Preacher: ‘It’s bigger than Breaking Bad. It’s a romp’

Its got a minister with superpowers, a hard-boozing vampire and its the most kickass show of the year. Preachers star Dominic Cooper and creators Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin talk cows blood, chainsaw attacks and turning God into a villain

Seth Rogen knows how to create a smash hit. You just cast British people, he says. Thats what you do on TV. For Preacher, one of the most anticipated series of the year, he and his comedy partner Evan Goldberg tapped up Dominic Cooper for the title role Jesse Custer, a small-town minister in Texas whos trying to live a noble life when a vampire and some gangsters sent by God drop on his doorstep.

Coopers not the only one working on his deep-south lilt; Joe Gilgun of This Is England fame plays an Irish vampire named Cassidy who becomes Jesses best friend; English rose Lucy Griffiths plays Emily, the deacon at Jesses church and a possible love interest, while Irelands Ruth Negga, known for Misfits, is Jesses old flame and former partner-in-crime Tulip. All this is ironic given how profoundly American the adaptation of the classic comic book is though the comics creator, Garth Ennis, is British too.

Cassidy the liquor-loving vampire, played by Joe Gilgun. Photograph: Lewis Jacobs/Sony/AMC

As the show opens, Jesse is the moral compass of a two-horse Texas town. All that is disturbed when he gets possessed by a supernatural force that gives him the power to command anyone to do anything he says: he literally has the voice and hand of God. Then Tulip descends to try and drag him back to his old ways (after kicking some serious ass by driving a hot rod through a corn field then felling a helicopter with a homemade bazooka). Making up our triumvirate, Cassidy crashlands bloodily in Jesses backyard after leaping from a plane to escape a band of vampire hunters with just an umbrella for a parachute. Luckily, he drinks a cows blood for sustenance, heals himself very quickly then offers his services as the church handyman.

Ruth Negga kicking some serious ass as Tulip OHare. Photograph: Lewis Jacobs/Sony/AMC

Like the comics, the show is a strange stew of genres, ranging from action movie to western to gory horror to comedy. Cooper says this sometimes made things a little dodgy for him. One minute Im being cut to pieces with a chainsaw, the next Im having a difficult discussion about religion, he says.

Getting the tone right wasnt as easy as shuttling Cooper around the set in a golf cart. That balance, which Garth pulls off in the comic, is our big challenge, says showrunner Sam Catlin, famed for Breaking Bad. Were figuring it out as we go. There are a lot of people we stole from: David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Monty Python and the Coen Brothers.

Catlin had never read the comic until Rogen and Goldberg pitched it to him. The pair were long-time Preacher fans and it was a passion project to bring it to the screen something that had been attempted several times since the late 90s, by Sam Mendes among others, without coming to fruition.

But their reverence made it hard to make changes. At first, it seemed like an appalling notion to add to the world of Preacher, says Rogen. It seemed crazy. As soon as Garth was like, Just change it, he demystified that process then it was like getting to play in your favourite sandbox.

Gangsters sent from heaven Anatol Yusef as DeBlanc and Tom Brooke as Fiore. Photograph: Lewis Jacobs/Sony/AMC

Rogen says the series has more mystery than the comics. The character of Emily was added to throw in some colour to the church (in the comic, the entire congregation dies when Jesse is infected by the spirit that gives him superpowers). The villain Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley), who didnt appear until later in the comics, was moved front and centre though fans will have to hold out for the biggest villain of all: God himself.

Thats another thing they had to soften. The comics are decidedly more anti-religious than the show, says Rogen. The show doesnt even have an opinion on it at this point. Cooper says that religion has never been a large part of his life, but he appreciates Jesses journey. I love this show for the questions it raises and how it doesnt judge, he says, failing to fall squarely on either the side of the believers or the non-believers.

One minute Im being cut up with a chainsaw, the next Im having a discussion about religion Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer and W Earl Brown as Hugo Root. Photograph: Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Telev/AMC

While Cooper might be exploring new metaphysical territory, Catlin is in familiar territory, filming on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico the home of Breaking Bad. He even stayed in the same hotel room overlooking the interstate.

I didnt want to go back to Albuquerque, says Catlin, afraid that Preacher would look too much like Breaking Bad or its spin-off, Better Call Saul. This is a story that begins in west Texas and I didnt want it to seem like it was the AMC backlot in New Mexico. Now I think it feels pretty distinct.

Catlin is very nervous of any comparison between the two shows. I dont want to stack it up against pretty much the greatest TV show of all time, he says, looking uncomfortable. Preacher is a romp. Its much broader. Its a much bigger world and it has bigger themes. Breaking Bad was very much about one man; Preacher is about a bunch of different things. I certainly try to steal as much as I can from [creator] Vince Gilligan and those amazingly talented people who worked on Breaking Bad. In fact, I hired a lot of those people.

Now the show is filmed and poised to be AMCs next big hit, the only thing they have to worry about is whether fanboys will be angry about changes theyve made to the beloved comic. My barometer for controversy has been readjusted in the past few years, Rogen jokes, referencing the firestorm his film The Interview started with Kim Jong-un and the North Korean government. Unless a world leader is calling for my head its no big deal. If you have nuclear weapons then Im a little worried a few angry nerds dont bother me.

Preacher starts on Sunday at 10pm ET on AMC in the US, on Sunday 22 May on AMC in Australia and Monday 23 May on Amazon Prime in the UK.

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