether it was on the page or in different pamphlets that were given to us. She truly has created a movement in itself. We didn’t necessarily even need to look elsewhere, but I did. I grew up in a very religious upbringing, so I knew what that sort of world was like. I have had some friends who have lost their families because of the way they have decided to live their life, and it’s sad. I have some friends that are in particular religions where they just do not buy into it whatsoever, but they will go, and they’ll do their thing with their family in those movements just to satisfy their family, because they don’t want to lose their family. And they know if they say anything, their family will just completely abandon them. And that to me is just so sad.

Important question here. Was the snake real?

Yes, the snake was very real. His name is Ghost.

Really?

Yes, his name was Ghost, and he was going to the bathroom all over the place. It was pretty incredible.

It was an exciting part of the experience.

Yes, it’s the glamorous side of shooting with snakes. They poop all over the sheets.

Was this your first snake work experience?

I believe so. I love snakes, though.

The Path premieres Wednesday on Hulu.

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