HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE
When I first read Preacher I was like, ‘ That’s not a TV show.’ It was chaotic
In an age when just about every genre of comic has yielded a faithful, successful movie or television incarnation, DC/ Vertigo’s line of dark fantasy sagas is still awaiting its turn. While superhero film fans got The Dark Knight, horror mavens got The Return Of The Swamp
Thing. While The Flash raced up the TV ratings charts, Constantine was cancelled before its occult investigator could smoke his first cigarette on screen. But today’s Golden Age of Television offers multiple opportunities for success or failure. And with genre shows like
The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones pushing the medium’s boundaries, it was only a matter of time before Vertigo received its due. Enter Preacher.
The brainchild of writer Garth Ennis ( one of a handful of British scribes who transformed comics in the ’ 80s and ’ 90s), Preacher, in its 66- issue run, challenged every taboo in the industry as it chronicled the adventures of holy man Jesse Custer, whose crisis of faith coincides with his acquisition of supernatural powers and sets him on a road trip across America with girlfriend/ firebrand Tulip and best friend/ Irish vampire Cassidy. The series drew praise from scores of critics and won hordes of devoted fans, among them actor- director Seth Rogen and his work partner Evan Goldberg.
“Seth can have people killed with a phone call,” says executive producer Sam Catlin of Rogen’s influence in Tinseltown.
A veteran of the acclaimed Breaking Bad, Catlin explains to SFX that “Seth and Evan brought this project to me and have this enormous passion for it. They’re super smart. I can’t believe how much pot they smoke and how much they get done in a day. It’s amazing. They smoke pot and it acts like coke! They’re so productive. They’re super responsible. I think people are gonna be like, ‘ Wow! That’s nothing like what they’ve directed!’ The stuff they’ve directed is very broad comedy, but they’re filmmakers. So I think people are gonna be super impressed and surprised. They’re great collaborators. They’ve had every opportunity along the way to be dickish celebrity assholes, and they’re just the nicest, most approachable guys. I love ’ em.
“When I first read Preacher,” Catlin admits, “I was like, ‘ That’s not a TV show.’ I hadn’t read anything like it. It was completely chaotic, but in a way it all made sense. There were great characters, and the violence and the perversity and the sex… It was so crazy. I really didn’t know where to start in terms of bringing this to TV. I’ve never seen anything like it. There was nothing like it on TV, so I couldn’t really picture it. But hopefully that’s why it’s going to be so great. Because there’s really nothing like it on TV. There may be a reason why there’s nothing like it on TV. But we’ll find out…”
As Preacher’s showrunner, Catlin’s irreverence is perfectly suited for a story in which God isn’t all that different from the devil, angels and demons mate and breed, and
sexual investigators are hired to retrieve missing heroin and porn stars.
While the show’s US network, AMC, allows violence like that depicted on The Walking
Dead, Catlin admits Preacher’s sexual content may provide a greater challenge.
“The people who make up the rules, they’re just making it up as they go along,” he laughs. “The sex is always the trickiest thing on TV. It’s the thing that people hand- wring over the most. But it’s an essential part of Preacher; it’s an essential part of Jesse and Tulip’s relationship. They have a very sexual relationship. But also there’s this great subversive comedy around sex, throughout all of the show’s characters. So we definitely want to honour that as much as we can.”
In honouring both Ennis’s epic and its readers, Catlin claims, “We’re gonna go there until someone tells us ‘ No’. No one’s said ‘ No’ yet. I think everyone’s waiting for someone else to tell us no… But yeah, we’re gonna go there. Because the comic is like a romp. It’s fun, it’s crazy, it’s got all this sex. But also, Garth pulls no punches. Everyone, every institution is gonna get a black eye on this thing. That’s part of Preacher, and we can’t back down from that.”
Some of the show’s casting choices may at first surprise longtime fans of the comics, including native Londoner Cooper as the Texan Jesse. Catlin insists the cast honours the spirit of their characters. “Some of the characters, like Cassidy, he sort of looks like the guy from the comic. Tulip doesn’t. But she’s Tulip to us, and I think she will be to the viewers as well. There were some surprises along the way in terms of type.”
Other surprises in store for longtime fans include the show’s storyline, which begins at an earlier point than the comic book, in order to show how Jesse fared as a holy man before he gained his powers.
“In a lot of ways it’s sort of a prequel to some of the events of the comic. So we’re going to see Jesse as an actual preacher for a little bit longer than fans might be expecting. The way the comics are laid out, you just can’t do that on TV because of the way it’s paced. The locations, the being on the road, it’s like a half- billiondollar TV show if you were to just do the comics.
“I can hear the fans saying, ‘ Well, get the fucking half billion dollars, dude! Shut up!’” laughs Catlin. “But it’s also a different way of telling a story than it is on a TV show. You sort of need to get to know the characters more. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the same crazy world. It’s just a different way of telling the story. It wasn’t until three of us figured out ‘ Where does it start?’ that it felt… Okay, Jesse’s in this little town. We’ll take a little step back and say, ‘ Alright, what was he like when he was a preacher? He was probably a shitty preacher. But at least he was a preacher.’ We see him already disillusioned. Already sort of breaking with God right when the comic starts. But in this we say, ‘ Let’s actually roll it back just a little bit and get a run at that.’ That sort of helped in terms of where we could begin the show and how we could begin to tell the story of Jesse Custer… But one of the great things about Preacher is it skips time. You go back and forth, you go to all these different places.”
Catlin references The Walking Dead when describing how Preacher will reach the same big moments as its source material, though the road it takes in reaching them might change. “How you get from A to Z... as writers, if we’re doing our job, we’re hopefully surprising ourselves all the time.”
The exec tells SFX that though Preacher is an original adaptation, he’d read screenwriter John August’s Preacher adaptation for director Sam Mendes, who was at one point developing it for the big screen.
“There are a lot of great people who were attached to this over the years. And probably a lot of people doing a lot of second- guessing over ‘ How do we make a Preacher TV show?’ Because the doors hadn’t really been blown off the way they have now. Now we can be at AMC, where they say, ‘ Just go do it.’ Because people have taken these other big swings at
Walking Dead and stuff like that and realised, ‘ This can actually be really great and people might not actually be freaked out and run for the hills and start burning their TVs! It might actually be a hit!’”
Preacher begins in the US on AMC on 22 May. UK broadcast is TBC.
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