CULTURE

Everything We Know About The Way Down, Starring Sarah Paulson as a Cult Leader

Sarah Paulson wearing a bra and posing behind a window
Photo by Mona Kuhn, styled by Patrick Mackie. Hair by Dennis Gots for Kerastase at The Wall Group; Makeup by Jo StrettelL for Lancome at Tracey Mattingly.

We wouldn’t blame you if you said that you worshipped Sarah Paulson—and are also going to guess that you don’t mean that as sincerely as those who adore her character in HBO Max’s upcoming scripted adaptation of its 2021 docuseries The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin. The 47-year-old actor has signed on to play the titular cult leader, who amassed thousands of followers (and millions of dollars) through her Weigh Down dieting program and Remnant Fellowship church. And if you’ve caught Paulson in Impeachment or any of the many seasons of American Horror Story, you know that she’s going to commit to the role and thereby make the series into a can’t-miss. Here, the answers to all your questions about The Way Down.

Who was the real Gwen Shamblin?

Shamblin studied biochemistry while earning her master’s degree in food and nutrition at the University of Tennessee, then went on to work as a dietitian at Memphis State University for years. All that lent her a sense of legitimacy when she started the Weigh Down Workshop in 1986. As time wore on, the more the program incorporated christianity; shedding pounds was seen as simultaneously shedding sin. Within a decade, it was being offered at roughly 5,000 churches. In 1999, she founded a Tennessee-based church of her own—and in fact, the Remnant Fellowship still exists to this day.

Shamblin herself, however, died in a plane crash just months before the original docu-series premiered.

The real Gwen Shamblin.

Photo by Scott Sabo via Wikimedia Commons

How faithful is the adaptation starring Paulson?

We’re assuming very, given that the docuseries’s director, Marina Zenovich, and executive producer, Nile Cappello, are involved. The latter spent months digging into Shamblin’s exploits and getting to know Remnant Fellowship alums for the docuseries. Unsurprisingly, the church disputes their many harrowing recounts of child abuse and more. “Children here are happy and healthy, being raised with the most love, care, support, and protection imaginable,” its statement begins. “The church’s stance is that parents should determine how they set boundaries and guide their children based on their own family decisions, as long as it is founded on love and protection. There is no harshness in God nor Jesus Christ—there is only gentleness. Countless parents have shared that they are more loving and kind to their children after they started attending Remnant than they were before.”

Besides Paulson, who’s in the cast of The Way Down?

No further casting has been made at this time. Though, likely the second biggest role will be that of Joe Lara, Shamblin’s second husband. Lara was a hunky former actor-turned-aspiring musician who came to lead the Church with his wife despite no qualifications. Other major roles likely to figure in are David Shamblin, Gwen’s first husband, and their two children Michael and Elizabeth. Elizabeth now leads Remnant Fellowship.

Though, it’s safe to say that none of the actors will have to spend as much time in the hair and makeup trailer as its star. Shamblin sported an unmissable beehive, not to mention a full face of makeup, and Paulson has never shied from physically transforming for her roles.

When does The Way Down hit HBO Max?

Again, TBA. But since Paulson only has one project—the horror-thriller Dust—hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.