Sarah Paulson to Play Cult Leader Gwen Shamblin in ‘The Way Down’ Scripted Adaptation at HBO Max

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Sarah Paulson is no stranger to playing real people: Among other roles, she won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Marcia Clark in 2016’s “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” and was recently nominated for an Emmy for “Impeachment: American Crime Story” for playing Linda Tripp. Now, Paulson is attached to star and executive produce the scripted adaptation of “The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin,”  which HBO Max is developing from its own five-part docuseries.

Michelle Dean, who was the co-creator of the 2019 Hulu limited series “The Act,” is the showrunner of the scripted adaptation.

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HBO Max dropped the first three episodes of Marina Zenovich’s investigative docuseries “The Way Down” on Sept. 30 of last year. It detailed Gwen Shamblin Lara’s rise from being a diet guru with her Weigh Down Workshop (launched in 1986) to the founding of her Tennessee church, Remnant Fellowship, in 1999. According to ex-congregants and diet followers featured in “The Way Down,” Shamblin Lara exerted unwelcome, cult-leader-like control over their lives.

But in the months before Zenovich and “The Way Down” filmmakers finished the series, Shamblin Lara died in a plane crash on May 29, 2021. The final two episodes of “The Way Down” were consequently re-edited to incorporate the accident and its aftermath, and were released on April 28 on HBO Max. According to the streamer, “The Way Down” was its “most-watched docuseries debut.”

Wheelhouse-backed Campfire Studios and Huntley Productions are behind the series,  and the executive producers are Dean, Paulson, Zenovich, Nile Cappello, Ross Dinerstein, P.G. Morgan, Luke Dillon for 3 Arts Entertainment and Chrissy Teigen. Rebecca Evans and Ross Girard serve as co-executive producers.

Last month, Variety reported that during a sermon, Shamblin Lara’s daughter Elizabeth Hannah took aim at HBO Max, the enemy of Remnant and the Shamblin family. With Hannah calling in to the Saturday service at Remnant, she reveled in the recent PR problems faced by HBO Max and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery. She called it a “big win” that by next summer, HBO Max and Discovery+ will be merged into one streamer, and said she had prayed “hard to God would close the mouths of the enemy.”

Paulson is represented by CAA.


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