Fans of the cult classic Greek will be thrilled to know that Paul James, who played Calvin Owens on the ABC Family show, is coming to Hulu. James stars as Sean Egan on Hulu’s original show, The Path, which premieres March 30, and also stars Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy. Talk Nerdy With Us had a chance to catch up with Paul and get the inside scoop on this new role. Read on to get to know James and his new character a little, hear about his audition process, and find out what he loves getting nerdy about. Be sure to check out The Path on Hulu starting March 30th!
How did you get into acting?
I went to school for acting. I went to Syracuse University and studied theatre there. I was acting in plays in high school and did some theatre programs in the summer outside of high school. I think I got into it like around 7th grade and really enjoyed it, so I just stuck with it.
Can you tell me about the audition process for The Path?
It was pretty crazy for me. I had come back from Denver from this independent pilot festival called SeriesFest. I was there with a buddy of mine from a TV show we used to be on. We were trying to do this reunion but it didn’t work out so we went there for free and really had a good time. We were on the plane and my flight got delayed and I had a bunch of auditions so I was working on them on the plane. I had more auditions that week than I’ve ever had.
I sat down and I was a little stressed out and I was quiet for a second and I was like ‘Alright, which one of all of these do you really want?’ The Path was the one that I wanted because the script was so good. Some of the other roles were bigger, but I was like that’s kinda the one I really want. I am the biggest Friday Night Lights fan, it’s one of the ringtones on my phone, so I was like ‘man, Jason Katims, and the good writing.’ So I went in and did the audition.
I don’t really get nervous doing auditions anymore, and I wasn’t, I was cool, but I got home and I had to work on another one and I was like ‘Ya know what? I feel like I could’ve done better on that second scene.’ So I called a buddy of mine and he came over and we retaped that second scene and I sent it to my manager. I told him ‘Please tell them that I can do better, here’s a better version of the scene.’
But the casting director said, ‘Don’t even worry about it, we already liked him. He’s on our list.’ So then, I actually left for New York for a month just to visit, and the day before I left I went back in and I read and it was Jason Katims and Michelle Lee, the producers who are wonderful. And I didn’t even look at Jason Katims, I was like, ‘Don’t make eye contact.’ [laughs].
It’s funny, I planned on asking you if you got a chance to work directly with Jason Katims because I love his work so much.
Oh yeah, I did, but this was like leading up to it. I walked in the room, and I saw him, and we were in his office, there were Friday Night Lights posters everywhere and Parenthood and About a Boy. And I just didn’t make eye contact with him or Michelle. [laughs]. I did my scene, and the director gave me some adjustments. Then I left for New York and slowly all those other jobs that I was up for fell away and it was just The Path left. But then I was in New York, and I really couldn’t wait to get out of LA.
I’ve been here 11 years and LA can be a lot. So I was in New York and I was seeing some plays and I was hanging out with a bunch of friends and I was thinking ‘Man, I really want The Path, but I really want to be in New York.’ Then they called me. I was in a Restoration Hardware in the flatiron. I sat down in one of the chairs and they were like ‘You got The Path and it shoots in New York.’ I had no idea it was going to shoot in New York, I thought it was going to shoot in L.A. I felt like I really manifested that shit, you know what I mean?
Yeah. That’s awesome! So, before you went in and read the sides at your audition, you’d already gotten a chance to read an entire script?
Yeah I always, I mean, I think it’s the theatre background. I say theatre background, but I’ve done one play in twelve years. [laughs]. I think of myself as a stage actor even though I live in L.A. But the training you get, it’s important to figure out where you fit in the story, as opposed to just what you want to do with your sides. Actually, the sides that I got were for the second episode and the sixth episode, I think. They weren’t even in the first episode. So you really had to read the episodes and figure out what’s happening.
You read a lot of scripts, and some of them are really good, but this one was in an indescribable way. It was just one of the best things I read. I’ve even spoken to other friends who auditioned for it and they were like ‘Oh yeah, I loved that script.’ There was just something about it. There was a humanity. When you write a pilot, there’s so much clunky exposition that you have to get out of the way, you know what I mean?
Yeah, of course.
But the more seamless it is, that’s when you know you’re dealing with a good writer. There were a lot of parts of this script where I was just like ‘Wow.’ And it’s funny, I was writing something, I’m still writing something, and I was sort of heavy into it at the time and I thought after the first audition even if it doesn’t go well, I need to figure out a way to contact [writer] Jessica [Goldberg] because she’s such a good writer, I’d just love for her to take a look at my stuff and figure out how to do it better. That was my thought and then I got cast and I get to see her often, which is great.
I know you’re limited in what you’re allowed to say, but what can you tell me as far as what The Path is about, and what your character’s story is?
The show is about this movement called Meyerism that some people have been born into and some people have joined. The leader, the guy who founded it in Peru at the opening is writing down the last three rungs of the ladder, the creed of it. Everyone is sort of patiently waiting for that. Some people in the movement live on this compound and some people live in regular places and just come to the compound to do movement business, I guess.
