Ian Colletti, who plays Eugene on AMC’s Preacher, discusses sharing a cell block with Hitler, finally shooting a scene without his prosthetic face and the irony of Eugene going to Hell to become a bad person.
Q: Eugene is in Hell! Although we saw a version of Preacher‘s Hell last year, was this what you expected it to be?
A: We kind of established last year, with the Saint of Killers, that Hell is living your worst memory or the worst day of your life over and over again for eternity. So, I had an idea that it would look like that for Eugene and had a pretty good guess what that day would be, but throughout the season this year, the universe of Hell has very much expanded and it’s not just people living the worst day of their life over and over. It’s a real place and it’s pretty scary. … It was absolutely incredible. [Production Designer] David Blass and the guys that designed that are absolutely brilliant. It was incredible to work on those stages because it was just down to the last detail. It was so well put together and as an actor, it helped to immerse myself in that world.
Q: What was it like shooting an entire sequence without your prosthetics?
A: From a practical point of view, it was wonderful to not have to get in hours early and to be able to eat lunch with everybody else was a great thing. But as an actor, I felt suddenly very vulnerable and I had to re-look at what I really knew about Eugene. I emote my face in an extreme way to read subtly through the mask, I do this slurred voice for the character like it is in the comic and even his body language in the first season is very hunched over. Now, in this moment, this is before any of that took place and I had to take a hard look at what I knew about the character. I didn’t have the voice and the body language and this is before the traumatic event that started this domino effect of all these things that’s come to fruition. I tried to maintain that essence of purity and morality in approaching this same character in a very different position in his life.
Q: The last time we spoke, you joked about never getting recognized by fans without the makeup. Do you think you might get recognized with the cast now?
A: Yeah! I guess we’ll be able to tell once it airs, but I think there’s a good chance.
Q: The scene with Tracy is pretty gory. What was it like to literally get your hands dirty in the brains and blood?
A: It was pretty crazy. Lots of blood, lots of brain. The effects and the blood on this show is always crazy. It was definitely an interesting scene to shoot. We had a good bit of fun doing it.
Q: It’s not a shock that the scene with Tracy is Eugene’s worst memory. But what aspect of it do you think haunts him most?
A: I think one of the great things about Eugene is also one of his biggest vulnerabilities and what leads him to be so hard on himself. He always sees the best in others. I think as an audience, we see Tracy and we see a very vain and selfish girl, but he’s in love with her and doesn’t see those characteristics. When he goes into kiss her and she blows her head off, it’s very obvious that it’s not his fault from an outsider’s perspective, but I think he very much takes responsibility for it. In his mind, I think he feels he’s the reason Tracy’s dead — and in a way, he killed her — because he takes so much and puts it onto himself. As an audience member, I think you can see it’s not fair for him to do that to himself, but he does and that’s his journey throughout the second season in Hell. He has to come to grips with if he deserves to be there, and that’s the question we ask.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned that Eugene would be hanging out with Hitler?
A: [Laughs] That crazy idea came from Evan Goldberg. At the end of last season, he mentioned to me that this was an idea they were toying with – that if we were going to be in Hell, we would have someone in Hell, and who’s on the top of that list. I thought it was perfectly Preacher. Eugene definitely finds himself in some interesting positions this season with some larger-than-life characters.
Q: What do you think Eugene makes of Hitler’s hell? Is it surprising that Hitler’s worst day is so…tame?
A: He tends to see the best in people. Adolf Hitler is clearly not a great guy and is notoriously one of the most evil human beings in history, but Eugene [thinks he] sees a certain goodness in him or thinks maybe he’s changed. I think seeing Hitler’s worst Hell will affect Eugene’s perception of Hitler as their relationship continues.
Q: What does Eugene make of the other characters in Hell? He’s always had a guilty conscience, but does he feel he belongs in a place with all of these people?
A: Eugene’s perception of himself is different than the audience’s perception of Eugene. He really does believe he’s guilty and that is his journey. By being in Hell and surrounded by all these people, will it help him realize he doesn’t belong here and that he was dealt an unfair hand? Hell is a dark and tough place and it’s an “eat or be eaten” world. I think being in an environment like that is going to force Eugene to adapt and evolve as a character.
Q: Why do you think Eugene joins in on beating up Hitler?
A: He has to make certain alliances to be able to survive in a place like Hell. Whether or not he feels he deserves to be there doesn’t change the fact that he wants to make it. He’s going to have to make some choices. He kind of becomes the moral compass of the show, and that’s going to be tested this season as he comes to face certain characters and plot points that will make him question his own identity and make him adapt for better or worse. I think his journey to Hell will certainly help him realize certain aspects of himself as a character and I definitely see the irony that it takes him going to Hell to realize who he is and where he fits in the world.
Q: Has it been difficult being so separate from the rest of the cast this season?
A: Speaking as someone who’s become really good friends with these guys, I was a little bummed not to be working with them as closely as I was last year, but as far as the character goes, I thought this season was interesting. In the first season, his relevance to the characters very much coincides with Jesse. He comes to Jesse with these big moral questions and it serves a purpose for Jesse to end up asking himself these same questions. Eugene becomes a catalyst for Jesse’s own self exploration. In this second season, Eugene’s storyline is more about him and he has to ask himself these questions about his past and who he is and who he wants to become.
Q: What are you looking forward to fans seeing from the rest of Eugene’s journey?
A: I think what we’re going to see this season is very important in Eugene’s evolution as a character and I’d like to think there will be some justice this season for Eugene as audience members see the truth about who he is. And I hope he’ll see the truth as well. There are major moral questions asked this season by Eugene himself and by other characters he’s surrounded with, but at the end of the day, I’d like to think that people will empathize with him further.
Read a Q&A with Joseph Gilgun, who plays Cassidy.
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