Dominic Cooper, who plays Jesse Custer on Preacher, explains the two sides of his character, why Jesse seems to attract trouble and what it’s like to shoot all those fight scenes.
Q: What drew you to this project? Were you aware of the comic books beforehand?
A: The script was one of the scripts that was being talked about a lot during pilot season, and I managed to get a hold of one at a friend’s house. I just wanted something to do with it. I thought it was really the best thing I’d read in a long time. I still didn’t have a huge knowledge of the comics. If you don’t know Preacher and someone’s describing a boy with an arseface, a man who’s having sex with meat and various other things, you don’t really know what to do or say. [Laughs] It was one of the best meetings I’ve ever had and I loved it. They felt I was right for the role, and after experiencing their enthusiasm and having seen the first script, I read all of the volumes of the comics back-to-back very quickly. I was just desperate to be a part of it. It was their vision and how they wanted this piece to work that I was really enthused by.
Q: What do you like about Jesse?
A: I think the more I get to know about him and his background, it becomes more evident what he’s in search of: He’s in desperate need to find this thing, this voice that’s gone missing. We discover him in such a dark, damaged place, and he’s trying to desperately hold onto an idea of happiness. He’s a man who remembers the place he came from and a promise which he made to his father, and he’s going back to that. He’s going back to do what he thinks his father would have wanted him to do, which is nurture and take care of these people who have fallen into pieces.
Q: Even so, other characters question why Jesse really came back. In his mind and heart, what’s the true answer?
A: He’s questioning it [himself]. By the end of the [pilot] episode, he kind of gives up and is like, “We are who we are. You can’t change. Maybe this is who God wants me to be.” He makes a pretty pathetic attempt at looking after this congregation and being the man he wants to be – or the man his father wants him to be. He knows he’s trying his hardest to avoid a life of crime, but he has to believe that’s what he’s come back for and that’s what he’s setting out to do.
Q: Jesse has some dark sides, but at the same time is a preacher trying to do good. What’s it like balancing these two parts of the same man?
A: I think it’s a constant battle and it becomes more so when this entity becomes a part of him. I think the reason it can exist within him is because he obviously has this split personality anyway. That’s why it can reside in a man that is capable of both good and evil. He’s truly a man of faith, he knows what’s right, but it’s always a struggle for him.
Q: What was it like filming all of the fight scenes and big set pieces?
A: I loved doing them. There was a really good fight choreographer we were working with and he put together some really different fight sequences. They’re forever changing because of the nature of where you are, the physical space and how it’s lit. You just have to adapt to it. What helps is if the people who created these sequences have made them to make sense. If there’s a reason behind each move, then they’re easier to follow and learn. When you’re fighting for the sake of including violence, it can be very hard to achieve.
Watch: Dominic Cooper Takes You Behind-the-Scenes of a Fight Scene
A: Once you’ve gone to those depths, people around you don’t see you as anything else. I think they find it threatening that you are trying to change and it’s often the people around you that are the least supportive and helpful. They can drag you back into the depths of despair that you were already in. I think that’s what’s happening. It becomes apparent why Tulip is so desperate for him to be a part of that world again later on.
Q: Jesse’s got a lot of thorns in his side. Who do you think is the worst: Tulip, Cassidy, or Eugene?
A: They all are. I think Eugene is brilliant because he exposes everything Jesse is trying so hard to understand and evaluate. Eugene exposes the things that he’s really shying away from. Jesse has a very hard time processing that. He wants to help this kid even though this kid has done terrible things himself. Jesse doesn’t really know how to cope. He’s not equipped and he hasn’t learned how to do this. It’s ridiculous if you think about what he’s gone back to the town to try to achieve.
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see about Jesse’s journey?
A: How we’ve portrayed the dark side of him and what he’s really capable of doing with very little remorse is quite terrifying. I think it’s quite a surprise.
Read an interview with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Preacher’s executive producers and directors.