AMC’s newest comics adaptation Preacher aired its debut episode last week – but while viewers in the U.S. (and in the U.K. on Amazon Prime) wait for the second episode to be broadcast, we took the opportunity to catch up with star Dominic Cooper.
Already familiar to comics fans for playing the younger Howard Stark in Captain America and Agent Carter, Cooper raised some eyebrows when he was cast as Texan rogue-turned-holy-man Jesse Custer in the adaptation of the classic Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon series – but if reaction to the pilot episode is anything to go by, he’s turning out to be an inspired choice. We asked him about what drew him to the project in both the TV script and original comics page, the religious themes and potential controversy, and how the series matches up with his own taste for hopping between genres at a moment’s notice.
Am I right in thinking that you hadn’t read the comic before getting involved with Preacher?
Yeah, I didn’t know it, I didn’t grow up with it. I’d heard of it, but I certainly hadn’t read it. So I read the script, that was the first knowledge I had of the comic – I read it as its own entity, and loved it to bits. And then found what it was based on. Lots of people had already been talking about the script, actually, so I knew it was flying around, and that it was based on some cult comic from the ‘90s. But I loved it, and loved the characters, and then I got hold of the comics and read them very quickly.
I think I’d read the majority of them before I went and met all the creative team behind the show and spoke to them at length about their desired approach to it, and how they saw it – the style and tone of the piece. It was a very long meeting, and a very exciting and animated one – and one that if you didn’t know a great deal about the comics, seemed almost verging on the absurd!
What particularly about the script itself, before you went away and read the comic, appealed to you and hooked you in?
I think the reality in which it was rooted, and the character that I was hopefully going to portray – the complexities of him and what he was trying to achieve, and his loss of faith and his desperate search for the person he remembered and liked being. That, amongst the complete chaotic madness of people and wonderful, in-depth descriptive characters that you couldn’t even dream of imagining up… and I think the absolute 180 turn that the script made every other scene into what feels like a different genre, almost. If that was going to be something that was done directly, in terms of its tone, it could be something as exciting and new as it was when we saw Twin Peaks or early Tarantino for the first time. It reminded me of something like that.
And then when you read the comic, did that add to that feeling? Was there anything in particular about the comic that hadn’t been there in the script that really added to the sense it would be something special?
Well, I gathered that what they’d done was to decide to start the series before the comic book. Which I thought was very clever, because it establishes who these people are, and we get to know them as an audience, and what they’re in search of – we know them as human beings, there’s not just this one guy whose face looks like an arse, or a man who likes sleeping with chunks of meat. You actually understand the dilemma of these people. I think if you were thrown into the comic, you’d have no idea what was going on – it hits the ground running and continues at such a pace.
But from reading the comics I saw that they had so much opportunity to go forward and search for very different ideas and conversations and complex arguments, along with the absurd.
Obviously you’ve worked on properties based on comics before – do you think it’s helpful going into something like Preacher, already having an awareness of the kind of expectations that this audience has for things?
Do you know what, it probably did. Because I wasn’t at any point that worried – you always have a certain amount of trepidation, when going into a project like this. But what I’ve learned from that feeling, and I was thinking about this the other day, is that it’s the same as doing an old classic play. You know, it’s your interpretation of a character, and people have a preconceived idea of what that character should be from a previous experience watching that play. It’s the same with people that read the comic and have fallen in love with the comic – and have created in their own minds who those characters are, and mentally created a soundscape of their voices.
So I think whenever you recreate or adapt something, you put yourself very much in the firing line for criticism, because people have such strong opinions. And when people have strong opinions they’re more able to vocalise how they feel about a certain aspect of it – and that can be frightening, but you have to just let that go and reach a point where you say, this is my interpretation of it, there’s going to be half the people that are going to hate it, and half are going to like it.
And you try and avoid reading anything too analytical or critical of your interpretation!
You’ve had a pretty diverse career already, in terms of being comfortable working in a variety of different genres – do you think that’ll serve you well for a series like this, which especially in the comic veers between genres a lot?
Yeah, I absolutely do – and I didn’t realise quite how much but it’s certainly something I’ve overheard Seth commenting on, in terms of the choice he made for his lead actors; that they would need very much to be able to do that. Especially with Jesse, actually – you know, one minute he’s having a very serious discussion about religion and the next minute you see him in a very elaborate bar fight! And that’s what I found so continually entertaining and exhilarating to be part of, was that I’d be hopping from one set to the next and doing something utterly different each time. There wasn’t a moment where I was bored by anything, or felt like I’d overdone something. I’ve never done a job like it.
Knowing that it’s based on this comic that ran for a pretty long time, with a lot of story to get through – I guess going in it would have seemed like it could be something that would run for a long time. Was that appealing on the way in, that you could be in this for the long haul?
Yeah, it is a massive question – and as I approached the idea of going into TV, at that time, when I was just searching for some really good scripts, it was certainly something that played on my mind. Because the truth is, it’s a double-edged sword: you want something to be successful, but you’re also very terrified by the prospect of doing something for what could be seven years, with the success of something like The Walking Dead. I mean, Andrew’s been with that character for that amount of time – no doubt loving it, and I think he really does love playing that character – but I wanted to find someone who, if that was going to be a possibility, someone that I could continually be nourished by in terms of choice and acting style. And there’s such a long way for Jesse to go, and he changes so dramatically from episode to episode – there’s just endless possibilities. And I’ve never ever before wanted so desperately to get hold of each script week after week to see what happens, and where the adventure took us.
But of course, you do wonder about that – but then again, it’s not the full year, it’s ten episodes, which is the perfect amount. I don’t think it should be any more than that. It’s creatively perfect for the style of it. I just don’t think you can think that far ahead – but for the moment I just hope people like it enough that we get to do the next one. Because we’re right at the beginning – the series is pretty much a prequel to the comic.
Obviously without giving too much away about what is in the series, is there anything from the comic specifically that you are or were looking forward to seeing done?
Oh, there’s so much – but certainly, the darkness of Jesse’s family. The grandmother, and the coffin! And God. Those are things that I think should crop up – amongst others, they’re just the first ones that I can think up out of thin air! But the grandmother is just one of the most hideous, terrifying characters I’ve ever seen depicted in a comic, ever!
Since you brought it up, I wondered if the religious themes of the source material were a concern going into this. I don’t know how the show will go, but in the comic, on the one hand God unequivocally exists; but on the other, he’s essentially the bad guy! Has the potential controversy been something you’ve had to consider?
I haven’t been too much… I mean, only in that I think Sam [Catlin] has very cleverly navigated his way around that. Purposefully or not – I think it’s more just that he’s got an interesting, dynamic mind. But I think he’s raised the question of religion and created a conversation about it – I don’t think the show has an opinion either way, and I don’t think it judges either way. I think it just is a very distinct conversation that runs throughout it – particularly between the characters of Jesse and Cassidy, where they’re continually at loggerheads about their opinions. But they’re best of friends. And I think that sums it up.
I think any form of art that creates that dialogue between people who wouldn’t necessarily have that conversation is a great thing. I think it will spark that conversation – we live in a time that’s terribly confusing, with all the atrocities that are going on the world, and people are questioning the purpose in faith and their belief in faith. And I think that makes for a very interesting dialogue between humans.
Dominic Cooper, thank you very much!
Preacher launched on Amazon Prime Video on Monday the 23rd of May, with new episodes released weekly a day after their US premiere, starting from Monday 6th June.