Julie Ann Emery, who plays Lara Featherstone on AMC’s Preacher, discusses why her character is such a zealot, the pressure of bringing Featherstone to life and her complicated feelings for Herr Starr.
Q: What was your exposure to Preacher before you were cast in this role?
A: I was a big fan of Season 1. I thought it was such a tone mashup of comedy and horror and drama and Tarantino-style violence. Those things shouldn’t all go together, but somehow on Preacher, they work beautifully together. I wasn’t familiar with the comics until I was cast. I think I was auditioning when I started digging in. I would go through the comics quickly to build out the history of Featherstone herself and I immediately got really sucked in, but I really wanted to give them a slow read because there’s a lot you can miss in the comics if you’re not paying attention. There’s a lot of story that happens just visually that you can miss if you’re giving it too quick of a read.
Q: How would you describe Featherstone? What about the character attracted you to her?
A: I think the best word that describes her is “zealot.” She really believes in the cause of the Grail and that the world has gone to Hell. She thinks the world is in trouble and if she has to blow it up to save it, that’s OK with her. She’s highly capable, she’s type A, she’s a badass. There’s a transformational aspect to her that drew me to her in the audition material. We’ve seen two personas now. When Featherstone goes undercover, she goes deep. As an actor, the possibilities of the personas is a really rich playground. The idea is that she can fully inhabit these personas. For example, the jazz singer is built on a lot of qualities that Featherstone herself would judge in other people, but she’s able to take them on to trap Jesse. That makes her diabolical to me. I think “Jenny” encompasses a lot of weakness and she has a lot of disdain for weakness in other people. There’s something about her willingness to go that far in those personas that speaks to who she is. She feels almost out of step with the rest of society, but these personas she takes on feel like people that do walk around in society.
Q: How, if at all, is the Featherstone of the show different from the Featherstone of the comics?
A: I think the interpretation of Featherstone is not unlike the interpretation of Tulip. From the comics to the TV series, Tulip is explored further than she is sometimes in the comics. The beating heart of Featherstone is straight out of the comics. What’s been added is that she’s much more of a badass on the show. … I’m so grateful that when they went to add another woman to the mix on Preacher, they were OK with adding another badass woman. She gets more physical and it’s a beautiful way to run with what’s already on the page. I did speak to Garth Ennis about it when he visited the set, and he’s really happy with the interpretation. When he said that to me, I think my shoulders lowered about six inches. I was like, “Phew!” [Laughs]
Q: In Episode 3, things get a little steamy between Featherstone and Jesse. Was she just putting on an act for her job or do you think there’s some chemistry there?
A: I think that was fully the persona. We see in Episode 9 that she’s got this idol worship of Herr Starr that borders on love, and he’s a cult-like figure to her. The thing with Jesse was fully an act, but I’ll tell you – she would have f—ked with him. She would have taken it all the way had he not shut it down. She would have taken it all the way for the cause, which makes her that much more complex and interesting to me.
Q: In Episode 8, Featherstone meets Tulip for the first time. What do you think she makes of her?
A: I think the connection is mostly between Jenny and Tulip. Featherstone creates Jenny to play on Tulip and appeal to her. Jenny is saying, “please empower me” to Tulip, but I do think Featherstone has a respect for Tulip. Tulip is decisive, actionable in her own right, and there’s a lot to respect there, but she’s ultimately this side character to Jesse. The Grail has Jesse under surveillance and Tulip is either going to be a help or hindrance. If she’s a help, I think Jenny will play her all the way, but if she’s a hindrance, I think she’s in danger when it comes to Featherstone.
Q: How would you describe Featherstone’s relationships with Herr Starr?
A: Herr Starr is a great thrill in Featherstone’s life. Featherstone is always in charge, even when she’s surrounded by SWAT guys who can do crazy kung fu kicks. She’s the alpha, always, but the tables completely turn on her when Herr Starr is in the room in such a way that at first as an actor, I was like, “Whoa! What’s happening?” It felt like the Earth was moving when we first had a scene with Pip [Torrens]. I think she’s in love with him, but I’m not positive it’s a romantic love. There’s even more than that going on. There’s devotion for him. She thinks the world has gone to hell and she thinks Herr Starr can bring it back. She hitches her wagon to him in a big way. It’s unsettling to play. [Laughs] She’s so sure of herself all the time and I never feel sure of myself in my scenes with Herr Starr. It’s a beautiful wrench to throw in the dynamic of the Grail.
Q: Unlike Starr, Featherstone appears to be a zealot for the Grail’s mission. How are their goals aligned?
A: I think she’s attracted to his strength. He makes these power moves. He’s after power. I think she thinks Herr Starr is the way and has the power to save the world. If there’s one thing you can say about Herr Starr, it’s that he makes things happen. That’s very attractive to her and she thinks if she can be of assistance and influence those actions, that’s really the way forward and the way to bring about the second coming. She spends so much time being the alpha over Hoover and the other Grail members that maybe she just likes the dominance in the room. There’s something to be said about someone suddenly dominating her.
Q: Does Featherstone like Hoover? What do you think of them as a team?
A: I think there’s a terrific balance between Featherstone and Hoover, and I think she knows that. As much as she disdains him, she does spend an awful lot of time saving his life and protecting him. [Laughs] Sometimes, Hoover feels like a little puppy dog with her, but I think there’s something in her that knows that she needs him. Hoover does have a conscience and he questions things and is more of a complete human being. He has something she needs that’s missing for her. She does keep him on the right path, but she’s just not always nice when she does it.
Q: When Herr Starr lets Jesse live in Episode 9, does Featherstone think that’s a mistake?
A: She does. When he calls off B.R.A.D. the missile and she says, “May I ask why?” that’s crude. There’s something solider-like about her. She doesn’t question her orders, so that moment of questioning him is huge for her. Any moment of questioning him or acknowledging that she has messed up is as emotional as Featherstone gets. Her personas get emotional. She’s absolutely capable of an emotional life as Jenny, but in her own life, it’s a place that she doesn’t go aside from devastating disappointment. It’s a good question. It’s another interesting opposite for her. I think she’ll fall in line with her orders, but somewhere in the back of her mind it will gnaw at her. … She’s a soldier, so she’s going to say, “yes sir and no sir,” but every solider lies in their cot at night and reevaluates the day at hand. Featherstone is no different.
Q: What type of fan reaction have you seen since joining the show? What was it like for you at Comic-Con?
A: The Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fan world is intense, very intelligent and very specific, so I was used to that, but there’s such a dedication to the source material of Preacher. When it was announced what character I was playing, I started getting messages on Twitter from people who’ve been waiting 22 years to see this character brought to life. I had to take a deep breath. That’s some serious pressure, right? There are people who’ve been clamoring for decades to see these characters fully realized. There’s a big responsibility there. There were people at Comic-Con who camped out overnight just to ask us questions. That’s extraordinary to me. It’s an intense moment to realize that kind of love and curiosity and fascination for the show. Obviously, we wouldn’t exist without the fans and the show would not be as good as it is if we didn’t have those fans that were that dedicated and specific. The intelligence of the audience raises the artistic level of what you’re doing. I feel pushed by the fans.
Read a Q&A with Pip Torrens, who plays Herr Starr.
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