The Preacher Speaks
♦ Over at Den of Geek, they just spoke to Jesse Custer aka Dominic Cooper about the new season of Preacher…
So, you’ve really been throwing yourself into action sequences of late. Your upcoming film, Stratton releases soon, which casts you in a Bond/Bourne type of role. I’m looking forward to that.
I hope you enjoy it.
And of course, you got to work with Simon West, director of the legendary Con Air.
Yeah, he’s cool.
When it comes to action sequences on the small screen, such as in Preacher, we’re seeing real improvements in action elements such as fight choreography. In this area TV is having to raise the bar somewhat.
It is having to. And it’s struggling because there’s a only handful of people that are astonishing at doing it and the guy that we’ve been working on Preacher has been incredible, and he loves doing everything in one sequence.
There’s a great fight scene in the New Orleans mansion in episode four. That was all done in one single tracking shot.
Yes, that was all one take and the one with the van, with the white guys in suits in episode three, that’s pretty much one take as well. And I ended up really loving doing them because you’re getting the scripts days before so you’re having to learn a lot of information and I was learning the choreography quite quickly. The fight sequences have a particular arc to them though, there’s a purpose to them, they’re not just violence for violence’s sake and I think that helps them to look incredible. And of course, Jesse’s meant to be a violent and dangerous guy who’s lived a very criminal life so it’s right that he’s able to take a lot of people down, it’s part of the comics and it’s certainly part of him.
He is certainly pretty handy with his fists. Both the comic version of the character and your incarnation share this seeming need for violence. In season two of Preacher we’re seeing Jesse choosing to use violence when it’s far from a final resort.
Yeah, that’s so true.
How do you think season two has dealt with that particular aspect of his character, looking for the violent answer first?
Well, I’ve not seen all of it yet, and it’s funny, but having done it but only seeing it now, I’m becoming aware of just how unpleasant he is. I’ve just seen episode four where he beats the crap out of Reggie, his friend in the flashbacks. Jesse, and it just comes out of nowhere, suddenly snaps and there’s more to that side of him, I think he’s constantly trying to quell this bubbling self-hatred and anger towards the world, in relation to his feeling to blame for the death of his father, so he’s like a tightened coil just ready to go at any moment and it’s only going to get worse. As he becomes more arrogant, you see it happening, he thinks he’s the righteous holder of this entity, this power and he begins to totally believe in this idea that he’s the chosen one, and with that level of power and strength, I think he’ll become more violent, unpleasant and difficult to be around.
He does seem somewhat self-involved.
Especially in season two, he becomes quite brooding, often he’s oblivious to the pain of those around him. One thing I noticed from going back to the original books was that he had this ghostly John Wayne figure, like a conscience that would appear to him at his darkest moments and guide him, but your version of Jesse doesn’t have that. You’re much more alone.
Totally, and it makes him kind of unbearable. And it leads to the most kind of narcissism. He has no idea when his friends need help or when the love of his life, who is the most important thing in his world, needs him. It just shows how important this mission is to him, finding God, because of the last words that his father uttered before he was killed, ‘Jesse, much bigger things are coming for you’, that’s what he’s believed. And yet his whole life has been a bit of a nothing until ‘Wow, I’m meant to be the Messiah.’
A messiah complex? Is that what he’s developing?
I think so. I think that’s where they’re going with it, from the material I’ve got, I get that sense but it’s a really good point that you bring up, because there’s only so much people can bear, I think that he needs to be led in a different direction, to have someone hold a mirror up to him and him realise the error of his ways every so often. You do sometimes start to wonder why are those other two sticking around? (Laughs) But they do, because they all need each other so much.
As part of the creative process did you talk about including that kind of Godfather figure, that Obi Wan Kenobi guiding presence?
We didn’t actually. I think it’s very revealing though and a great point.
Of course, Jesse’s violent tendencies stem from specific events in his past and fans of the comics would have shuddered when he introduces himself as Jesse L’Angelle in episode six. At some point he also makes a reference to not liking swamps. Will we find out more in season two about Jesse’s past and the root cause for so many of his issues?
Something extraordinarily dramatic happens at the end, that you won’t believe could ever possibly happen. It shakes everything, it turns the whole thing upside down and that leads to the necessity of finding the past. I’m looking forward to nothing more than seeing that family who used to place him in that coffin. That’s the real heart of darkness, I think, from the comics, I found it poignant and they were frightening too. Just the mention of his family frightens Jesse.
Will seeing further into his past help to humanise Jesse perhaps, given his direction this season?
I think so, and that will be a really good thing. I think it’s necessary, I think it’s been a really interesting place to go with him and see this side to him, but I think to humanise him and bring him back from this very bleak place would be good.
Preacher was of course created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, two legendary British comic book creators who like other icons of the industry from that era, left these shores to go and work in the U.S. We’re seeing a similar talent migration in the film industry at the moment. The British comic book industry never really recovered from that talent drain. Should more be done to draw more talent like yourself back to homegrown UK film projects or is that wishful thinking? What could be done?
