I have added two additional images of Hugh at the taping of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to the photo archive. Thank you to my friend Emily from dylan-obrien.com for sending these our way!
Following three seasons of playing criminal profiler Will Graham on Hannibal, Hugh Dancy delighted fans when he returned to the screen so quickly after the cult NBC series was canceled, starring on The Path on Hulu.
The new series, created by Jessica Goldberg (writer and producer of Parenthood) and executive producers Jason Katims and Michelle Lee of True Jack Productions, saw the English actor trade serial killers for religious fanatics as Cal Roberts, an ambitious leader within a fringe religious movement.
While struggling to maintain some control of the Meyerist Movement, Cal had to battle his many internal demons, which didn’t always stay as deep or tucked away as he liked. Following the finale, the 41-year-old actor talked to ET his understanding of Cal, the joys of sermonizing onscreen, and being a star on Hulu:
Entertainment Tonight: First off, congratulations on the show. I was just curious, what was your take on The Path when you first joined? Did you realize what exactly it was going to do?
Hugh Dancy: I often realize how seriously Jessica Goldberg and the other writers were taking the question of faith, and the individual faith of the different characters, and that to me, is what made me want to commit to it. I suppose what I didn’t know that it was some form of a power struggle or a quest for power. I don’t think I knew — and I’m not even sure the writers knew — the degree to which they’d allow kind of hints of spirituality or mysticism, like genuine mysticism, to bleed into the show. I think that adds a whole different note to it.
One thing I liked, especially in terms of your character, this slow descent into a sinister character who’s really struggling for control of power. And I was curious, how did you balance how dark to go with each episode, and how much to let viewers see?
Certainly, the blueprint’s in the script overall, but I had to decide for myself how heavily to lean on the fault lines that are running through him, in terms of his background, his upbringing, and then there’s the extreme pressure that’s been brought to bear on him, just because of his isolation at the top of the movement, essentially, nobody else knowing what he knows. Both those things I was quite sympathetic towards, I felt like he was struggling to stay afloat on top of a really raging sea, not of his making, certainly. Then as he tried to navigate all of that, there was a secondary factor, which is that his own ambition, his own alpha-driven desire to control. That, I suppose, I have less sympathy for. Ultimately, just the goal there is to have you understand to some extent what’s driving him, and be a bit horrified by it, but not completely lose everybody’s sympathy.
Tell me about a favorite moment from filming this season.
I think I enjoyed — I mean, broadly speaking — the span of the character, in the sense that he can focus very, very intently on an individual and laser in on them. But he also has the capacity to stand in front of a big, big crowd and preach. It’s rare that you get the opportunity to flex all those muscles. He is a performer and he is theatrical. So, I got to indulge that. I suppose those sermonizing scenes and, particularly in the first episode, when I’m recounting the story of Plato’s cave. They were daunting but enjoyable.
I also love that Cal is listening to these self-help tapes about the idea of smiling and presenting and how you win people over. Did you think much at all about things like the facial expressions or your body movements, and what he would do in terms of getting control of people?
To a degree, I mean without sitting down and being exact about it, it factors into the way he carries himself, the way he speaks. If you have the kind of confidence that he does, it’s going to affect the way you sound. What I found interesting about him was that he, to some extent, he’s in a leadership role for a long time, but he’s been thrown into an entirely new and unexpected spotlight. All of which is basically unwanted on his part. He’s rapidly struggling to catch up. He’s got charisma but he’s also kind of doing Charisma 101.
Considering that you’re now on Hulu versus a traditional network, like NBC, are the expectations for the show different? What’s the experience like being on this kind of network?
Well, you know, it’s interesting because in terms of Hannibal, NBC was very — at least, from where I was sitting — very hands-off in a good way. Very quickly they gave the controls to [creator] Bryan Fuller. Maybe it would be the more typical network experience, where there are a lot of people looking over your shoulder. That said, I don’t know that anybody on the network would have commissioned The Path and then just put it out there in the world and had faith that it would slowly gain an audience. You just can’t do that.
What did you learn about yourself, filming the show?
What I learned was that regardless of how you define yourself in terms of your religion, or your beliefs, everybody has some desire for meaning and for belonging. So any one of us — including myself, I suppose — are potentially open, or I would say vulnerable, to this kind of experience that the characters on the show are having.
Paul: Does he have his lines memorized?
Hiddleston: Hugh Laurie is the most diligent, most serious, most professional actor you could possibly work with. Woe betide the actor who is not ready to work with Hugh. He’s a true pro. Hugh has his lines memorized, sometimes lines that he’s written himself.
Paul: That’s like Hugh (Dancy) on “The Path.” I’ve never seen him with the set of sides. Which, for me, I mean I come prepared, but it’s nice to have that as a security blanket.
Paul: But I look at Hugh… I really look up to him. I mean, he’s such a phenomenal actor, but he’s never once looked at a page of sides.
Hiddleston: It’s interesting. I always find there are some actors who come with the script completely internalized and never have to look at it, and they come very ready with ideas to pitch about staging. And other actors who are more fluid. And there’s no one way that’s better. I think some people like to feel their way through it and be spontaneous, and other people like to have thought about it before.
Paul: Right. This is a big difference that I see with TV and film. Film, the script tends to, at least in my experience, tends to somewhat stay the same, in terms of the dialogue and the story. And with TV, I’m getting pages the night before, with the scenes being completely changed. I like having my little security blanket.
When last we tuned into the TV career of U.K.-born Hugh Dancy, he was playing FBI profiler Will Graham, who developed a strange personality meld with his subject, Hannibal Lecter, in “Hannibal.” In the finale, the two of them tumbled off a cliff in a death embrace. These days, Dancy is again looking into the abyss as Cal Roberts, the would-be-leader of a spiritual/religious cult known as Meyerism in Hulu’s “The Path” – a man who will do whatever it takes to ensure that his faith goes unquestioned. Dancy (who is married to “Homeland’s” Claire Danes) sat down with The Envelope at Doma Na Rohu in New York City, and they dove right in.
I couldn’t help watching Cal in “The Path” without thinking that, in some way, Will survived his fall and resurfaced as this Machiavellian leader of a spiritual cult – with all of Hannibal’s lessons intact. How far off is that?
Perhaps, but Will survived some version of that cliff fall at the end of every season. That first season he’s incarcerated, the second he’s gutted and – we don’t know what happened at the end of the third season. I always wondered when he would come out gleaming and whole and deadly, but the bubble of his empathy always rose to the surface. Not that Cal isn’t conflicted, but everything about them and the style of the series are so different.
We were trying to ground “Hannibal” psychologically and give it depth but we weren’t trying to pretend that this was actually happening in Baltimore. [“The Path”] lives or dies by the belief that it could be real. It’s preposterous, very heightened in many ways, but we’re looking for naturalism at all times. Both Will and Cal are in deep conflict over who they really are, though, and that’s true of any character worth being dramatized.
In “The Path,” Meyerism doesn’t initially seem bad or scary on the surface, as far as cults go. There’s a real self-help feel.
I realized when I was getting ready for [the show] that if you’re going to start a religion you have to go big. If I was going to do it tomorrow, I wouldn’t start with “Everyone’s going to be nice to each other and you’ll probably be OK in the end.” It’s got to be something so extreme and hard to believe that people have to go on faith. If you tell everyone that in fact everything they can see is made of cheese, a certain number will say, “Cheese, I can go with that.”