'The Path' Star Hugh Dancy on Cal's Shocking Secret and "Deep-Seated Fear"

"It's probably the only thing that's holding him together," the 'Hannibal' alum tells THR about the importance of Meyerism to Cal.
Courtesy of Hulu

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first three episodes of The Path.]

In the world of The Path, Hugh Dancy's Cal has been a confident and charismatic leader within the religious movement at the center of the show. But the third episode of the series gave viewers a glimpse at what's been going on beneath the surface, and what was revealed was pretty dark. Not only is Cal helping to conceal the deathbed illness of the founder of the movement, Steve Meyer, but he's using that information to position himself as the next leader of the movement.

Viewers also learned a lot more about Cal's background through a toxic visit with his alcoholic mother (played by Kathleen Turner) and learned how close to the edge he lives. The Hollywood Reporter talked to Dancy about what all this means for Cal and whether we can trust his motivations.

This episode is quite a turning point for Cal. He's been kind of mysterious up to this point. Given what happens with him, was it important to learn something sympathetic about him, that he's coming from this background with alcoholic parents, at the same time that we learn he's keeping this huge secret from the movement?

I didn't think of it as a counterbalance, exactly. For me, actually, the fact of him keeping the secret — I'm as sympathetic toward that as I am toward the difficulties of his background, because I think that he's chosen to do something that is incredibly difficult and lonely in order to preserve this thing that he believes in. And I guess what you understand by seeing him with his mum and learning a bit about his background is why it's so important to him and why, in a sense, he couldn't afford to have this belief system collapse, because it's probably the only thing that's holding him together. So the two things inform each other a bit.

So part of why he feels compelled to go that far is that he needs this movement as much as the movement needs Steve to still be alive.

I think, yeah. He's taking on that responsibility for lots of very complicated reasons, but one of them is just simple self-preservation. And you could also say — and I'm sure he would say — that he can speak personally to the power of message and the beauty of the message and its ability to save people, so why wouldn't he want to preserve that message for other people? That's part of it.

Is Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) his only real confidante?

Yes, except that even she is not really his confidante. I don't think he has one. The only people that he's really honest with, able to speak frankly with — I guess we only meet them in the fourth episode — but there are three other people in the movement who are on the same level as him. They're the other three people on the upper rungs, on the 10th rung of the ladder. And those three people are people that were there, unlike Cal, when the thing was founded. And they're the only other people who know that Steve is essentially on his deathbed. But they're not necessarily so happy with the way that Cal is driving it.

He also brings Miranda Frank (Minka Kelly) to town and tells Sarah that he thinks it's a way to help her marriage. Does he really believe that, or is there this underlying need to get between her and Eddie (Aaron Paul) in that action?

I remember asking myself exactly that question, and I think it's all of the above. I think part of it is because he knows something's up with Eddie. He knows Eddie's hiding something from him, and it's something to do with what happened in Peru. But I think Cal hasn't even begun to imagine that Eddie might be losing his faith. It's odd that that would be like the last thing on his list, but there are enough secrets that Cal's keeping to his own chest that he can't have somebody else keeping them too. I think he genuinely does want to believe that he's paying extra special care because it's Sarah and he wants to look out for her. But by this point in the story, his more animal instincts are tuning in that there's a weakness in that marriage. I always think that Cal is always striving to act according to the best intentions.

Sometimes it seems a little bit like he wants to be good, but when he looks at Sarah, she's someone who just is good. It's not a quest for her the way it is for him.

Yes, I think that's true. I think she's not in any way dealing with the same. … First of all, she doesn't have the same things on her plate as he does, and he's spared her that, basically. Secondly, he's coming from this very broken place. But I also suspect that if the show goes on, if we get to tell more of the story, my feeling is that there's more to Sarah than meets the eye. I don't think she's so selfless or so unambitious or whatever. She's certainly got steel running through her. So we'll see.

Do you think he underestimates that about her, that he sees her as someone who's purely good?

In that respect, I think he's put her on a pedestal, very much, but I also think — he's not the only person — but he's one of the people who says to her, "You should step up. You could play a bigger part." Certainly, as we get later into the season, he's thinking in those terms. So he's actually encouraging her in that respect. But I think the way he looks at her is very much like the guy who loved her when they were both 16 or 17 or whatever. Then that ended, and he put it on ice, and he's never really moved on. She's occupied this symbolic role for him, and he almost needs her to be that symbol. It's not totally wrong, but it's not the full story.

There are two different moments in the episodes where people imply that fate is at play, where his mother says wanting to be someone else never works, while Sarah, when he tells her that he thinks he might be fated to take over, says, "It's always been you." Is part of why he's so invested in Meyerism the sense that that's the fated person that he wants to be, rather than what he's afraid might be true, according to his mother?

Maybe, but if you think about it, those two predictions counter each other. Because his mum is saying, "You may think you can get away from this place, but you're always going to end up back here. This is where you're from." And Sarah's saying, "You were always destined to be leading the movement." I think when he hears his mum say that, it triggers him to go back and announce himself to Sarah as the leader. Because he, basically, is thinking, "You know what? Screw that. I will choose my own fate." But part of that comes from a deep-seated fear that she might be right.

New episodes of The Path debut every Wednesday on Hulu.