It’s a very difficult one because the money’s a problem here. I don’t know, it’s not like people have given up on it here, but people go where the work is. A lot of our writers are there at the moment. We still make the best TV here in the UK, we make some fantastic stuff, it’s incredible but everyone goes. Even the film industry over there (the U.S.) is suffering somewhat because the writers want to work in television because they’re given such scope and freedom within their medium, therefore the material over there, well, you go where the work is, but what can be done over here? I have no idea, we have great studios here.
Our facilities are amazing.
Yeah, it all starts with the writing, doesn’t it? If they’re lured over there because there’s more opportunity… maybe there needs to be more financial incentive, maybe the government needs to open more doors.
Like the French model?
Like the French model. Do the French model. Exactly that. Like Canal Plus where channels have to put revenue back into homegrown film. And they’re making some brilliant films.
On the subject of Preacher’s British roots, it’s often been said that American satire has always been sharper when viewed through a UK prism, whether it’s John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, the GTA games or movies like American Beauty. Some of Preacher’s most satirical moments in this season though such as the soul-selling are completely original and the sole product of an American writing team.
I don’t think they’ve ever had a problem doing that. This is a very interesting comic because these two guys were drawn to America, and Preacher was a result of Garth Ennis observing this place that was completely peculiar and like nothing he’d seen before. I clearly remember arriving in that country for the first time ever and it was unlike anything you know from here. It’s a completely new world. It’s interesting now that scene you mention, the selling of the souls was produced by an all-American team but the original content was an observation of a society, and I think that sometimes people from afar can do that better, it’s much easier to look at something you’re not so close to and understand it or see it for exactly what it is. It’s why foreign filmmakers who makes films about London often have a really interesting take on it. I think they can be satirical. Sam Catlin, the show-runner is very dry, very witty and very observant of the society that he lives in.
He of course produced Breaking Bad, which was also very observant of certain aspects of American culture.
Yes. And he and I talk at length about what’s happening there at the moment, in the midst of this lunacy that’s going on in the country. You can’t help but feel sorry for the people there whose environment has just turned into chaos and carnage.
Speaking of Sam Catlin, his involvement with both Preacher and Breaking Bad led to one of the show’s cooler intertextual references, where one of the characters is whisked away to a new life from the same spot that Walter White was too. What’s your favourite easter egg so far in Preacher?
I’m a bit shit at realising them! (laughs) Someone always has to point them out to me. That one did use the same place though, that one’s really cool. Same van as well.
So as Jesse Custer and Walter White technically exist in the same universe, who’d win in a throwdown?
Jesse would win, wouldn’t he? He’s got super powers!
Do you think he uses his powers a little too liberally?
Yes, I think it’s another really bad aspect of his character. He uses it too much and he uses it in the wrong places but when people are desperate for his help and they really need it, he doesn’t use it. And then he gets on his moral high horse about when it should be used but he doesn’t have a clue. It’s bad and it becomes even worse. Have you noticed yet, that by selling part of his soul, it stops? Because part of him is missing, to use the word of God he’ll need to get that back because it isn’t working properly.
Can we talk about the hair in those flashback sequences? That mullet was the look Jesse sported in the comic books. Did you ever talk about doing the hair all of the way through the show?
That fucking hair. It was terrible! I wanted that hair all the way through. Thank fuck I didn’t! (Laughs) I wouldn’t wear that piece. If I grew it and could make it look good, I would, but they didn’t seem too keen on it. I mean, you can’t really be a man and have that hair now, could you?
(Diplomatically) I think the updated look works.
I did want to. I would have loved to have had the hair and a pair of tight, white jeans, exactly as he is in the comics.
Are we going to see the white jeans at any point do you reckon?
Yeah, I’m really trying to get them in. (Laughs) I’m really trying to get them in, in fact, I got them to buy a pair just so we could try them on. I’m going to get them in next season, if there is one.
Finally, as a fellow Cooper, you may empathise with this: I was always pretty underwhelmed as a kid that our coat of arms had barrels on it. It seems to me that three-headed dragons would have been cooler. What would you stick on the Custer coat of arms?
Barrels are pretty depressing, aren’t they? What would Jesse Custer have on his coat of arms? It’d be that skull wouldn’t it? That awful L’Angelle skull.
So what should we stick on the Cooper coat of arms then, if barrels aren’t up to scratch?
Did you know that Fassbender is the German equivalent of a Cooper? A Fassbender is a barrel maker. Have I just made that up? It sounds right. I don’t know what would be on our coat of arms, what do you think Cooper?
Erm… don’t know? It rhymes with ‘super.’ So maybe…
It rhymes with ‘pooper-scooper’. Did you used to get called ‘pooper-scooper’? That used to be a big one.
Yeah. My friends used to sing it to the sound of Super Trooper by Abba.
Oh nice! (Laughs)
(sings) ‘Pooper-Scooper, life like a…’
Like a lump of poo. Perfect. (Laughs)