Michelle Monaghan Reveals What It’s Like To Play Someone Born And Raised In A Cult

We’ve partnered with Hulu’s The Path (season 2 is streaming now) to give you this inside look at the making of the show through the eyes of its lead actress, Michelle Monaghan.

What about the role of Sarah Lane drew you to this project in the first place?

I was really intrigued by this world Executive Producer Jessica Goldberg created. I’m like everybody else—I’m sort of fascinated by fringe movements. I believe it’s a very universal interest and yet it’s a very provocative topic. I also loved the way Jessica set up the story surrounding characters with various degrees of faith.

And then the specific character of Sarah Lane was unlike anything I’d done before. I was drawn to the idea of playing somebody so convicted—maybe to a fault—and how that quality sort of seeps into a person’s family and overall life.

What kind of research did you do in advance of filming?

I’m an actor who thrives on the idea of being able to jump into a character’s skin by taking part in whatever the character does. I relish those opportunities. But this was trickier to approach.

You mean you didn’t have time to join a cult?

[Laughs] Exactly. It wasn’t really possible to immerse myself in that world. But luckily Jessica did such thorough research on her own and she created this bible of sorts for the actors explaining everything about Meyerism, the fictional religious movement at the center of the show.

There was a dictionary listing all of the terms frequently used on the show, like “unburden,” “transgress” and “offset.” These terms and this world became ingrained in all of us actors. Sometimes we will actually use the terms in communicating on set in real life. For instance, we’ll actually say, “I need to unburden” when we want to vent a little.

The Path / Greg Lewis

In the show, Sarah Lane is a mother of two who’s very invested in her kids. How did your real life experiences as a mother of two inform the way you approached this role?

Well I am indeed a mother of two young children, ages 8 and 3. There’s a level of unconditional love you experience for the first time when you have children—something inexplicably profound—so I understood that about Sarah Lane immediately. That always permeates my work when I play a mom, but this character is a real tough mom in the sense that she practices a lot of tough love.

Honestly I don’t make creative decisions based on my children or the fact that I’m married or things like that. Creatively, it doesn’t really come into play.

How did your thoughts on cults or organized religion change as a result of being on this show?

I can’t say that my opinion has changed dramatically, but my experience on the show has certainly made me more aware of how much is out there. What’s been really fascinating is that so many people have come forward and shared their own stories about being involved in cults since the show was released and I didn’t realize how prevalent fringe movements were until then.

In retrospect, though, it’s not really all that surprising. People have a natural instinct to want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals—to want to be supported. It’s natural when you’re feeling vulnerable to seek out the sort of guidance a cult can provide. It’s also inevitable that some vulnerable people are taken advantage of.

The Path / Greg Lewis

Do you think people with past experiences in cults feel as if their stories are accurately represented by the show?

I’ve really appreciated people sharing their stories. I feel as if the show has been cathartic for many of them.

What do you hope viewers who are not necessarily former cult members take away from watching the series?

I want them to feel connected to the show. When Jessica conceived the idea of the Meyerism movement it encapsulated a lot of different ideas, many of which can be found in Mormonism and Christianity, but also mysticism and other spiritual rituals. Meyerism is a very fictional thing and that was smart on Jessica’s part creatively so we weren’t tied to any single idea. We could broaden things as we went.

As a result, the show and the themes explored are very universal. People have one connection to the show or another. Whether a viewer has faith or not, they’re able to relate to some aspect of the narrative. Meyerism seems very contemporary in some ways but traditional in others. It’s really appealing to a wide range of people, younger and older.

What’s the meaning behind the name of the show?

Originally, the show was actually called The Way. But when we started doing more research, we discovered that there is a real movement called The Way. So we had to change it and there were a number of different ideas but The Path is the one that stuck.

What has been the most difficult scene for you to shoot to date?

The scenes that I have with Aaron Paul are not technically difficult but they’re highly emotional because we’re a family in which we’re separated ideologically and I’ve disengaged myself from him and the children because he’s a denier. So we have very raw, emotional interactions. I would say that when we see that we’re going to have those scenes we have to be very thoughtful about how we approach them as authentically as possible, which is challenging.

The Path / Greg Lewis

What’s something about the show that viewers don’t know?

I think one interesting tidbit is that we shoot in Nyack, New York—that’s where the Meyerism compound is. When you see us walking the grounds around these humble little cabins and the barn that serves as a chapel, that all preexisted. It’s so beautiful and I love that the property is run by three nuns in real life as a non-denominational retreat centre.

Various weekends, there will be a Buddhist group there and then a Hasidic Jewish retreat and then a yoga retreat. The diversity of guests and faiths represented is so reflective of our show. When we landed there it felt meant to be because the place is so representative of the theme of the show. The place is a character in and of itself. And it’s such a blessing to shoot in a place that’s so beautiful. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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