Mike Cahill readily admits during our recent webcam chat (watch above) that he was immediately drawn to “The Path,” the new Hulu drama series centered around a cult, when first approached. “Here was this story that somehow, from all these different angles, brought together people who believed for different reasons.” This was familiar territory for the helmer of “Another Earth” (2011) and “I Origins” (2014), two films that challenge the idea of spirituality. “What they believed in didn’t even matter,” he adds. “It was why they believed. So I thought perhaps I had something to bring to it.”
The director had high praise for the cast led by three-time Emmy champ Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) as a cult member having a crisis of conscience, Golden Globe contender Michelle Monaghan (“True Detective”) as his suspicious wife and Emmy nominee Hugh Dancy (“Elizabeth I”) as the group’s charismatic leader. “Their craft is on a level that’s just unbelievable,” Cahill raves. “There’s a lot of mathematics and craft that goes into constructing these characters, and what’s amazing about Michelle and Hugh and Aaron is they’re very capably in charge of all this. They have a very strong internal emotional map.”
He oversaw both the pilot and the second episode, in which the audience is slowly made aware of the movement’s sinister undercurrents. “It’s obviously a cult,” he explains, “and cult has a hugely negative connotation in society at large.” To create a sense of mystery, “You had to parse out the information slowly. You couldn’t get into the nitty-gritty of what they believed.”
Indeed, he wanted to portray the organization ideally at first glance. “Don’t show the religious aspects yet,” he says, “but show the outreach to community first. What we do is we try and make the viewer say, ‘Wow, these people are doing great things.’” As to how he achieved this visually, he says, “It’s warm. It’s inviting. It’s not cold and sterile. It’s very much alive. There’s community. There’s all these little dials you can control through music, composition, sound editing, and color to make it seem like a positive thing. And then slowly, the more obscure, alienating features of the cult reveal themselves piece-by-piece as the series goes on.”
Cahill’s debut feature, “Another Earth,” which depicts the questions that ensue when a duplicate planet Earth suddenly appears, won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance. This honor is given to stories about science and technology. The film also won the festival’s Special Jury Prize, and was recognized by the National Board of Review as one of the Top 10 Independent Films of the year. Cahill was nominated at the Independent Spirits for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay, losing to “Margin Call” and Will Reiser for “50/50,” respectively. He also competed at the Gothams for Breakthrough Director, which went to Dee Rees for “Pariah.”
His followup, “I Origins,” about a molecular biologist (Michael Pitt) who discovers groundbreaking evidence about the human eye, won Cahill a second Sloan Prize and was nominated by the Saturn Awards for Best Independent Film; that award that went to Oscar-winner “Whiplash.”
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