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Aaron Paul on The Path, Religion, and Breaking Away From Jesse Pinkman

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

In The Path, Hulu’s new show from executive producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) and creator Jessica Goldberg (a writer on Parenthood), Aaron Paul plays Eddie Lane, devoted husband to Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), and member of an apocalyptic cult called the Meyerist Movement. It’s a far cry from the role that made him famous — addict-turned-meth-cook Jesse Pinkman on AMC’s Breaking Bad — but one that connects to Paul’s own past. His father was a Baptist minister, and he got one of his first breaks on Big Love, about a Mormon family. Vulture caught up with Paul to talk about what drew him to Meyerism, why he thinks it could win a few converts, and why he’s ready to leave Jesse Pinkman behind.

Eddie is so different from Jesse Pinkman. He’s this family guy, who’s much more invested in his responsibilities. What drew you to that character?
Just that. I was really trying to find something that was the polar opposite of what people viewed me as. Most people that know my work know me just as that one character on Breaking Bad, so I wanted to try to do something a little different. But it was the story, this world that Jessica [Goldberg] created. When they sent me the first two episodes, and I read them, I just was so drawn into this world, into the Meyerist movement. So I couldn’t wait to see what was around the corner. I sat down with Jessica Goldberg and Jason Katims [The Path’s executive producer] and Michelle Lee, and we discussed just that. They gave me the arc of the first season, and I thought it was very daring.

There’s so much detail in the Meyerist movement, and there’s this mix of New Age qualities and very strict religious cult. Did you discuss what the influences on the movement would be?
Absolutely. And honestly, it really feels that this could be a true movement. I know that sounds somewhat ridiculous, but that is how all these things start. They all start with an idea. I actually wasn’t shooting this particular day — but we were shooting, and they had a table set up with all the Meyerist movement pamphlets. The attention to detail is incredible, and so these pamphlets are full of information on this fake movement. People would come by, and we would allow people to come up and read these pamphlets, because we wanted to get their honest reactions to what we were selling.

Were there any converts?
There were multiple people that wanted to learn more and wanted to sign up to go to a class, and they just really loved what they were reading. And I loved that, because that’s really how it all begins. It’s people just searching for some answer, searching for some meaning.

There’s a tension in the show, where the movement both takes advantage of people and helps them.
We joke around about that on set. It’s like, you know, I could absolutely join this movement. I know I’m seeing behind closed doors, and I see all the messed up stuff that’s going on, but without all that, I buy what they’re selling. They’re really just saying, “Be a good person. Live a life of transparency. No secrets.” I think that’s a good way to live.

Plus, you get to shoot in this gorgeous New England countryside. It looks like a summer camp.
It’s ridiculous. The first time we went out there, we did this big table read and a couple photo shoots. And it was just, “Wow, this is where we get to spend the next six months shooting this show.”

You also had to build a relationship with Michelle Monaghan’s character, Sarah, who is really a true believer, while your character is struggling with his doubts. What was it like to build that family dynamic?
Michelle is just an absolute sweetheart, and such a force. She’s so brilliant and fun to work off of. Her and I, I feel, had the same process when it comes to tackling our characters. Eddie has a lot of secrets, so I didn’t really talk to her about all those secrets and kept it to myself.

I remember seeing you on Big Love, and this is a similar show, in that it’s also about a specific religious community. Is there anything that draws you to stories about religion? 
I’ve always been so fascinated by religions, by movements, by cults. They’re all doing a similar thing — providing answers for people that are looking for them. Everyone’s looking for some sort of purpose, and they see this glowing light that’s providing this purpose, and it’s really up to them how deep down the rabbit hole they want to go. I grew up in a very religious upbringing with very specific beliefs and now, I think I have faith, but …. There’s something out there, just, I have no idea.

You’re on BoJack Horseman on Netflix, and now you’re on a Hulu show. Is there anything that draws you to shows on streaming?
First of all, the story, the world they created, the people behind it. Michelle Monaghan was already attached. It was already picked up to series. There were just so many things in this show’s corner, and it was impossible to ignore. And Hulu, I knew that they were already shooting the limited series 11.22.63, and I’m a huge fan of Stephen King and J.J. Abrams. So I knew that Hulu was trying to get their foot in the door and really make a name for themselves. They’re doing incredibly well already, but in terms of original programming, this is their first sort of swing with a dramatic series, so that right there was very exciting to me.

Was there one scene that you read for Eddie that made you think, “I get this character”?
I think I got a hint of it reading the pilot episode, but definitely by the end of the second episode, I was in his corner. I understood what he was going through and I could relate to it.

You said you were looking for a character who was the opposite of Jesse Pinkman. Do you think you’re done with Jesse? I know you’ve talked about doing a cameo in Better Call Saul.
I would love to do that, if they’ll have me. We’ve talked about it on multiple occasions and I think it would be fun to put on the shoes again. But with that said, for me, as an actor it’s time to go in a different direction.

Aaron Paul on Breaking Away From Jesse Pinkman