Growing up in Idaho as the son of a Baptist minister in a strict, religious household, Aaron Paul is no stranger to the function of faith being used to both provide a worldview and a context for query.
In the Hulu Original Series The Path, Paul’s character Eddie takes a deep dive into the questions of religion and dogma of Meyerism, a seemingly benign but fanatically insular faith community that echoes similar tenets of Scientology. Now in its second season, Eddie hangs onto an existential buoy, navigating through a crisis of self and the ebb and flow of his devotion to the cult’s doctrine; it is here that the pith of Paul’s work emerges as his engrossing ability to genuinely struggle with deep-seated doubts while maintaining a moral center, the same quality that made audiences fall in love with his Jesse Pinkman character in Breaking Bad. His following thoughts and words are centered around these very tensions in human nature of faith and reason, and how his own questions and beliefs have played out in his life and career.
Was there ever a time that you considered doing something else other than acting?
In all honesty—no. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to act and be a storyteller. I never wanted anything else.
Where did this desire to act start from at such a young age come from?
My love for movies and for make-believe. Cops and robbers. I grew up in a household that embraced imagination, so I ran with it and it brought me all the way here.
What are some of the first movies you remember being significant to you? What about those movies were so memorable to you?
When I watched Stand by Me for the first time that was the nail in the coffin. That and Goonies, E.T., Sand Lot, The Lost Boys. They were all these coming-of-age stories that surrounded me with kids having the time of their lives, and I wanted to be those kids. The Wonder Years also had a huge impact in my life. I was 12 when Kevin Arnold was on the show and he was the same age, so I felt like I really understood him and could relate to his struggles. It was the first TV character I felt truly connected to.
The Path was your first non-animated TV lead since Breaking Bad went off the air. You are also a producer on this show. Did you have any specific intentions or goals coming into this project?
I just wanted to make something special, something that kept people guessing. I also wanted to create something that was far away and different from all things Breaking Bad, but also something I could dive deep into and have fun with.
You play the role of Eddie, a member of a controversial faith-based movement who is tormented by a crisis of faith and ultimately, departs from the cult and is marked a ‘Denier’. The beginning of this departure is marked in season 2 of The Path. What do you think it is about Eddie and his attempt to reconcile his beliefs that people relate with so much?
I think we are all searching for answers, whether it’s the meaning of life or God. I relate to this guy because he is the ’every man’—the man who feels like he has his life figured out and then the rug gets pulled out from under him, so he wakes up with a million unanswered questions and is completely lost, trying to stumble through the dark for relief. Like Eddie, I think we all get lost at times. We’re all just struggling to find answers and find our way. Our Path. But that's life, and it's good to be lost. It's good to not have all of your questions answered. If you did then what else is left?
What was it about the show and the character, Eddie, that drew you in the first place?
I fell in love with the world Jessica created. She truly created a movement. To the outside world Meyerism is obviously a cult, but to the world inside of those gates it’s the only one true place to be and exist in, a way of life. But that constant tension between the inside world and outside world creates this natural, human desire to search. To hunt. To find answers. It’s what I love about this show.
Could you explain the appeal of faith-based cults like Meyerism and what aspects of it that draws people in? What was the spiritual justification that Eddie used to join?
Eddie joined because he had nowhere else to go. He was moments away from killing himself and he had no one. He had just lost his one friend/brother to suicide, where he walked into his house and saw him there hanging by himself, so he lost it. His world was crumbling until this book about Meyerism fell into his lap, which he saw as a sign. To him, it was a calling and ultimately, it was what saved him.
What was your own spiritual upbringing like? Have you ever gone through a personal ‘crisis of faith’ or something similar?
I grew up in a very religious household. A very loving home with strict rules and church on Sundays. I moved to L.A. when I was 17 on my own knowing what I wanted to do and also knowing where I was going after I died. I had all of the answers. They were fed to me from the moment I was born. It was beautiful. But after I left the nest I was opened to a whole new world of possibilities, a new world of beliefs and ideas. It's all about keeping an open mind and not being closed off to any one thing. I grew up with one point of view. Just one. But now I have many, and I prefer it this way.
You’re no stranger to a playing a huge range and diversity of roles—the cult-favorite Meth Nephew, Jesse Pinkman, in Breaking Bad, to the voice of Todd Chavez, an animated character in the Netflix Series BoJack Horseman. What is the most important lesson you have learned from any of these roles in your career?
Just keep fighting the fight and be a good person. I lived and breathed all of these roles from my past and it was beautiful. Well, actually, most of the time. When I was in Jessie's skin I could feel his loss and his pain. It became very easy for me to access those emotions, and it wasn't always like that. I guess what I'm trying to say is...don't do meth. I spent my fair share with meth heads researching this world and it’s the saddest world I’ve ever walked into.
It seems that you’ve been concurrently producing and acting in your material, with BoJack Horseman on Netflix and now The Path on Hulu. How has the experience been like acting on a show that you’re producing as well? Pros and Cons?
It feels pretty much the same only a little more grown up. To be able to wear different hats inside this Industry of dreamers is a dream come true. Being a producer allows you to have more of a voice and have access to more creative freedom and input than you would if you were an actor.
Which genres of film/TV do you typically want to act in and why? Do you typically want to act in all the content you produce?
I love it all. I love storytelling. From Sci-Fi to action to intense thrillers, as long as the story feels honest and has some sort of conflict at its core then I will gravitate towards it. Lucid Road (my company) produces all sorts of shows and the majority of them I will not star in. It's great. We love to create for the sake of creating.
With so many factors shaping a show’s success or failure, and so much required to go into a show just to make it, and even more to make it well, what do you do to keep the creative fire from burning out?
That's just the way the cookie crumbles, as they say. At the start of my career it was impossible not to get discouraged by a success or failure of a show, but once you begin to understand the business and the nature of it—that some shows fall flat and others will fly—you just learn to not let it get you down. If you want to tell stories, then you will tell stories. That and I can't imagine doing anything else but telling stories. That's what keeps me going. Stories.
You have obviously achieved a lot of success because of your work and how you do it. What are personal attributes that make for a good filmmaker/actor, and what do you do to foster them?
Love what you do. Cherish it. Grow from it. If you are lucky enough to love what you do, then do it well and try your very best to not fuck it up.
What would you say is the best piece of advice anyone has given to you about pursuing this line of creative work? What was the worst?
This guy once told me "The strong will survive. If you want it for the right reasons then don't give. You need to fight." I never forgot that. The worst advice I’ve ever received was from my high school counselor. She said, "Aaron, this is a pipe dream. You need to come up with something more stable." I also never forgot that. She was wrong.
What have you've learned or are you still learning about what it means to be an actor?
Never stop dreaming. Cause why the hell not? Isn’t that what living is all about? I will always keep learning. My god I hope so. I thought I was a decent actor when I moved to L.A., but this city has plenty of those. You need to work on your craft and rise to the top and if you can't get to the top, at least let the industry know you are on the mountain and you are fighting.
Photography by Yoshino
Fashion Stylist Tiffani Chynel at The Wall Group
Grooming by Jenna Kristina at Tomlinson Management Group
Words by Kandice Che
Special thanks: Houston Costa, Brett Derdiger, Lauren Thorpe, Kelly Tomlinson, Bloomingdale's Beverly Center and The Artery
The Path season 2 is now streaming on Hulu.