TV adaption of cult comic book Preacher like nothing you've ever seen

By Catherine McGregor

New show Preacher is a comic book adaptation unlike any other. Catherine McGregor reports.
Preacher series on Lightbox starring Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga.
Preacher series on Lightbox starring Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga.

They said it couldn't be done.

It seemed that Garth Ennis' cult 90s comic Preacher was officially unadaptable, having gotten the best of filmmakers including Kevin Smith and Sam Mendes, largely thanks to its strange mishmash of genres: southern gothic, splatter horror, western and action movies, all run through with a thick seam of black comedy and religious satire.

That's when Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, his writing and producing partner, swooped in. Their version hits New Zealand screens this week, and it's fair to say it's like nothing you've ever seen on television before.

Scene from the TV series Preacher.
Scene from the TV series Preacher.

The eponymous Preacher is Jesse Custer, a super-cool former career criminal who returns to his Texas home town and becomes a man of the cloth.

In episode one we meet Tulip, his beautiful, tough as nails ex, and Cassidy, a motormouth Irish vampire with a taste for hard liquor. Then there's sweet teenager Eugene, who's widely known as "Arseface" because, well ...

"I've never had a meeting like it," says Dominic Cooper, who plays Jesse, describing his first encounter with the showrunners.

"It made no sense: 'A boy with a face like an arsehole', 'A man who wants to sleep with meat', 'some episodes will be set in space'.

"Halfway through the meeting I was like 'this is out of control, they have no idea what they're doing'."

Turns out, Rogen and Goldberg knew exactly what they were doing. With a background in genre mash-ups like the horror comedy This Is the End and political satire The Interview, Rogen and Goldberg realised a strong comic sensibility would be essential to leaven the books' sometimes overwhelming weirdness.

Fans will also notice a bigger emphasis on mystery than in the original (Rogen namechecks Lost as an inspiration) and a less overt anti-religion bent. "The show doesn't even have an opinion at this point," says Rogen. "It's is not damning any idea specifically, it's trying to explore them."

And if the fans don't like the changes? Hard luck. "My barometer for controversy has been so drastically readjusted over the last few years that a few angry tweets don't even register," says Rogen, referencing the geopolitical uproar around The Interview's release.

Preacher series on Lightbox starring Dominic Cooper.
Preacher series on Lightbox starring Dominic Cooper.

"Unless a world leader is calling for my head I don't consider it a controversy. If you have nuclear weapons then I'm a little worried; a few angry nerds don't bother me."

Rogen likewise shrugs off the casting of three Brits and one Irish actor as leads in this most American of stories.

"That's what you do on TV, just cast British people," he says, followed by one of his trademark booming laughs. Just to confuse matters, Irish vampire Cassidy is played by Joe Gilgun, who's English. Rogen says casting him was a "truly amazing" stroke of luck.

"You can tell he's lived a hundred lifetimes and he's probably done some shit you do not want to hear about, but he's one of the most fun, caring, loving people that you'll ever meet. Which is exactly what the character was."

Scene from the TV series Preacher.
Scene from the TV series Preacher.

A rangy motormouth with tattoos up both arms, Gilgun is a frank interviewee, as happy discussing the unusual side-effects of playing a vampire - "my bathroom was fooking insane, like a crime scene" - as his own mental illness.

"I'm really open about my bipolar. I want everyone to know you can still do shit depressed, you can still get your job done. You can't sit there wallowing. It can be very difficult to claw your way out, when you don't feel you have a reason. And Preacher gave me a reason."

Rounding out the show's central trio is Tulip O'Hare; she's introduced to audiences in a scene which culminates in her blasting a helicopter out of the sky with a homemade bazooka.

Safe to say, this Tulip is no shrinking violet. She's played by Irish-Ethiopian actress Ruth Negga, who also happens to be Cooper's real-life girlfriend.

When we meet, she's operating on zero hours sleep, having flown in direct from a Cannes screening of her buzzed-about movie Loving. But she's still eager to talk Tulip. "I love that she takes up the space that she does - small as I am - and she doesn't apologise for it in any way.

*Warning: Video contains violent scenes*

But you get a glimpse into her vulnerabilities and why she may have evolved into the person she is."

Negga may not look much like the Tulip of the books, who's white, but this pint-sized dynamo is sure to become a fan favourite. And if fans should worry about another change to the comic book original?

"Don't", says Rogen. "I think when the first season is over fans of the comic will be surprised at how much we retained, not how little. I would read the scripts and be like 'wow they got that in there? I did not think that would work'."

What: Preacher
Where and when: On Lightbox now

- TimeOut

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