Garth Ennis, who co-created the Preacher comic books, explains why AMC’s adaptation works and why die-hard fans should be excited for the show.
Q: What originally inspired the comic books? Did you ever hope or think it would be adapted in another medium?
A: At that point, around 1994, I was really only thinking in terms of the comic. People started to talk about some kind of adaption right about a year after the comic launched, around 1996, but I was really only thinking about the comic at the time.
Q: Preacher has had a long and winding road to come the screen. What about this vision of the show made it the one?
A: Well, in practical terms, none of the attempts to make a movie worked or were ever going to work because Preacher is simply overloaded with grotesque characters and over-the-top scenes. Any attempt to cram that into a two and a half or a three-hour screenplay simply isn’t going to work… What makes the AMC show different – and what makes the whole project different – is that Seth and Evan epitomize a generation of filmmakers and writers who’ve kept the projects they were always passionate about from the beginning of their careers with them. [They] were very passionate about making Preacher, and now they’ve got 10 or 15 more years of experience and a bit more seniority under their belts and they’ve kept this project with them. That’s what makes the difference. Seth and Evan have talked about how they wanted to do it for years, but just couldn’t. Now they can.
Watch: The Annville Trailer
Q: What role do you play in the show? What’s it been like collaborating with this team?
A: I sat in on the pitch meeting as Seth and Evan sat down with the AMC people and basically talked them through what they wanted to do. I came away from that with a great deal of confidence because I watched Seth calmly run through everything he wanted to do, the things he wanted to emphasize, the things he wanted to pull back on and what he felt was important. At the end of that, all I said was, “I think you’re on the right track. As long as you keep the spirit, you’ll be fine.” And they really have. I was very impressed. After that, they were very good at consulting with me at every stage – outlines, scripts, cuts. I’ve given notes and they’ve been addressed, but they’re not particularly detailed and they’re not particularly crucial. As I go on, the more inclined I feel to simply back off and leave these guys to it. I’m enjoying watching this as a viewer myself rather than someone who’s involved.
Q: Seth and Evan have called this more of a “translation” than an adaptation. Is it more important to get the tone right than the specific plot details?
A: I think it is. An obvious example is that the pacing of the comic is really almost alien to TV. You couldn’t do it that way because you go back to that problem of a film where every episode would be overloaded with grotesquery and madness. They found a way to slow that down. For instance, they’ve really managed to ground Jesse’s power. In the comic book, within a couple of issues, he’s got the power, he knows how to use it and he’s decided on his mission. On the TV show, he doesn’t even know he’s got it, he makes a couple of mistakes and it takes him a while to figure out that there’s a mission at all. That, I think, helps to slow things down a little and helps to ground the TV show. It gives it the pacing a TV show needs rather than the breakneck, million-miles-an-hour lunacy of the comic.
Q: What do you think of the cast? How does it feel to see your characters brought to life?
A: I’ll start with Dominic Cooper, who I think actually has the hardest job because Jesse is, at least at first, the quiet one. You’ll see in the pilot he has to put up with a certain amount before he can begin to come into his own. It was when I first saw Dominic in costume, actually, that I thought, “My God. It’s him. It really looks like him.” That was when it first started to become real for me. But I think Jesse is the hardest character to find. Jesse is, after all, an anachronism. He belongs in about 1870 or 1880 being perfectly happy with a six gun on his hip, walking down to the O.K. Corral and blasting a bunch of bad guys. Instead, it’s horrible, complex 2016 and it’s the awful modern world. He has to find a way to live in it and his instincts are taking him in a completely different direction. So, I think for Dominic to have pulled off what he has done is admirable.
I think Ruth [Negga] is doing a great job with Tulip. Her Tulip is different than the one in the comic book. The one in the comic book is an incredibly nice, reasonable and well-mannered person until the fun and games begin. Then, she just accelerates into this banshee. Ruth’s version is probably more realistic where Tulip is actually like that all the time. There’s a line fairly early on, and I don’t know if they kept it, where someone says, “What’s your problem? “ and she says, “I’m out of my mind. What’s yours?” I think that sums her up quite well. As for Joe [Gilgun], it was very clever casting Cassidy as Cassidy. That was smart. They actually went out and found the guy!
Q: Was there anything that surprised you about the show Season 1?
A: Not really. What they tended to do was either write new material or they took something from later in the book and slotted it in earlier. An obvious example is Odin Quincannon. He comes in a lot earlier. I thought the way they did that was smart, particularly the way they start him and Jesse off on a less adversarial stance. He is obviously the local business overlord who really just plays with the town as he sees fit, but he is kind of tied into the future of the little town in a way that its inhabitants respond to. You can see how the Mayor allows himself to fall under Odin’s peculiar spell. That was something I liked.
Q: How do you think die-hard fans will react to the show? What do you want them to know?
A: I would say that if you have patience, you’ll get what you want. On the other hand, I can never really predict which way people are going to jump. If you look at fan responses or on the internet for any project, you’re going to get thousands of different reactions. I don’t really try too hard to predict that. I’m a great believer in simply finishing your story, putting it out there and hoping for the best. My own priorities are always two questions: 1. Do I like it? Answer: Yes. 2. Will it work? Meaning, will it survive long enough to finish the story? You don’t necessarily find the answer to that online, in reviews or through fan responses. You find it through viewing figures. That’s where we stand or fall.
Q: For the newcomers, how would you describe the show to them?
A: I always used to say, when asked for the Hollywood pitch, “It’s Wild at Heart meets Near Dark and then Unforgiven shows up at the end to shoot everybody.” Those points of reference are 25 to 30 years old, so I’m afraid you’re just going to have to watch those movies and then you’ll know what Preacher is.
Read an interview with Dominic Cooper, who plays Jesse Custer on Preacher.
Preacher premieres Sunday at 10/9c on AMC. Watch the opening scenes, see the trailer, go on the set with cast and creators and check out a sneak peek on amc.com now. Plus, sign up for the Insiders Club to be the first to receive Preacher exclusives and updates.Read More