Sarah Paulson to play diet guru turned cult leader Gwen Shamblin in new HBO Max series

Sarah Paulson in American Horror Story
(Image credit: FX)

Sarah Paulson is set to both star in and executive produce a scripted adaptation of HBO Max documentary The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin, taking on the titular role.

Gwen Shamblin founded her Franklin, Tennessee church in 1999, but a documentary about her life, career, and allegedly negative influence wasn't released until just last year. Shamblin rose to fame with a religion-centered workshop and bestselling diet book called The Weigh Down before founding her church, which some alleged allowed her and others to take abusive, cult-like control of their lives.

The Way Down, created by Marina Zenovich, premiered on HBO Max in September of 2021, but Shamblin's abrupt death in a plane crash in May of the same year changed the course of production. The first three episodes contained interviews with ex-church members and those who knew Shamblin in her 'spiritual diet guru' days, with many others who considered themselves survivors of Shamblin's cult declining to participate out of fear of backlash from the former multi-millionaire and her church.

Shamblin's passing caused Zenovich to not only revise the last two episodes – which finally premiered on HBO Max earlier this year in April – but include new testimonies from those who had previously been afraid to speak out. The Way Down is the streaming app's most-watched docuseries debut.

Michelle Dean, co-creator of Hulu's The Act, based on the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, is set to serve as showrunner. 

For more, check out our list of true crime documentaries that put the victims first.

Lauren Milici
Senior Writer, Tv & Film

Lauren Milici is a Senior Entertainment Writer for GamesRadar+ currently based in the Midwest. She previously reported on breaking news for The Independent's Indy100 and created TV and film listicles for Ranker. Her work has been published in Fandom, Nerdist, Paste Magazine, Vulture, PopSugar, Fangoria, and more.