The Hulu original series The Path follows a family at the center of a controversial religious movement, known as Meyerism, as they struggle with relationships, faith and power. As Eddie (Aaron Paul) questions whether all of the answers can be found within the religion that his wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) is so dedicated to, she finds herself pulled deeper and deeper into Cal’s (Hugh Dancy) world and his views on the way that they should be led.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Michelle Monaghan talked about why The Path appealed to her, her character’s relationship with the movement, how Sarah feels about Cal as a leader, wanting more of a say in what’s happening, and why the possibilities for Season 2 will be exciting, if they get picked up for more episodes. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: This story and these characters are very layered and complex. Even though you don’t know exactly where things will ultimately go or end up, was that part of the appeal for you?
MICHELLE MONAGHAN: You don’t really know where it’s going to go, but I definitely find all of the themes about faith, religion and movements very complicated. It’s timely. Historically, if you look at religion and the things that people do in the name of religion, for better or worse, I knew there would be a lot to explore with that. Also, as a family, there are complications that arise in a relationship and being a parent and raising kids, and doing that all within a religion. From my perspective, there are lots of layers because this is a woman who is a wife and a mother, but above all, is a devout follower of the movement. Those convictions essentially supersede the family dynamic, a lot of the time, and that is really complex and complicated. It took a lot for me to wrap my head around, but I felt like there were layers there that I could explore for days and weeks and seasons at a time, ideally.
Were you happy to see that this woman does still question whether she’s making the right decisions, and doesn’t just blindly act without question?
MONAGHAN: As a person who’s not extreme or so fundamental, and we all know that in religion, those people exist, for the most part, that’s not who people are. So, when you see her, as she starts to make the choice, I feel it’s really rattling to see that. What I loved about her is that she’s seemingly this really great, stoic, empowered individual, and then you start to see those challenges come up and she handles it in a way that you don’t think that she would handle it. That’s really unnerving to see.
As someone who was born into this movement and grew up in it, do you think Sarah had a moment where she decided for herself that this was where she wanted to be?
MONAGHAN: My feeling was that she took her vows when she was 16, and then, when she thought she lost the baby, that was life-changing for her. That experience with the shaman and coming back bought into something so profound that she couldn’t turn her back on that. I used that because it was my in for Hawk actually considering leaving the religion. She wanted to threaten him with leaving him, and I justified it by telling myself that it’s the toughest love that you could know and possibly give. Her feeling was that he’d have to come back because he couldn’t possibly survive without his family. So, while people may say that’s very cruel, from Sarah’s perspective, she’s doing him a favor by saying, “If you go, I’ll never speak to you again.”
Also, Sarah’s sister has basically been excommunicated, and she goes to her house and is a bit nostalgic for that relationship. She’s seemingly very happy, but then Sarah goes into her medicine cabinet and sees that she’s an addict of some sort, which emboldens my character even more to say, “This is what could happen to you. Nothing good could come out of you leaving the movement.”
Transparency is a tenant. She lives in complete truth. But if her and Eddie have such a tight relationship and they share everything, why was it safer for him to say, “I had an affair,” rather than saying, “I’m having doubts about the religion”? Why couldn’t he just tell her that he was having doubts about the religion? But she’s so extreme that that’s the ultimate betrayal, to say that you’re not a believer. The movement will guide you through whatever the transition is, but there’s nothing to help you become a believer, once you become a non-believer, so Eddie couldn’t risk that. I’m fascinated by that level of extremism. It was fun to play and figure out.
Sarah didn’t join the movement to be lead by Cal because he wasn’t in that leadership position. How does she feel about the way he’s changing things?
MONAGHAN: There are a number of layers there because Cal and I have a relationship, and we have yet to clarify what that relationship is. He came into the movement at a very young age and was very vulnerable, and we were very close. We’re still very, very close. He comes to me in his time of need, and there’s a real respect and connection that they have. What makes the relationship really complicated, from my perspective, is that he respects me tremendously, personally, but he doesn’t respect me professionally. That’s when the lies get very, very blurred. It all gets very muddled and there’s a lot of miscommunication that starts to develop. Hopefully, we’ll get to explore that some more. He’s taking it upon himself to assume the position of being a cult leader and feeling like they need to take what’s perceived as a fringe movement of cult to the next level, and making the public perceive it as something to be taken seriously. I don’t know if he’s really going about that the right way because he’s going about it in a very rogue way. We’re all about community and everybody voting, and his motives are slightly different.
Do you think that’s why she wants more of a say in what’s happening?
MONAGHAN: Yeah. She wants to steer him a little bit better. I think that she feels like she knows better. She’s an exemplary person in the movement. She lives by example and she’s very idealistic. She lives by the tenants with which they profess. She’s very much in the black and white world of what’s wrong and what’s right. It’s only as we start to move through the season that you realize it’s not ever like that with anybody. Everybody is flawed, including her, and she’s imperfect. It’s that idea of self-preservation. When you see the first few episodes, they’re really doing a lot of good in the world and they’re helping lost souls, and you feel like you can get on board with it. But then, as the series progresses, you see that Sarah, Eddie and Cal are all lost themselves. Everybody is a bit of a lost soul. You start to see them be challenged by the very things that they profess, and they get into self-preservation mode for themselves, as well as for the movement.
The end of this season leaves you with some answers and some new questions, but leaves things wide open for Season 2. Does that make you hopeful that you’ll get to explore this story and character further?
MONAGHAN: That’s what was exciting for us, and hopefully, we’ll come back so we can answer some of those things. I think that it left us, as actors, even more passionate about wanting to come back because it did develop into so many different ideas and questions about who these people are. That was really exciting for me, as an actor. On True Detective, we kind of new the beginning, middle and end when we embarked on it, and it was one director, so it did essentially feel like it was a big movie. This was interesting because we did have a slight hand in creating the nuances of who these characters were. Now, they’re pretty well established. Not that they won’t change, at all, but I have a pretty good sense of who Sarah is, so it would be really cool to just take it to the next level.
The Path is available at Hulu on Wednesdays.