The show is really about Aaron Paul’s character who has reason to have doubts that this movement, that he’s put his faith and trust in, he has reason to doubt that it’s real. His wife, [played by] Michelle Monaghan, was born into it and is a very high member. She is a full believer and he has these two kids who are full believers, too. So the beginning of the story is him trying to find out the truth but trying not to mess up the life he loves.
Then Hugh Dancy plays Cal and he’s one of the leaders of the movement who has last been in contact with the leader of the movement. So, he comes back to the compound and says, ‘Everything is happening soon.’ He’s sort of like the shepherd right now. He has history with Michelle Monaghan and Aaron Paul [’s characters] which is interesting.
As the show opens, we rescue some victims of a tornado. So we see how the movement acts for good. It’s not a show demonizing people who have chosen to follow this. It really is about showing the lengths people go to to find happiness in the crazy world we live in. My character’s had a personal tragedy that I cannot reveal. He’s a new member, called a novice, of this movement. He lives on the compound and he’s there about eight months or a year when the show starts. He falls head over heels for one of these new members that they’ve rescued from the tornado.
And that’s Emma Greenwell’s character, correct?
I know you did an episode of Shameless a couple of years ago, I was wondering if your paths had crossed back then.
No. I only worked with Jeremy [Allen White] who plays Lip on that show. I played his TA for a couple of scenes. Her character dated him, but we shot at USC. I’m a huge Shameless fan, though, so I talk to Emma about it all the time. It’s cool to get the inside scoop.
One thing I am always curious about. Having worked on other shows, do you notice a difference between being on a show that’s being made for Hulu as opposed to a network?
That’s an interesting question. It’s a different a little bit. When I worked on Greek, I was more aware of the network. They’d be at table reads and they were very nice, and I was also close with the producers in a different way. We were friends and we would hang out and I would go in the editing room and they would show me things, teach me things. So I just sorta knew about the pressures they were dealing with from the network. But that being said, the network kinda left Greek alone. They really liked the show and they didn’t really meddle in it much. We would get some odd hair notes. “His hair’s too long, wear a cap.” But for the most part, they left us alone.
Working on The Last Ship I’m not privy to any of that, I don’t even know who anyone at TNT is and I haven’t seen them. I wouldn’t know about any of that. I will say I think Hulu has given them a lot of freedom just because they believe in Jason and Jessica and that they know what they’re doing…I don’t really think they are meddling as much, and I think that’s because they have more freedom to make a better product. They don’t have to deal with the ratings game and all the people trying to homogenize a product into something they think people want to see. You have a little more leeway with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon to make better content because the barometer for what makes a show a success is different.
Yeah, I’ve spoken to other people who have worked on shows on Netflix, on Hulu, and it just always seems like a great forum to be able to work on.
Yeah. I’m happy to be on a show where you don’t have to wake up every Wednesday and see the ratings. You can sort of just enjoy being on the show. You don’t have to have nerves. And I’ve been on two other cable shows and if you strike on one of those, they tend to go a little longer than your regular network show, which is great too, so I really couldn’t be happier.
So our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, so wanted to as you what you like to nerd out over?
Oh man. I nerd out over a lot of things. I nerd out over Radiohead for sure. I already have tickets to see them three times this year. I nerd out over The West Wing.
I’m bingeing The West Wing for the first time right now!
Oh, really? I’m watching it for the seventh! [laughs].
I know, I’m really behind! Ok, sorry, so The West Wing, what else?
I used to nerd out over comic books. I loved X-Men comics when I was growing up and then when I was on Greek I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I have a little money,’ so I started collecting comics again, but that shit became too expensive and too confusing so I had to give that up. They kept spinning off so at the end you had to buy like 40 comic books. I was like, ‘No thank you.’
I guess the biggest thing is music. I nerd out over a lot of music. Like today I’ve been listening to Tribe all day cause Phife Dawg died which is a bummer, so I like to go to the black hole. Last night I was up Wikipedia-ing Thin Lizzy because I heard a Thin Lizzy song and then I had to go read all the research about Thin Lizzy and the best albums and listen to them and then it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m like ‘Oh shit, I’ve been doing this for three hours.’ [laughs].
I think those are the things. Oh! Fantasy. I love Game of Thrones. I don’t read a lot of fantasy books because if I did I wouldn’t do anything else. But when I was a kid I read this series called The Wheel of Time, which had like 12 books. And by the 11th book the author died! And then his wife had to finish the series. It was like the worst case scenario. We really need George R.R. Martin to get it going. HBO should hire someone to be like ‘what have you written?’ He’s like ‘I’m behind more than I thought.’ My sister’s a novelist, she gets up every morning and writes. Like he’s gotta write.
Don’t miss Paul James on The Path, premiering tomorrow 3/30 on Hulu!